Inside the Barnard Chemistry Labs

Inside the Barnard Chemistry Labs

Last semester, I had the opportunity to participate first-hand in the incredible science research occurring at Barnard. I worked in the Austin lab, with Professor Rachel Austin herself, on one of her three inorganic chemistry projects. The AlkB project involves purifying a protein found in the membrane of various organisms, in particular, a small bacteria found in extremely hot climates. This is the organism I extracted the membrane protein from, through many steps, and tested to ensure the protein was active and alive.

While the basic structures of most types of AlkB protein are widely known, the function of each protein is not. The goal of the project is to discover the function of AlkB in different organisms. The famous AlkB is in a marine organism, and when the protein is introduced to a body of water with an oil spill, it has the ability to transform the chemical molecules in the oil, thereby improving the environment.

My experiment focused on purifying the protein extracted from the aforementioned organism found in hot climates. To do this, we first had to grow the protein. I would inoculate the bacteria with substances allowing it to grow and make the desired protein. The bacteria would grow for a few hours, be transferred to a larger container, and grow some more. Then, the bacteria were spun in a centrifuge, to separate the cell from the other material. The cells were burst open and spun once more, to collect the cell membrane.

At this point, we’d hope the protein was still alive, extract the protein, mix it with solutions to keep it alive, and test it in the Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). The machine ensured the protein we desired was present and active. The reactivity was measured and compared to a standard active protein sample, as well as the discarded portions of the centrifuged solutions. This allowed us to confirm the final sample’s reactivity was highest, as expected, and it was!

See below for some of my pictures from the lab!

Lastly, we confirmed the protein’s identity with a gel, which showed us the size of the protein in comparison to the known protein. All in all, I loved my time in the Austin lab and can't wait to work there this summer in Barnard’s Summer Research Institute. I gained invaluable skills in data analysis, pipetting techniques, gel running, GC-MS, and so much more. Barnard and Professor Austin made me fall in love with research and chemistry and I can wait to engage in more of both!

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