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Student Experiences

Jessica Smith - Chemistry, Biochemistry

Jessica's Project - Folding Specificity of Homologous Nucleotide-Binding Domains

In order to move molecules across membranes, cells utilize a variety of transport protein complexes including ABC-transporters, or ATP-Binding Cassettes. ABC-transporters are vital to cell metabolism and function because most molecules required for life cannot simply pass through the cell membrane. At the molecular level, ABC-transporters consist of two intermembrane domains that form a channel in the cell membrane and two nucleotide-binding domains (NBDs) in the cytoplasm. This project seeks to better understand the interaction between the intermembrane domains and the NDBs by determining which amino acids in the NBDs are important to efficient transport

[In other words...]

Proteins perform almost all of the tasks necessary to sustain life. In many cases, proteins must work together to facilitate complicated processes. In this project, we are investigating how individual proteins that form a complex "know" how to interect with the right protiens and not with unrelated proteins.

When, how, & why did you get involved in research?

I've been doing research since high school when I was given a really fantastic oppurtunity to work with a graduate student in the chemistry department on one of her projects. Before that experience I had no idea that a person could make a living a a scientist, and I certainly didn't think that I was the kind of person who would get a PhD. I 've been really fortunate that all of the faculty and graduate student mentors I've had have been extremely encouraging, allowing me to become an independant thinker while still helping me along the way.

Sometimes it's quite challenging to be an undergraduate researcher because you have to balance your research and your classes, which is something that graduate students don't need to worry about as much. As an undergraduate, you aren't supposed to worry about things like funding or to spend late nights in the lab, but I've definitely gotten very invested in my research.

What advice would you give to other student?

The most important thing to do when you first start in a lab is to keep a really good lab notebook. Write everything down, especially if you are in a field that does not rely heavily on computers. Also, once you have the chance to go to a conference or otherwise present your research, do not wear high heels, no matter how much you like them. You will regret it.

Future Plans

Graduate school


I'd like to thank the people who first gave me a chance, Dr. Janiece Hope and Prof. Rob Synovec. I'd also like to thank Janice DeCosmo, Jennifer Harris, Tracy Maschman Morrissey, and Lupine Miller, for all of their help with funding. Finally, I'd like to thank my lab, especially Rem Haft, Eli Gachelet, and Dr. Beth Traxler.

Awards and Honors

  • Research Fellow for Advanced Undergraduates
  • Mary Gates Research Scholarship


  • UW Undergraduate Research Symposium
  • UW SURP Symposium
  • Sigma Xi Undergraduate Research Symposium