Physics of Living Cells Summer School

Wase attended the 2018 Physics of Living Cells Summer School.  Below she answered some questions about her experience!


When did you attend the Physics of Living Cells Summer School course?
I attended the Physics of Living Cells summer program from July 22-July 28, 2018. This program was hosted by the Center for Physics of Living Cells (CPLC) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

When did you apply and what was the application process like?

I applied for the program at the end of April 2018, which is when the applications were due. I received notice about my acceptance within a few weeks.
What was the actual course like? How long did it last, where was it held, etc…

The overall summer course had five themes which we could choose from. When I applied I ranked these themes according to my preferences. The list included themes titled: 1) Physics of DNA, 2) RNA Regulation in Eukaryotes, 3) Quantitative Imaging and Cell Simulation of Small Regulatory RNA, 4) Evolution of Chemotaxis and 5) Neurobiology.

 I chose the Physics of DNA theme. The course included a combination of lectures and lab . All themes attended the broad style lectures that covered the science and techniques behind each of the themes. Then, we each went to our respective themes to perform the lab component to the course.

The course lasted 7 full days with the last day being student presentations. Students in each theme presented their projects to the entire class.
How was this course related to your dissertation research and why were you interested in attending?
In this course, I learned techniques to study the flexibility of DNA on both a small scale and genomic scale using a combination of single molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer (smFRET), molecular dynamic simulations and high-throughput sequencing. I was especially interested in this course because I wanted to learn new techniques. Of the three techniques involved, the most valuable one to my research maybe molecular dynamics especially if I ever wanted to simulate protein interactions since my project is focused on the protein structure-function and regulation of the calcium activated chloride channel, TMEM16A. 


What was a typical day at Summer School like?
Every morning began with lectures that broadly introduced us to the science behind each of the different themes. Following the lectures, we dispersed into our respective themes and there we conducted lab work that was further divided into modules where we learned different techniques. 

For Physics of DNA, we spent the first half of the week on the first module where we examined the flexibility of DNA on a small scale. Here, my group of 8 split into two so that each group had   samples to examine using smFRET. While one group was conducting smFRET the other was either preparing samples or analyzing smFRET data or conducting molecular dynamics.
For the second half of the week, we spent our lab time collecting high-throughput sequencing data and analyzing it. We generated a lot of data and found that it required ample time to sort through and analyze it.

What was your favorite subject covered?

FRET. I learned how powerful FRET is in determining not just interactions between molecules but also within a molecule.
What was your favorite aspect of the course?

The lab component was my favorite. I like that we were not only able to learn about the techniques and the science studied by Dr. Taekjip Ha’s lab, but that we were able to conduct experiments, generate data and analyze it in a way that reinforced the lectures and the theory.

If you could change one thing about the course, what would it be?

 I would create more opportunities for students to practice less familiar techniques and analysis. For example, I would want to spend more time learning the power of molecular dynamic simulations and its usefulness in different kinds of science.
What most surprised you about the course?
I was most surprised by how willing different principal investigators and teaching assistants were willing to give their time to teaching students like me who were completely unfamiliar with some of the techniques. Specifically for my module, I needed a lot of background and basics to be able to do smFRET, molecular dynamics and high-throughput sequencing data analysis. Even so, I was provided with the guidance I needed to succeed.
What advice would you give to future attendees of the Physics of Living Cells?

I would suggest that future attendees challenge themselves and learn about something unfamiliar to them. Even if the techniques do not apply to the science they currently are involved in, the logic and the creativity behind other science might just spark an interest in that newer less familiar field or even challenge them to think about their own projects differently.

What are you most proud of

I am most proud of the molecular dynamics simulations of a short sequence of DNA whose flexibility assessed. I am especially proud that its bendability in my simulations agreed with the smFRET experiments suggesting that I did something right!

Anne Carlson