Nathan Edward Sanford

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences – Molecular and Cell Biology

Research Project: Determining atomic models of various components of the endoplasmic recticulum mitochondria encounter structure (ERMES) complex using protein X-ray crystallography

Ever since he first heard about crystallography (the study of the arrangement of atoms in solids) in an undergraduate class, Nathan Sanford was hooked. His decision to become a crystallographer was cemented by his recent year-long experience in the University of Massachusetts Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP). He took part in the program after earning his B.S. in chemistry and molecular biology from Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in May, 2012.

“It was more than a great experience. It was affirming,” Nathan insists. “This past year has shown me that I am meant to be a crystallographer.”

As part of the UMass PREP research internship program, designed to groom underrepresented students for graduate work in the STEM fields, Nathan worked in a protein crystallography lab, gaining just the experience he needed to start his Ph.D. at UConn. For his doctoral thesis, he is studying the structure of proteins in the endoplasmic recticulum mitochondria encounter structure (ERMES) complex—a basic component of the cells of all living things. He is excited about the possibility of helping to determine the structure of a protein class that has never been mapped before.

Through his research on the structures of parts of the cell and how they interrelate, Nathan hopes to contribute to the scientific understanding of disease prevention and cure.

“If you can find out how the cell works,” he explains, “you can learn more about diseases that happen when something goes wrong with the cell.”

After completing his degree, Nathan wants to become a professor. In addition to continuing to research protein structures relevant to the medical field, he is excited about teaching and mentoring underrepresented students who, like himself, want to pursue advanced degrees in STEM. His love of teaching, he says, is inspired by his mother, a special education teacher.

Nathan Sanford
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