Aug. 28, 2020

Photo by Bill Oxford (@bill_oxford) on Unsplash.

4th-year Honors Wildcat Eric Lu, a double major in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Biochemistry with minors in Music, Spanish, and Mathematics, was selected as one of 56 Astronaut Scholars. His passion for biology stems from his childhood when he would observed his mother conducting experiments in her own lab, and he would watch with fascination and wonder. I recently spoke with him about his passion for biochemistry, research and advice to fellow students interested in pursuing science and research. 

What excites you most about Biochemistry and MCB? 

When I began college, I wanted to major in American History and study Constitutional law. I soon realized that I was mostly interested in the work done by federal judges and not the litigation or the politicking necessary to acquire an appointment, so I turned towards science. 

I was always fascinated by the life sciences, especially biology. As a child, I was frequently in my mother’s lab and would watch as she conducted experiments. I distinctly remembering learning about anatomy by dissecting a lab rat (under close supervision) and messing around with leftover liquid nitrogen. My first year at the university rekindled my interest in science, and I declared a major in MCB. I discovered a passion for research and built a strong foundation in cell biology and genetics. They drew my attention because I found beauty in the intricate complexities of these cellular mechanisms, like puzzles waiting to be pieced together.   

As I learned more about the field, I concluded that I would benefit from a better understanding of the structural and functional relationships of molecular mechanisms, so I declared a second major in Biochemistry. This broke down the artificial barriers I had constructed that separated the principles of biology, chemistry, and physics in my mind, leading to a more fluid and holistic understanding of the principles of life. 

You spend a lot of time in the classroom and the lab, what do you do for fun in your free time? 

Music has also been a large part of my life. In high school, I spent a great deal of time traveling and playing, and even made it to Carnegie Hall for an international competition. Although I no longer perform or maintain a repertoire, I still enjoy playing and try to practice as much as possible. I also spend a lot of time listening to music – I’ll listen to pretty much anything but I particularly enjoy jazz.  

I also spend a lot of time volunteering with the WORKship, a homeless feeding project at the Z-mansion, a wedding venue-turned shelter. I’ve met a lot of interesting people there, including several close friends.  

Otherwise, I enjoy hiking (especially in Saguaro National Park and around Sabino Canyon), playing video games, and spending time with my friends, family, and cat.

Favorite Honors class/professor?

Technically, I got honors credit from my research, so this goes to my PI, Dr. Andrew Capaldi, hands down. Not only has he been an incredibly kind and supportive mentor, but, like with everybody else in the lab, we are good friends. We often catch each other in the lab at strange hours. A close second would probably go to LAW 389: Sex, Race, and Drugs in the Supreme Court with Daniel Sakall and Jayme Weber.  

 Research inspiration (person or idea)?

That’s actually kind of hard to pin down, there are so many people I look to. Not only giants in my field, but also people closer to me, like my family, coworkers, and peers.  

At a time when big data sets are becoming the norm, revolutionary tools are being developed, and personalized medicine is beginning to take form, I want to work at the interface between science and medicine to study the molecular and cellular drivers of complex disease to derive novel or targeted therapeutics. More specifically, I am interested in cellular signaling and metabolic events that control cellular fates, such as differentiation, replication, and survival.

What is something you've done in your time at UA that you're especially proud?

I’m just happy that I was lucky enough to find a position that I enjoy so much that sometimes it doesn’t even feel like work.  

What's your advice for other students who are interested, but unsure how, to get involved in research?

Don’t give up! The University provides a great deal of resources for getting in touch with potential research mentors. Cold-calling professors doesn’t always work out, but if you do it, make sure you include a resume or CV, and read a few of their publications first. Even if you don’t understand most of it, it’ll give you a better sense of how interesting the research is to you, and will demonstrate interest that is sure to come across in an email. There are also several programs that connect students to mentors, such as UBRP, and applying to them is a great way to get started. Lastly, I have found that attending departmental events is a good way to build connections with faculty outside of the classroom. I randomly met my PI at a dinner event and three months later I joined up in the lab. The most important thing to do (apart from finding something that you’re interested in) is to a make sure that the lab is a good fit. Every lab has its own personality, and if you intend to spend a lot of time there, it’s worth making sure that you enjoy it.  

For more information about Eric and the Astronaut Scholar Award, see the following press release