Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Profile

Professor Noel Lazo is a biophysical chemist whose research focuses on the biophysics of folding and aggregation of proteins.

What do you like about teaching at Clark?

Prof. Lazo: The class size is small so I get the opportunity to know the students on an individual basis. That to me is important because it paves the way for greater learning. Another thing I like about teaching at Clark is the availability of resources. For example, in the biophysical chemistry class that I taught last semester, there were research-grade instruments available that made it easier for me to teach the labs.

What do you consider to be the strengths of the department where undergrads are concerned?

Prof. Lazo: The main strength is the opportunity to do original research. That is important, because if the research starts out to be successful, then the undergraduate student will have the opportunity to be part of a publication in a scientific journal. Having the publication will help the student in his or her future plans, be that entering medical school later on or getting a job in the industry. Other strengths of the chemistry department that I have already talked about the availability of research grade instruments to undergraduates, and because class size is small, there is a greater faculty/ student interaction.

Are there opportunities for undergraduates to assist you in your work?

Prof. Lazo: There are plenty of opportunities for undergraduates to assist me in my work. There are three sub-groups within my research group. One group is targeting type 2 diabetes, particularly the islet amyloid polypeptide that is associated in the formation of plaques in pancreata of patients with type 2 diabetes. Another sub-group is targeting the amyloid beta protein that is associated with Alzheimer's disease; the focus there is to understand how the amyloid beta-protein folds and forms assemblies that kill neurons. The third sub-group is targeting the keratins and collagens that are found in the junction between the epidermis and the dermis. Here the disease that is associated with the mis-folding of the proteins is known as Epidermolysis bullosa, a disease that is characterized by the excessive blistering of the skin following little or no trauma.

So an undergrad joining my lab will have the opportunity to learn about peptide chemistry, including synthesizing and purifying peptides and performing biophysical studies on these peptides, studying how they aggregate in Alzheimer's disease and type 2 diabetes, or how they fold or mis-fold as in the case of Epidermolysis bullosa.

How many students this semester are working with you on all of these projects?

Prof. Lazo: I have a total of six undergraduate students, including a first-year student, and two Ph.D. students. The first-year student hasn't really done any experiments yet. I asked her to sit in our group meetings, and next semester she'll start some work in the laboratory.

What do undergraduates need to do if they want to work in your lab?

Prof. Lazo: First, I spend some time with them to find out what their interests and goals are. Then I tell them about the work in the lab, explain the three research sub-groups, and ask them if they're interested.

Are undergraduates able to interact with graduate students in a meaningful way?

Prof. Lazo: There are projects in my laboratory where I have the graduate student and the undergraduate student working together. That is good because it tends to increase productivity. It also leads to increased learning, not only on the part of the undergraduate student, but also on the part of the graduate student.

What advice would you give to undergraduates?

Prof. Lazo: I would tell them to be prepared to be actively involved in chemical and biochemical research, to interact directly with the faculty members, and to learn chemistry and biochemistry not only through standard coursework and standard laboratories, but also through solving chemical and biochemical problems.