From getting her research start in the Heritage Youth Summer Research Award (HYRS) program, to winning an NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award, Trinity Deak is spending another summer vacation doing what she enjoys.

Trinity is working in Dr. Stacey Wetmore’s Computational Chemistry Lab this summer on a project that involves computationally modifying small interfering RNA (siRNA) molecules to increase its functionality. In the body, siRNA is involved in the degradation of mRNA to regulate the production of proteins. This degradation ability has the potential to be used in therapeutic drugs and treatments, and previous research on the subject has shown promising results. Because exogenous siRNA is not stable in the human body for effective pharmacological use, modifying the siRNA molecule can assist in increasing its effectiveness as a drug.

Over the summer, Trinity will be modifying several different RNA duplexes and analyzing the changes in its chemical properties. Her role in the project is to work alongside another undergraduate student and postdoctoral fellow to modify the duplexes, perform the calculations and conduct the analysis on the induced changes.

Trinity, now in her second year of a Neuroscience degree, got her start in research before she began her studies at the U of L, as she participated in the HYRS program during her Grade 11 and Grade 12 summers.

This program allowed high school students to complete a six-week term in research lab, along with field trips and seminars to expose us to the world of research. During the program, I had the pleasure of being placed in Dr. Wetmore’s lab and I got to learn about a whole new side of chemistry I had never heard of before. I enjoyed my experience so much I decided to go back to her lab once I began university and explore some more research opportunities.

She adds that conducting research in a lab setting has exposed her to many different things that she would not have experience within her degree, including an in-depth and hands-on exploration of chemistry topics and some computational skills.

It has helped me a lot to understand the scientific method and provided me with opportunities to present and meet people in the academic community. The experience has taught me so much from managing and setting up a project to presenting in a conference. I think it has helped me understand the academic community a lot more and I believe all the skills are invaluable in one way or another.

Trinity notes that she enjoys her lab at the U of L, saying the comradery has helped make the first steps of becoming a researcher less intimidating and more manageable. She adds that for anyone interested in becoming involved in research, they should start by reaching out to professors.

“If one can’t take you on, don’t be discouraged and ask someone else. Be persistent and get involved. It’s the type of hands-on experience you can’t get doing regular classes. Also, not to be afraid to ask for professors outside of your degree. University is about trying new things and that can include working in a lab not directly related to your degree.”