Student Spotlight

Annika Barber
Thomas Jefferson University
Covarrubias Lab



Q: What initially attracted you to biophysics?

Coming from a molecular biology background in which I focused on signaling cascades, I found it exciting to look at the structure-function interplay of a single protein and explore proteins as molecular machines in their own right. I continue to enjoy how biophysics research allows me to combine diverse disciplines—from computational modeling to electrophysiology to molecular biology and biochemistry—to address relevant questions.

Q: What is your current research project?

I am investigating how general anesthetics modulate voltage-gated cation channels. I have found dual modulation of a voltage-gated potassium channel by a related class of general anesthetics. Currently, I am combining computational and electrophysiological approaches to determine what regions of the protein are involved in drug binding and allosteric effects on channel gating.

Q: What do you hope to do after graduation?

I will pursue postdoctoral training to continue applying my expertise in ion channel biophysics while expanding my knowledge of structural biological approaches and computational modeling.

Q: Why did you join the Biophysical Society?

Initially I joined the Biophysical Society in order to attend my very first national scientific meeting and present my poster. Now attending the Biophysical Society meeting is the highlight of my year and reenergizes me with the excitement of interesting conversations and new ideas with colleagues and experts in my field.

Q: What (or who) inspires you scientifically?

I decided to be a scientist when I learned about space exploration in third grade. Studying outer space opened my eyes to a beautiful, complex, and incredibly huge universe just waiting to be explored. While my current “universe” revolves around a single protein, there is no less beauty and complexity. I am continually awestruck by the ingenuity and efficiency of biological machines and the most beautiful moments are those when they in fact seem simplest.

Manuel Covarrubias, Barber’s PI, says:

“Annika joined my lab about three years ago with no background in ion channel biophysics. However, when she asked to do a research rotation under my guidance, she expressed an extraordinary interest in learning quantitative physical methodologies to study biological problems in depth. She was not deterred by the challenge. She stayed in my lab, quickly learned ion channel electrophysiology and biophysics and took a project to investigate the molecular mechanisms of general anesthesia. Her first full-length paper was recently published in the Biophysical Journal. More recently, her insatiable curiosity to explore the intricacies of membrane proteins at the atomic level led her to learn molecular dynamics simulation in the Klein lab at Temple University, where she has made substantial progress in a collaborative effort to investigate voltage-gated ion channels and their interactions with general anesthetics. It has been a special pleasure to mentor her as she sharpens her innate problem-solving skills and applies biophysics to discover molecular mechanisms and their physiological implications.”

May 2012 Table of Contents