Student Spotlight

Austin Rice
Northwestern University
Pinkett Lab



Q: What initially attracted you to biophysics?

My interests began when I realized that the complexity of an organism could be described with molecular detail. The intricacy of these molecules and their interactions still surprise me, but it keeps the questions engaging and the explanations satisfying.

Q: What specific areas are you studying?

I am studying the structure and mechanism of integral membrane proteins, specifically ABC transporters. This large family of transporters can actively import vital substrates or export toxic drugs.

Q: What is your current research project?

I am currently studying the structure and mechanism of MolBC, a Type II ABC importer responsible for the uptake of molybdate in Haemophilus influenza and other bacteria. While pursuing structural information about alternative MolBC conformations, my work has led me to a technique that I could not find at my university: site-directed electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR). Through collaboration with EPR
specialists at other institutions I have acquired information and experience that have added significantly to my research project and graduate education.

Q: What do you hope to do after graduation?

I can only be sure that I will remain in research. I enjoy lab work and I would not like to choose a career that will take me from its daily challenges and rewards.

Q: Tell us about a great experience or opportunity you’ve had in the past year?

I was fortunate to be accepted to my first scientific conference this summer. It was quite enjoyable to meet the authors who I had been following in my first few years at graduate school. I must admit that I had underestimated how edifying the presentations, posters, and discussions could be. I walked away with several different perspectives on my own thesis work as well as several examples of new capabilities that may prove useful later on.

Q: Why did you join the Biophysical Society?

I wanted to remain informed on advances in biophysics.

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

I would most likely be a botanist, engineering plants for new and improved purposes. Though lab work is important for me, it would be enjoyable to personally expand the work from test tube to field trials and applications.

Heather Pinkett, Rice's PI, says:

“When Austin first joined the lab, he was interested in understanding how ABC transporters select for and translocate substrates into and out of the cell. While his original objective was to use X-ray crystallography to understand the mechanistic details of transport, an opportunity presented itself for us to utilize electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR). Realizing that EPR was another approach to answer the same mechanistic questions, Austin quickly learned to label the samples, collect the data, and analyze the spectra. Austin currently coordinates with our collaborators at Purdue University and the Medical College of Wisconsin on this project. His motivation and resourceful nature has lead to a productive collaboration. Austin is also a wonderful lab citizen and a pleasure to have in the Pinkett lab.”







March 2012 Table of Contents