Undergraduate Research Program

Carson Butcher

Major: Cellular, Molecular, and Developmental Biology
Mentor: Cole DeForest, Chemical Engineering

Contact: chb13@uw.edu

Current research project: Near-Instantaneous, 4D Control of Protein Photoactivation in Hydrogel Biomaterials


Carson is a rising junior majoring in cellular, molecular, and developmental biology at the University of Washington. Since 2020, she has been working as a member of the DeForest group to near-instantaneously photoactivate proteins in hydrogels with the hopes of applying this technology to relevant problems in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. She is very excited to couple couple her passions for biology and scientific collaboration towards establishing biotechnological platforms to uplift the human experience, whether this be innovating more specific and streamlined technologies to treat cell-based disease or devising a means by which to speed up the wound-healing process. When not in the lab or in class, odds are Carson is out on a lengthy bike ride or climbing at SBP. If she’s not cycling or climbing, then she’s probably running, hiking, or at the Gear Garage.


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Proteins are the key conductors of biochemical reactions in living systems and provide essential regulation of many bioprocesses across all scales of life. Thus, having user-defined control over protein activation in both time and 3D space (i.e. 4D) imparts the user great influence over bioprocesses such as cell differentiation (referring to the types of cells nascent cells grow up to be,) migration, and proliferation. My project focuses on exploiting light-based chemistries to activate proteins in a user-defined manner within hydrogels, water-swollen, polymeric biomaterials that more accurately mimic the native cell environment. This work has exciting ramifications in tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, and stem cell biology.



When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
After taking my first biology class in high school, I knew I had stumbled onto something fantastic. The cellular world fascinated me, and I continued to pursue my love of biology throughout high school by taking every remotely biology-related class I could take. My senior year of high school, I took a biology research class in which we learned the fundamentals of designing and executing experiments. I was challenged to apply what I learned in class towards towards investigating/solving problems with real-world applications, which convinced me that research was something I certainly wanted to pursue in college. The fall of my sophomore year, after scouring the URP database, meeting with a URP advisor, and sending several cold-emails, I discovered the DeForest team and met with Professor DeForest to discuss a possible opportunity. After meeting with him and other members of the lab to see if the project/lab environment was a good fit, I officially joined the team and the rest is history!


What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Don’t rush! Take your time scouring the myriad resources the UW has to offer and find a project that genuinely interests and inspires you, even if it is not directly in your major (I’m an MCD biology major working in a chemical/bioengineering lab.) I assure you, as long as you show enthusiasm and dedication to your project, you will be able to learn all the skills you need to thrive in a research setting. Moreover, you absolutely do not have to find a research position immediately after arriving on campus. Take some time to explore your interests and adjust to college life — you have more time than you think!