When Gavin Touponse graduated from Emory this past May with a double major in chemistry and biology, he wasn’t quite ready to give up his research. He had joined the Conticello lab as a junior, and his honors thesis involved designing a multicomponent system that could assemble into sheets, tubes, and more. As an undergraduate, Gavin enjoyed physical chemistry, from quantum mechanics to thermodynamics. In fact, he originally thought he would do research in a physical chemistry lab.
Interestingly, Gavin ended up in a lab whose focus is on the study of biological macromolecules. When the need arose for Gavin to take summer courses in Biology, he took the opportunity to travel abroad for six weeks and complete his coursework in Siena, Italy. Dr. Conticello happened to be one of the faculty who was also in Siena at the time teaching biochemistry. Upon returning to Emory, Gavin reached out to Dr. Conticello and quickly became a member of his research team.
Now, even though he has finished his degree and is no longer taking classes, Gavin is continuing his research in the Conticello lab, focusing on biocompatible materials to be used for sensing, drug-delivery, and more. In fact, he was second author on their recently published manuscript entitled, “2D Crystal Engineering of Nanosheets Assembled from Helical Peptide Building Blocks” in Angewandt Chemie. He worked closely with postdoc Andrea Merg to explore how systematically varying the charge of collagen peptides can influence the structure of highly ordered nanosheet assemblies. And keep an eye out for more publications coming soon, Gavin says he has a few more on the horizon!
Gavin’s technique of choice in the lab is microscopy. Specifically, he uses transmission electron (TEM) microscopy and cryogenic electron microscopy (Cryo-EM) to visualize the biocompatible materials he is working on. However, even though microscopy is his favorite technique, he also admits that it is the most challenging. He explains that working with tiny, fragile metal grids is challenging in its own right, but the technique is conceptually challenging as well.
Gavin explains that, although he learned about microscopy in his classes, he didn’t really understand the technique until he used it himself. “The chemistry curriculum was definitely rigorous, but where I got a lot of my education was in the research setting more than in the classroom,” says Gavin. His advice for current students is to take the hardest classes you can and to try to get involved in research. “My education in chemistry wasn’t really complete until I started doing research,” says Gavin. “Research requires a certain amount of resiliency and teaches you how to persevere. You not only learn a lot about the science, but you also gain that extra skill of learning how to deal with challenges and work your way through problems.”
As he is wrapping up his projects in the Conticello lab, Gavin has started applying to medical schools. Additionally, having worked for three years as a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT) with Emory Emergency Medical Services (EMS), he is now working with Grady doing emergency response. Even though he might be donning a different white lab coat in medical school, Gavin definitely hopes to stay involved in research.