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Kavya Rajesh

Photo of Kavya
Graduation Year:
May 2020
"This was my first time stepping out of my comfort zone and exploring something new; it was extremely challenging but absolutely worth it."

Faculty: Dr. Carlos Baiz
Name of project: Formamide stabilizes proteins in dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) solutions

Please give a brief, simplified overview of your research project.
My research involves studying protein denaturation in mixtures of chemicals called cryoprotectants and cryoprotectant toxicity neutralizers. We hope to understand denaturation mechanisms in these model systems in order to prevent ice formation in vivo and preserve living systems such as tissues and organs in the long term.

Describe the tasks you engage in as part of your work.
I use FTIR spectroscopy to study the thermal denaturation of a protein called lysozyme. I study the spectral line shape changes that occur as the protein unfolds and then extract melting temperatures and thermodynamic parameters using Matlab. We also use molecular dynamics simulations to understand the details behind the stabilization and denaturation processes.

Describe what you thought college might be like before you came to UT. Did you consider research when thinking about college?
In high school, I did research in a chemical engineering lab so I knew I wanted to join a lab in UT. I did not expect to become so fully immersed in my lab and spend all my time there, but looking back I wouldn’t change anything. Research helped me develop time management skills very quickly and gave me direction and mentorship as I went through college.

How did you get involved with your research project?
I joined the Baiz group my freshman year, as I was interested in the research on his website and Dr. Baiz was willing to give me a chance to learn. I first worked on a project quantifying hydrogen bond populations with my mentor, and she became a huge inspiration to me. I started my own project last summer when I was a part of the Chemistry REU program. This was my first time stepping out of my comfort zone and exploring something new; it was extremely challenging but absolutely worth it.

Do you see your project connecting with your plans for your future?
I want to become a doctor in the future, and I think this relates to the medical implications of my project, especially in complex tissue and organ preservation. There are also many potential applications of my research in the field of biotechnology. I plan on continuing research as a clinician and I hope to push the field forward in my own small way. Beyond direct connections to my project, doing research taught me how to repeatedly fail and learn from that failure, and I believe this tenacity will serve me well in any medical profession.

What is the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve gotten to do for this project?
I had the experience of writing a paper that we recently submitted for publication, which was entirely different from anything I had done before. I have gotten the chance to give poster sessions and talks, and I am going to the American Chemical Society conference in New Orleans in a few weeks with my research group to give a talk there. I never imagined having these opportunities, which have pushed me out of my comfort zone and given me public speaking skills.

What advice would you give to a student who was thinking about research?
If you are unsure about doing research, I would unequivocally say that it is worth trying. Research taught me things I never could have learned in a classroom, and beyond any skills or knowledge it gave me a second family on campus. My research group has given me lifelong friendships, mentors, and a sense of belonging. Don’t be afraid to ask a professor to join their lab, freely ask for advice, and always be confident in your abilities to accomplish things you never thought possible.