August 10, 2022

By Haley Dittbrenner ’25

Sydney Salas '23 Sydney Salas ’23Anthropology and biology double major Sydney Salas ’23 spent her summer working in a molecular biology and genetics lab at Cornell University through the National Science Foundation’s Research Opportunities for Undergraduates program.

Salas, from Springfield, Pennsylvania, first heard about the internship when Pavithra Vivekanand, associate professor of biology, encouraged her to visit the National Science Foundation website for research opportunities.

“She helped me apply and wrote me a letter of recommendation,” Salas said. Salas also commented that she learned many of the skills required for the internship in Vivekanand’s classes.

Salas was assigned to a solo project that a graduate student first began working on. She was tasked with collecting data and creating a poster to demonstrate the work she completed during the internship. Much of her assignment involved recognizing how data relates to the big picture in her field.

Salas studied a lysosomal transmembrane protein called TMEM106B, which is linked to degenerative diseases and brain aging. Salas’s work in the lab determined that a process of protein lipid modification known as myristylation regulates the levels of TMEM106B in the brain. Through a process called western blotting, Salas determined which proteins bind to TMEM106B, with the goal of learning how this may be linked to neurodegeneration.

“The poster I intend to cultivate from my experiments this summer will hopefully be entered in some conferences this fall where I would present my work to the scientific community at large. Without this opportunity, I may not have had the chance to enter a poster in such an event before I had graduated from SU,” Salas said.

Salas was the youngest person to work in the lab this summer. At first, she faced challenges working with the new equipment and protocol. However, she has still experienced great success with Cornell.

“I gained confidence in my lab skills and my own intelligence as well as learning from some of the brightest minds Cornell has to offer,” she said.

This internship guided Salas in her decision to pursue a doctorate, having experienced work in a graduate level lab environment. She has also made lasting connections with the scientists at the Ivy League school. When she graduates in May 2023, she intends to pursue a doctorate in immunology.