Student Spotlight

Sarah Rauscher
University of Toronto
and Hospital for Sick Children
Régis Pomès’ Lab



Q: What initially attracted you to biophysics?

During my undergraduate studies, my main interests were astrophysics and chemistry. I wasn’t even aware of biophysics until the summer before my fourth year. My first introduction to biophysics occurred in a lecture given by Prof. Cécile Fradin: she described the contributions of physicists to the study of bacterial locomotion. The idea that physics can be applied to understand biological systems quantitatively was very appealing to me, and I’ve been researching in biophysics ever since.

Q: What specific areas are you studying?

I’m currently interested intrinsically disordered proteins. In particular, the focus of my PhD research has been the protein elastin. Elastin imparts elasticity to your skin, large arteries, and lungs. Its function is essential to human life, but its structure has been the subject of controversy for decades.

Q: What is your current research project?

I am using molecular dynamics simulations (combined with enhanced sampling) to characterize the structural properties of elastin, as well as other disordered states of proteins, in atomistic detail.

Q: What do you hope to do after graduation?

I intend to continue in research as a postdoctoral fellow in the theoretical biophysics group at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. In the long term, I hope to pursue an academic career.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge as a student of biophysics?

I think the biggest challenge we face is the enormous amount of background knowledge needed to approach most research questions in biophysics. We need to transcend the boundaries separating biology and physics, and to strive to become an expert in both disciplines. Furthermore, different sub-disciplines of biophysics often require additional specialist knowledge. For example, in biomolecular simulation, we incorporate ideas from computer science, statistics, and data science in our research.

Q: Why did you join the Biophysical Society?

I joined the Biophysical Society because of the Annual Meetings, which have allowed me to meet with fellow biophysicists from around the world that I previously only knew by reading their papers. I have also benefited from the intrinsically disordered proteins (IDP) subgroup; the IDP symposium features some of the most exciting and groundbreaking work in my field.

Q: When you’re not studying biophysics, what do you like to do in your spare time?

Outside the lab, I enjoy running, swimming, reading, teaching, and learning new languages.

Régis Pomès, Rauscher’s PI, says:

When she was looking for a PhD supervisor, Sarah approached me with a stated desire to work on protein folding. Ironically, she ended up showing that the function of self-assembled elastomeric proteins, a highly unusual class of structural proteins, is fundamentally rooted in structural disorder. In fact, she has demonstrated that not only are these proteins intrinsically disordered, it turns out that they cannot possibly fold under any conditions. Due to the aggregated nature of these proteins and the lack of structural information, this was a very challenging research topic. Sarah, with characteristic poise and relish, took up the challenge and brought our understanding of the molecular determinants of tissue elasticity to a completely new level.”

April 2012 Table of Contents