Dr. Akash Bhattacharya gave a presentation to 80 Voelcker Biomedical Research Academy high school students about the changing world of biophysics.
The students are part of an immersive biomedical research education and college preparatory program for San Antonio high school students.
“I was thinking of making this presentation different, a sort of walk through the scope of biophysics and structural biology and its place in general biosciences and how we can make contributions which help understand disease,” he said.
The Biophysical Society defines biophysics as a bridge between biology and physics.
“That’s a pretty vague description, if I were to define biophysics, I would say that it’s the study of the machines and the machinery of life processes and how they function,” he said.
Dr. Akash Bhattacharya is a biophysics researcher who is working in Dr. Dmitri Ivanov’s lab on fundamental HIV-host interactions which help fuel downstream drug discovery. He explained that he wanted students to take away that in these immense biological processes there are tiny biological machines that make it all possible.
As a society, we have long been fascinated by looking at the minutia of life.
“In 1665, Hooke published his seminal text – Micrographia and over the next three centuries, we have developed more and more advanced tools to look at small objects,” he said. “What I find fascinating is that the desire to look at smaller and smaller units was going on in physics the same time that it was in biology.”
As a researcher working on HIV/AIDS research, Dr. Bhattacharya explained that he is looking at things smaller than cells called proteins.
“I asked students what a protein looks like and the answer is that it really depends on who’s asking because for us a sample of a protein in a test tube looks like sugar dissolved in water but if we were the size of a cell, a protein would look really different,” he said.
Dr. Bhattacharya said that it’s vital for students to think about the scale at which science has evolved over time.
“The Protein Data Bank has more than 110,000 structures of biomolecules today and in order to understand how biological machines work, we need pretty complex machinery like a NMR spectrometer, XRAY Diffraction Fluorimeters and computational clusters.
Dr. Bhattacharya is one of the many guest speakers to join the Voelker Biomedical Research Academy class and was excited to be able to teach the group of eager young scientists.
“I was enthused by the degree of audience participation. These youngsters are quite impressive and very bright indeed,” Dr. Bhattacharya said.