It was at my undergraduate institution, the University of California at San Diego, where I decided I would try my hand at the world of science. I graduated with a double major in Biophysics and Japanese in an effort to pursue my passion for science while still appeasing my desire to become fluent in the Japanese language. At the time I was set on going to Japan for graduate school. However, as fate would have it, I put my journey to Japan on hold to instead begin my graduate career at the Biophysics program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2010.
It was at Illinois where I met the two most influential scientists of my career: (1) Professor Colin Wraight, who accepted me as a graduate student to work with him on the mechanism of electron transfer in bacterial reaction centers, and (2) Dr. Sergei Dikanov, a world expert of pulsed electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR), who shaped me into the EPR spectroscopist I am today. The unyielding passion of these two to perform good science was crucial to the success of my own research and growth as a scientist.
My chance to conduct research in Japan was to come sooner than I had expected, when I was awarded the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) postdoctoral fellowship. This turn of events would not have been possible without Colin's letter of recommendation. To my great despair, he passed away before I could tell him the good news.
In 2014, I traveled to Tokyo, Japan to start a yearlong postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Toshio Iwasaki at the Nippon Medical School. There we worked together on iron-sulfur clusters, utilizing a variety of biophysical techniques such as EPR, X-ray crystallography, and 2D gel electrophoresis. Dr. Iwasaki allowed me significant time to study the Japanese language, for which I am grateful to him. I had the opportunity to travel to natural disaster-stricken areas of Japan to teach science, and immerse myself in the Japanese culture (mainly ramen). While I didn't quite manage to pass the highest level Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N1 by the end of my stay in Japan, I managed to pass the second highest JLPT N2. Someday I'd like to try to conquer the JLPT N1 once more!
In 2016 I began my second postdoc at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), securing an NIH F32 fellowship in 2017. Working under Professors Robert Griffin and JoAnne Stubbe, I started out working on the class Ia ribonucleotide reductase (RNR), an enzyme essential for the conversion of ribonucleotides into deoxyribonucleotides (the building blocks of DNA). The number cutting-edge spectroscopic tools and equipment available to me at MIT was both amazing and overwhelming at the same time. I found myself working together with many brilliant colleagues, often combining techniques across the fields of EPR, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), and cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to solve key structure-function relationship questions about RNR.
Despite all of this, little did I know I was about to be in for the most life-changing event of my career: machine learning. Machine learning? How? Why? While my roots are pretty interdisciplinary spanning biochemistry and magnetic resonance spectroscopy theory and simulations, I had little experience in computer science (I only knew how to code in Matlab). But a few key conversations with the MIT computer science community on the prospect of combining machine learning with spectroscopy were to change my life forever. I dropped everything and studied Python religiously, forcing myself to become as knowledgeable as possible in both high-level (open source libraries like NumPy and Pandas, and Tensorflow and PyTorch for machine learning) and low-level (e.g. data structures and memory management) computer science concepts, taking classes both online and in person at MIT. Combining machine learning with magnetic resonance spectroscopy has been, and continues to be the source of some of the most exciting scienctific discoveries of my career. Outside of the academic world, I began to participate in local hackathons, even winning two of them. One of the hackathons even led to my position as CTO of a startup. This is the beauty of MIT.