Inside the CUNY ASRC with Elizabeth Orth

Elizabeth Orth

  • Research assistant in Dr. Kevin Gardner’s group at Structural Biology Initiative
  • Obtained her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014
  • Interested in optimizing EL222, a protein engineered for optogenetic (a biological technique which involves the use of light to control cells in living tissue) expression in mammalian cells
  • Worked for one year in a cell migration research lab at Johns Hopkins University
  • Participated in engineering internships at The Procter & Gamble Company and at Total Petrochemicals & Refining
  • Elizabeth enjoys K-12 outreach, previously volunteering with the Thread mentorship program and Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day STEM Festival
  • She will begin a Tri-Institutional Ph.D. Program in Chemical Biology—awarded jointly by Weill Cornell Medical College, Rockefeller University, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center—beginning in July

What is the inspiration or motivation behind your interest in research about proteins like EL222?

I always knew I wanted to be an engineer but also wanted to work with the life sciences. Research at the interface of engineering and biology interested me and that is why I was inspired to work with the protein EL222; this project allowed me to unite my engineering and biology interests.

When did you find out you wanted to be a scientist?

After I joined a research lab at UT-Austin, I discovered I enjoyed doing research so I applied to PhD programs, and I actually got into a program at Johns Hopkins. After a year, I left Johns Hopkins to work with Dr. Kevin Gardner (CUNY ASRC Structural Biology Initiative Director) and Dr. Laura Motta-Mena (former Gardner Lab member). They have been great role models for me and have inspired me to pursue a career in research.

What makes the Gardner Lab unique from others in the same research field?

Kevin’s main work focuses on structural work and because of this, he can take insights from structural biology research and find real-world applications for that work, such as therapeutic drugs or research tools. His experience and knowledge of the field, the advanced instrumentation at the ASRC and the close proximity of the New York Structural Biology Center definitely makes this a unique lab in the field.

How do the core user facilities enable you to conduct your research?

I mostly use the Photonics Spectroscopy Core on the second floor of the ASRC—it’s really been crucial to my research thus far. I’m still learning how to use some of the equipment but having Eugene Onoichenco (PSF lab manager) there who helps me to use the equipment and advises me on some of the different aspects of my experiments as they relate to photonics. I probably wouldn’t have come up with some of the findings if I hadn’t been working closely with a photonics expert.

What does “interdisciplinary research” mean to you?

Interdisciplinary research for me means working collaboratively with other researchers on a project, regardless of their field of expertise. To do that, you need to be an effective communicator because you have to reach out to people and be willing to ask for help. It makes a huge difference in widening the scope of what your research can be when you get outside your own field. I really think the ASRC has enabled scientists to do so easily.

‘Inside the CUNY ASRC’ is a regular monthly series featuring some of the many cutting-edge scientists performing research at the Advanced Science Research Center. Compiled from interviews conducted by the ASRC Explainers, Lehman College and Macaulay Honors College junior Sana Batool and Queens College sophomore Colleen Chasteau, the series showcases researchers from a range of experience levels—from undergraduates to faculty members.