Jessica Ames, ESR13

Please tell us about yourself

I was born and raised in a small, rural town in central Illinois in the USA. I studied chemical engineering at a Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana for a couple of years before transferring to the University of Oklahoma. I graduated from the University of Oklahoma in August 2018 with a BS degree in chemical biosciences. When I’m not in lab, I love traveling, listening to and making music, and catching up with friends.

Why are you interested in science?

I’ve always been incredibly curious. I’m sure I asked millions (if not billions!) of questions growing up. The only thing that’s changed over time is that most of my current questions aren’t so easily answered; the answers often require in-depth research or experiments. I love the feeling when things finally ‘click,’ though. It’s as if the world is a giant puzzle composed of an infinite number of miniscule pieces. Studying science offers a way to piece together sections of this puzzle and find connections among seemingly unrelated events. I love playing a tiny role in putting together this enormous puzzle and helping to find the answer to life, the universe and everything 🙂

Please tell us about your PhD project

Shape and function go hand in hand. For example, a deep, rounded ladle allows you to dip up a hearty amount of your favorite soup, while the hooks and loops found on opposite sides of Velcro offer secure, but reversible, closure. The shapes, or structures, of objects often provide valuable hints at their functions – and proteins are no different!

Proteins can be thought of as tiny molecular machines that are responsible for the majority of life’s processes. They compose our fingernails, make copies of DNA, and help plants convert sunlight to sugar. Understanding the shapes of proteins is crucial to understanding their roles within cells. Unfortunately, determining the structure of membrane proteins can be tricky because of their preference for a unique environment. The cell membrane, composed of lipids, contains a an interior layer with no water and an aqueous exterior.

Through the course of my PhD, I will be synthesizing variations of lipids to mimic the cell membrane. By changing characteristics of these lipids, and the resulting membrane, we aim to make an environment where different proteins are most happy. This will allow the proteins to crystallize, and will allow us to gain insight on their structure and function.

What do you or did you enjoy most until now in your position within RAMP network? Why?

Though I don’t officially start my position in RAMP until tomorrow, I’m so excited for all that is to come. Thus far, the network has been incredibly welcoming and supportive. With their help and advice, I look forward to quickly getting up to speed and becoming a valuable member of the consortium. I’m certain the great personalities, intelligence, and creativity in this group will allow us all to succeed both individually and together.