A SURE thing

Some Sycamores get an introduction to research each year as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience. Andrew Beaven, a 2011 graduate, did and went on to work with collaborators at the prestigious National Institute of Health.

Dozens of Indiana State students spent their summer in campus labs researching various biology, chemistry, geology and physics projects. Among those students, past and present, participating in the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, are researchers of the future — researchers like Andrew Beaven.

Since leaving Terre Haute, the 2011 graduate has worked with collaborators at the prestigious National Institute of Health and Weill Cornell Medical College, as well as conducted graduate studies at the University of Kansas.

The 10-week SURE program, now in its ninth year, aims to introduce students to the world of research and prepare them for graduate studies. For Beaven, it did just that.

“My time in SURE was a transformational experience, and I don’t mean that lightly,” said Beaven of Marshall, Ill. “It was one of the first experiences in my life where a proverbial light bulb was turned on — I could see more of the world than I ever had before. There’s so much still left unknown in the world. It’s hard not to be motivated and excited.”

Beaven worked with chemistry and physics professor Eric Glendening during the summers following his freshman and sophomore years.

“During our time together, (Glendening) guided me through forming a simple additive model to predict hydrocarbon stabilities. That is, by simply observing the constituents and conformational traits of a molecule, we could predict how stable the molecule would be in the gas phase. Pretty incredible!” Beaven said. “It was my first semi-serious introduction to thermodynamics, quantum mechanics and how to use a computer to solve physical problems — all of which I still use to varying extents.”

From those first research experiences at Indiana State, Beaven — again with the encouragement of Glendening — completed a summer research program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2010. There, Beaven first learned about computational biophysics and biochemistry.

Thoroughly bit and infected by the research bug, Beaven continued his studies at the University of Kansas, where he worked for the Wonpil Im Research Group.

“As a result of my work at Kansas, I’ve had the ability to travel to national Biophysical Society meetings for the past three years — San Diego, Philadelphia and San Francisco, respectively,” Beaven said. “Additionally, one of the coolest things that I’m able to do is work with collaborators at the National Institutes of Health and Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, so I’m able to visit them two to three times per year, as well.”

Beaven is still focusing on computational research, but now he applies those methods to biological processes.

“My main interest is looking at how proteins and lipids adjust to each other under certain circumstances,” Beaven said. “I still try to employ a research philosophy that I, implicitly, I guess, learned from Dr. Glendening — to reduce a complex problem into something simple, learn everything you can from the simple system and then use what’s been learned to extrapolate to a more complex situation.”

The sky is the limit for Beaven, whose next steps include either earning a postdoctoral position or joining the workforce, and it all started one summer while working in an Indiana State laboratory.

“I’ve always been interested in a lot of different things, and while it makes choices more difficult, it also means that I have different routes to explore. With complete sincerity, it was my time in the SURE program that catapulted me onto my current path,” he said. “My time at Indiana State allowed me to find my interests, gain necessary research skills and develop relationships that brought me to where I am now.”

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