Pranay Talla presents at the IEEE MIT 2019 URTC

Pranay TallaPranay Talla ('20) presented a lightning talk and a poster in the BioEECS & Applied Physics track at the 2019 IEEE MIT Undergraduate Research Technology Conference (URTC). 

Hosted on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus, the conference brought together undergraduates from around the world to present, discuss, and develop solutions to advance technology for humanity. 
  
Conference attendees participated in a rich program with keynote speeches and technical talks featuring renowned speakers, a student design competition, and networking events. There were also plenty of exciting events in addition to the presentations, such as the demos by MIT research labs.

This year, the conference had 39 posters, 11 lightning talks, 52 papers, and approximately 300 attendees. 

Q&A with Pranay Talla

How/why were you selected?
The abstracts submitted were reviewed by a board of Boston IEEE officials and MIT URTC board members. I applied to present both a poster and a lightning talk and was selected to do both.
 
Title of your research?
The Thermodynamics of Covalent Modification Cycles as Biological Switches
 
How/why did you choose your research topic?
My interest in topics at the intersection of math and biology has developed over several years. Since the start of high school, I have enjoyed successfully competing in the USA Mathematical Talent Search, the USA Computing Olympiad, the AIME, and the USA Biology Olympiad.

This, along with my participation in STEM-focused summer camps, helped develop my strong interest in science research and also gave me practical problem-solving skills. The Greeley Science Research program gave me a chance to further deepen my knowledge on these topics and prepared me well to be able to participate and contribute in a real research lab.
 
Because of this long-time interest of mine, I was excited when I was able to get an internship in a systems biology lab over the summer to carry out this research.
 
As for the specific research question I addressed, that came from a discussion with my mentor and reviewing literature in the field.
 
Please explain your research in a few sentences. . . 
Certain biochemical mechanisms inside our cells function as “biological switches”, in that they control the extent to which certain cellular events occur. Based on changes in the environment, these switches can shift between “on” and “off” states, determining among other things which genes will be expressed and which chemical signals will be transduced.
 
These biological switches are analogous in many ways to the electrical switches we are more familiar with. And, just like how engineers need to think about what makes an electrical switch effective, biophysicists would like to understand what makes biological switches effective. This was the overall question addressed in my research.
 
More specifically, I looked at a class of switch mechanisms called covalent modification cycles and ended up proving mathematical relationships between certain characteristics of the switches to certain thermodynamics in the cell. 
 
Overall, the more we understand how these biological switches work, the greater our ability to understand how our cells process information and respond to changes in their environments, which can help unlock mysteries of various cellular phenomena and explain the origins of certain diseases.
 
What do you enjoy most about the Science Research class?
I like how instead of always focusing on our own work, we get to learn about each other’s work and help each other along the process of becoming better researchers. While I have my specific interests, it is always interesting to see what my friends are working on, and it’s helpful to be able to work together to develop common skills such as effective communication.
 
What else - clubs, organizations, teams, and activities - are you involved in at Greeley?
I have been part of the Symphony and Chamber orchestras for all my years at Greeley so far and GSwim for three years. I am the founder of the Greeley Biology Club and a member of the Math Club and the Greeley Ambassadors.

Your plans for life after Greeley?
I am looking forward to exploring new things in college!
 
What do you want to be when you grow up?  
I hope to have a career in research, but I am keeping an open mind as to which specific area I want to focus on.