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Mon 5/10, 2021, 7:30pm
Town Hall Seattle and UW Engage Science present
UW Engage Science: Magnetic Electron “Rulers,” Cascadia Subduction Zone Hazards, Signaling Molecules (livestream)
Sarah Sweger, Emma Myers, & Tammi van Neel

Town Hall and UW Engage Science present local graduate students discussing their cutting-edge research. Tune in for a look at the forefront of research in our region, and meet the students who are leading the latest wave of scientific discovery.

Proteins are the engines that drive the living world. These small molecules dictate everything from a plant’s ability to harness sunlight to how our brain cells communicate. Gaining insight into the possible forms a protein takes is one important step to understanding how it functions in a cell, but the shapes and sizes of proteins are as diverse as the roles they play. In Sarah Sweger’s work, we can get a glimpse of a protein’s structure by attaching tiny magnetic “rulers” at various points and measuring their distance from one another. Sweger’s research is focused on using statistics to help the people who use these magnetic “rulers” analyze their data and be more confident in their results.

Sarah Sweger is a Ph.D. student in the Chemistry department at the University of Washington, but Sweger’s work sits at the crossroads between chemistry, biology, and physics. Sweger’s research focuses on utilizing electrons as magnetic “rulers” to understand the structure and function of proteins and how we can use statistics to determine the reliability of our measurements.

The Cascadia subduction zone offshore of the west coast of the US has the potential to create dangerous, large earthquakes and tsunamis. While we are unable to directly look deep into the Earth at the boundary between the two tectonic plates where this earthquake would occur, there are many techniques we can use to create images of the seafloor and even look beneath the surface at the material above the fault. This “accretionary wedge” of sediment is highly deformed, with numerous faults and folds that help us better visualize how the subduction zone is accommodating the motion between these two plates and what potential earthquake hazards we should be aware of.

Emma Myers is a PhD candidate studying marine geophysics at UW. Her work focuses on characterizing the structure of the Earth beneath the ocean and how the Earth deforms along earthquake-producing subduction zone faults to better understand potential earthquake hazards.

Communication between cells is central in regulating processes in the body like how your immune system responds to illness or how organs develop. Tammi van Neel focuses on one type of communication between cells which involves the exchange of small, short-lived signaling molecules made and secreted by cells. Often the same short-lived signaling molecule is used simultaneously in many different pathways, making their capture before being used challenging and their primary role difficult to identify. She uses dual-functionalized beads that can both target a cell and capture a short-lived signaling molecule that the cell has secreted in order to reveal the role these signaling molecules have in a specific pathway. Her method for studying how cells talk to each other strives to be a tool researchers can use to better understand the role of short-lived signaling molecules in cell communication.

Tammi van Neel is a Ph.D. candidate in the Chemistry department at the University of Washington. She develops analytical tools and methods to study how cells communicate with each other using beads that capture small, short-lived signaling molecules.

Presented by Town Hall Seattle and UW Engage Science.

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