Undergraduate Research

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Nitya Kopparapu

Biochemistry and Elements of Computing
Graduation Year:
It has been the most incredible experience to be able to do research, present it, and win awards for it.

Please give a brief, simplified overview of your research project.

All cells in our body originate from a pluripotent epiblast. As mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs) differentiate, they also undergo apical basolateral polarisation forming three distinct domains: apical, basal, and lateral. Cell polarisation is the asymmetric distribution of molecules across a cell. It helps with many processes like cell migration, cell fate determination, and embryonic development. The connection between cell differentiation and cell polarization is not very well understood. The goal of my project is to learn how certain protein complexes polarise as mESCs differentiate.

Describe the tasks you engage in as part of your work.

Immunofluorescence is a big part of my project. It is the best way to tag proteins in mammalian cells and visualize them under a microscope. In addition to this, I perform temporal perturbation experiments along with quantitative analyses to understand how cell polarity is coupled with cell differentiation.

Describe what you thought college might be like before you came to UT. Did you consider research when thinking about college?

I never considered research before I came to UT. I did not know what the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) program was as I went to high school abroad and did not know anything about UT. I was first introduced to it when my friend told me she was in the FRI program. I thought I would be pre-med and apply for medical school. After doing research, I fell in love with it and I haven’t looked back since. I will be applying to graduate school next fall.

How did you get involved with your research project?

In my sophomore year, I attended a research mixer hosted by OUR. Even though I did not find a faculty member there that matched my interest, they told me about a database called Eureka where any student can find research labs in UT by searching for a project they are interested in. Through Eureka, I cold emailed a few professors and one of them, Dr. Dickinson, got back to me. After waiting out the pandemic, I was finally able to resume undergraduate research work in the spring of my Junior year.

Do you see your project connecting with your plans for your future?

I love working on this project so much that I want to go to graduate school to get my Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology. Working on this project has shown me that research doesn’t have to be a lonely scientist sitting in a cold room working overtime for something that is not appreciated. Doing research work in this lab has shown me what a healthy work environment looks like and how collaborating with your peers can help you go far in your project.

What is the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve gotten to do for this project?

I was able to present my research at two undergraduate conferences: Symposium for Undergraduate Research Exploratorium (SURE) and the Fall Undergraduate Research Symposium (FURS) and I won best poster/presentation for both. It has been the most incredible experience to be able to do research, present it, and win awards for it.