1. What is your hometown? / Where are you from?
I was born on Long Island in New York and went to high school in Chicago, but I spent most of my formative years living on a small island off the coast of Florida called Sanibel Island. Since I still associate mangrove trees and alligators with home, I typically tell folks I'm from Florida.
2. Where did you do your undergrad and what was your major? Were you involved in undergraduate research?
I went to a small Florida state school called New College of Florida. As the last of six kids, I chose which college I'd go to by seeing which was the cheapest and applied to every scholarship in the book. Somehow, I knew I wanted to be a chemistry major. And, I started working in a research lab as a sophomore. I synthesized molecules to mimic the active site of a metalloprotein called RuBisCo; RuBisCo is a surprisingly inefficient enzyme involved in carbon fixation. During this research experience I discovered that my synthesis skills were mediocre, but I really enjoy analytical approaches and was actually pretty good at data analysis.
3. Where did you do your PhD? What was your thesis topic?
After New College, I moved back to Chicago for graduate school at Northwestern University. There, I spent hours in a dark, cold laser lab measuring how quickly electrons could move between proteins. We wanted to know more about how this process happened so quickly and accurately in the cell, because these electron transfer processes are essential to respiration - but can also cause cell damage. I really loved it. In addition to learning about chemistry in grad school, I learned that I love teaching new scientists and figured out that I wanted to be a professor.
4. Here did you do your postdoc and what was the topic?
After grad school I wanted to learn more about how biochemistry happens in the environment. I knew very little microbes (like bacteria and viruses), but I knew that they drove a lot of the chemical cycling on our planet (e.g. play an important role in water and carbon cycling). So, I joined a lab at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories right here in the Bay Area of California. We worked closely with an environmental microbiology lab at UC-Berkeley to build proteomic tools to learn more about an extremophilic microbial community. These bacteria, viruses, fungi, and archea are fascinating because they thrive in an environment that should be lifeless. They live in water with a pH BELOW zero, with very high heavy metal concentrations, and no oxygen. In fact, we found proteins in one bacteria that actually made the water more acidic to dissolve the heavy metals. In other words, the bacteria were actually the ones making the solution acidic and dissolving the heavy metals. The bacteria LOVED living in water that seems so toxic to us! Although I now have a life-long love of microbes, after working on this project I realized that I think like a chemist, not a microbiologist. So, when I set out to start my own lab, I wanted to do more chemistry and a little less biology.
5. What is your research focus at SCU?
I work with a talented team of undergraduates to characterize the interactions between proteins and nanomaterials. Nanomaterials are revolutionizing the products we use everyday. For example, cell phones are smaller, cheaper, and more effective because of these incredibly tiny materials. Yet, the development of nanomaterials for many biological and environmental applications is hindered by a poor understanding of their complex interactions with biomolecules. In the Wheeler Lab, we develop new ways to study the biochemical interactions that mediate nanomaterial behavior. With a foundation in the biochemistry of nanoparticles, we aim to inform scientists and engineers on methods to best design nanoparticles for human health applications, including drugs and bio-sensors. In addition, our work can be used toward better predictions of the transport, fate, and impact of natural and engineered nanomaterials in the environment. In this way, we hope to inform more effective and sustainable design of nanomaterials as well.
Here is the website for her research group:
Intro to nanomaterials:
This video (17 min) is a bit more scientific and is a bit longer of an introduction to nanotechnology
This website has a nice summary of nanoscience and nanotechnology...
This blog post is about how nanomaterials are all around
Ask your questions here and write them down in your book...
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