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Mon 5/17, 2021, 7:30pm
Town Hall Seattle and UW Engage Science present
UW Engage Science: Saturn’s Moon Eruptions, Repairing Muscle Instructions, Laser Cooling Nanomaterials (livestream)
Lucas Fifer, Halli Benasutti, & Rachel Gariepy

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.

Enceladus is a small, icy moon that orbits Saturn. Large eruptions of ice and gas are emitted from cracks in Enceladus’ icy surface, and these eruptions hint at the existence of an ocean hidden beneath the surface. A spacecraft flew through the eruptions to analyze them, and the results of that analysis suggest that the eruptions come from the subsurface ocean, and also that the ocean may have the right chemical ingredients to support life. However, not all components of the erupted material make the journey as easily as others. To fully understand what the eruptions can tell us about the ocean, we need to think about what chemical changes take place during the eruption process, what erupts easily, and what gets left behind.

Lucas Fifer is a graduate student and researcher in the University of Washington’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences, and Astrobiology Program. His research focus is on the subsurface ocean of Enceladus (a moon of Saturn), and whether this ocean could support extraterrestrial life.

Your muscles perform critical bodily functions, from walking and eating to breathing and circulating your blood. So what happens when the instructions your body uses to make and maintain your muscles aren’t clear? Sometimes the results can be diseases such as muscular dystrophy, which causes progressive muscle wasting. In Halli Benasutti’s research, she is working on a treatment for this disease by attempting to trick the body into reading an edited form of the unclear instructions. When it reads these new instructions, it will repair the broken machinery and restore muscular function!

Halli Benasutti is a biochemistry graduate student at the University of Washington, where she works to develop therapeutics for a disease called muscular dystrophy. Muscular dystrophy is a result of mutations in DNA, which cause the gradual wasting away of patient’s muscles over time, affecting their ability to walk, talk, and even breathe.

Enzymes are incredibly important molecules that participate in a wide variety of biological processes and biomedical applications. However, some methods using enzymes require extremely precise temperature control that is difficult for current machines to reliably produce, causing a relatively high rate of failed trials in many settings. The use of laser cooling nanomaterials, which can be covalently attached to the enzymes of interest, would open the door to directly controlling the temperature of the enzyme with high precision, thus controlling its rate of function. This form of direct control could be used to improve many biochemical and biomedical methods using enzymes, including the technique used in the most common COVID test.

Rachel Gariepy is a second year PhD student studying how materials that undergo laser cooling can impact the surrounding environment. She is examining how the temperature difference caused by these materials affects the activity rate of enzymes, which are of vital importance in many biological and biochemical processes.

Presented by Town Hall Seattle and UW Engage Science.

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