REU student profile: Claire Korpela

Claire Korpela is a rising senior at the University of Wyoming studying chemistry and molecular biology. She spent the summer at Johns Hopkins University working in the chemical and biomolecular engineering laboratory of Honggang Cui. Claire was part of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology’s Research Experience for Undergraduates.

Claire Korpela

Claire Korpela

Her research project involved creating a peptide chain that targets to cancer cells and combining it with an anti-cancer drug. Claire’s career goal is to become an oncologist. She decided to write her own blog post on her experience at JHU, which follows:

The naked eye is only so good for seeing small objects. This summer I had the opportunity to work with chemotherapeutic 1D nanostructures, a task that my naked eye was not well equipped for.


Nanotubes (Cui Lab)

When I was first told that the nanotubes I had formed from individual drug-peptide monomers has self-assembled into highly ordered and complex structures, I had a difficult time wrapping my mind around what that meant. Just the idea of nanotechnology astounded me. How could something so small have such a large impact on society and the future of technology and medicine? It was something I needed to see to believe.

After looking at my sample using transmission electron microscopy (TEM), I was taken aback by the image that was before me. It certainly wouldn’t be classified as beautiful or interesting to most people looking at it, but to me it was. Seeing how my molecule aggregated on its own into nanotubes that can weave around itself to form a stable gel gave me an even better understanding of just how important nanotechnology can be in the fight against cancer.


For all press inquiries regarding INBT, its faculty and programs, contact Mary Spiro, or 410-516-4802.

Gerecht research featured in Baltimore Sun science section

Science journalism is coming back to The Baltimore Sun, or so it would seem. Evidence of this comes in the form of this well written article by Arthur Hirsch about work in the laboratory of Sharon Gerecht, associate professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and an affiliated faculty member of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology.

Photo  from The Baltimore Sun.

Photo from The Baltimore Sun.

The Gerecht lab is working on ways to coax stem cells into becoming tiny micro blood vessels, the kind crucial to feeding nutrients to new or transplanted tissue. Without these smallest branches of blood vessel, tissue cannot thrive.

Hirsch does an excellent job at not only deftly reporting Gerecht’s findings but beautifully describing what the vessels look like and the overall significance of the work. But this is not a critique of Hirsch’s writing. I am unqualified to do that. What this IS, is a tip of the hat to The Baltimore Sun for a) actually having a science story that was about the work of local scientists and b) assigning an extremely competent writer to produce the work.

I say this, because for the last 10 years or so, there seems to have been a steady decline in science reporting in by local media. The decline was in the quantity as well as in the quality. The New York Times still had their Tuesday Science Times, and a few other major dailies have managed to keep their science sections alive. But overall, there was a sharp and rapid decline in science journalist positions at smaller newspapers. Entire departments were disassembled. Bureaus shut down. Science stories, if they were written, were about “news you could use” and were relegated to newbie writers, many of who had little or no scientific understanding. Many former science reporters moved into the blogosphere or took up public relations jobs, like I did.

But the Gerecht story was about basic science, not about some new gadget that could fix this or that right now. It was about the scientific process and “eureka” moments. It gave insight into how scientists work, and even more importantly, how LONG it takes to arrive at a significant finding. (In this case, it has taken Gerecht 10 years to arrive at these findings.)

Maybe there is hope for the future of science journalism at the local level yet.

Check out The Sun story here:

Lab-grown blood vessels made with less ado

Mary Spiro is the science writer and blog maven for Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology. All comments can be sent to