Undergraduate Research Program

Brandon Sim

Major: Biochemistry and Physics (intended)
Mentor: Sharona Gordon (Physiology and Biophysics) and Paul Wiggins (Physics)


Current research projects: Development and Application of tmFRET Methods for Probing Protein Structure and Dynamics (Gordon Lab), Theoretical/Computational Investigation of DNA Replication Dynamics (Wiggins Lab)

Brandon Sim is a third-year student at the University of Washington pursuing degrees in Biochemistry and Physics (and maybe Mathematics!). They are currently working on fluorescence spectroscopy methods in Sharona Gordon’s lab (in collaboration with Bill Zagotta’s lab) in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, and theoretical modeling of DNA replication in Paul Wiggins’ lab in the Department of Physics. Brandon intends to pursue a career in research, education, or both. They are also committed to advancing equity and justice in academia and in society. Their hobbies include running, reading, soccer and playing the piano!


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
The activity of biomolecules called proteins underlies nearly every physiological process, from cell signaling and biological electricity to sensation and movement. Proteins can do all this because of their ability to exist in multiple shapes, called conformations, which have varying chemical/physical properties. What conformations are more thermodynamically favorable than others? How fast does a protein transition between conformations? What happens to the shape of the protein during these transitions? In the Gordon Lab, I work on methods for figuring out the answers to these questions using fluorophores – molecules that light up! When bacterial cells divide, they pass all of their genetic information on to two daughter cells. Each healthy cell contains enough genetic information (DNA) for one cell, so how does it end up with enough DNA for two daughter cells? Then, how do those daughter cells eventually end up with enough DNA to pass to their own daughter cells? The answer is a process called DNA replication, which is the job of a group of proteins called the replisome that travels along DNA and makes a copy. In the Wiggins Lab, I work on mathematically/physically modeling this process with their aim of determining the mechanisms that lead to the DNA replication process slowing down.



When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I applied to work in the Gordon Lab in winter quarter of my first year because, at that time, I wanted to become a doctor and I heard that research experience would look good on my resume for med school (I was also heavily influenced by a deep childhood fascination with science and the natural world which I had buried in pursuit of a medical career). However, I quickly fell in love with the surprises, challenges, failure, learning, personal growth, community, and joy that can come with taking your curiosity into your own hands and doing research. In fact, after spending almost two years working on research projects in the Gordon Lab and joining the Wiggins Lab as well, I’ve discovered that I love it way too much to do pretty much anything else!


What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Find a mentor who respects you and cares about you beyond just your research productivity, and whose mentoring style meets your needs. Make sure that you are comfortable in your research environment, and you feel like you can be yourself. You might think “it’s my first research position so I just have to take what I can get”, but nothing will turn you off from research faster than an unwelcoming research environment, or a mentor who sees you merely as free labor and treats you accordingly.