Fellow Reflection: Sarah Richardson
Field of Study: Human Genetics & Molecular Biology
Practicum: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Hometown: Baltimore, Md.
Baltimore, Md. native, Sarah Richardson, has no qualms about sharing the fruits of her scientific labor. While studying human genetics and molecular biology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, she developed a computer program to help researchers design synthetic genes. This program is now freely available on the internet. Sarah's interests lie far beyond the human genome: she plays blues guitar, builds flying models of WWII airplanes, collects and reads all kinds of books, and enjoys gardening and growing houseplants.
Explain why you have an interest in computational science.
"No one leaves the house without a cell phone anymore, even though most of us remember a time when we didn't think twice about being out of touch that way. Something similar has happened to biology - it's impossible to get research done without computers, and no lab is without them. I wanted to be as well versed as possible in computational sciences so I wouldn't have to rely on anyone to be an interpreter. I wanted to be able to write my own algorithms, design and adjust my own models, and apply their output to the bench myself."
Why did the DOE CSGF program appeal to you?
"The stipend didn't hurt! The thought of being mandated to take classes in a program of study so my advisors couldn't tell me I didn't have time to take interesting classes, that was intriguing. But the practicum − the requirement to get out of the thesis lab and do something else for at least three months − that was the best part. It sounded like a really good idea before I actually started my thesis work, when it rolled around I was skeptical of the time requirement but grateful for the break - and when I returned refreshed and with new ideas, methods and friends, I was incredibly grateful for the experience and past ready to do a second one."
Explain the benefits you have received or positive experiences you have had in the DOE CSGF program.
"I certainly wouldn't have made it to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and worked with the brilliant people there without CSGF. Because of DOE funding I've been able to afford international travel to present my work at European conferences. I don't think I would have gone to the 2009 Supercomputing Conference if not prodded to by the program, and that was an amazing experience. I look forward to going to DC every summer to reconnect with other fellows and to hear about their research, and I treasure the sense of progress I have after every year of my program of study, when I understand their work better."
Describe your career goal(s) in the computational science field.
"I want to study the human metagenome - all the genomes that make up a human body that aren't the human genome. We cannot grow the vast majority of bacterial species in the lab, probably because they won't grow in the pure cultures we like to use to characterize microorganisms, and since we cannot grow them we have a hard time sequencing them. Bacteria in the wild exist in complex ecosystems, and when these complex ecosystems are in human eyes, ears, noses or guts, their perturbation can cause disease. It's going to be hard to get a physical handle on all the cells inside the human body that aren't human cells − we will need really good models of their metabolic and genetic interactions. When we grasp what the ecosystem looks like, we may be able to design treatments and preventatives for common and currently irresolvable human ailments."