“I like knowing with certainty whether something is right or wrong and being able to prove it,” said Nick Arnold, a Silver City native who is double majoring in cell/molecular biology and chemistry at Western New Mexico University.
He’d had set out to enter the university’s forest/wildlife program because he’d worked for the U.S. Forest Service in the past. But he discovered his preference for the science classes with definite answers.
Also partial to working in a lab, Arnold liked taking a hands-on approach to his work.
The WNMU senior completed a New Mexico INBRE summer experience focused on biomedical research. Arnold looked as the mutant variant of the DUSP5 protein, which “is related to cancer,” in particular.
“I spent time expressing the protein and isolating it so we could send the protein to get its crystal structure. My mentor was a theoretical chemist who wanted to create a computer model and simulate the action of both the mutant and wild type of protein,” he explained. “In doing that, we could see if we could find a preexisting drug to target it. And if not, try and design a drug that would work for said protein.”
Arnold received housing and a stipend to participate in this program and said that, in addition to looking great on his graduate school application, the experience taught him a lot. “It was the first research I’d done outside of WNMU. There were a lot of students from New Mexico Tech and other schools, and I felt prepared, competitive.”
Eyeing a Ph.D. program in organic or physical chemistry after graduation, Arnold said he’s yet to determine where his career will lead. “From there, I can look and see if there are hot start ups or government labs or a tenured position available,” he said.
While he wraps up his undergraduate degree at WNMU, Arnold is working 20 hours per week as a teaching assistant in the WNMU natural science labs plus 9 hours as a tutor at the WNMU Center for Student Success. “I get paid to do stuff I already like,” he said.