The Making of a Researcher - Tucson Local Media: University Of Arizona

The Making of a Researcher

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Friday, January 4, 2013 7:42 pm

Emile Brink Gordon’s zeal for research at the University of Arizona led him to publish his first peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Virology – a rare achievement for an undergraduate student. His article was one of five spotlighted by the editor as “especially meritorious” and “of significant interest.” His second article has just been accepted. Last fall, Gordon presented his research at the 22nd Biennial Phage and Virus Assembly Conference – also while an undergraduate.

Born in South Africa, Emile moved to Phoenix when he was 12. The opportunity to work in a nationally funded science lab as a freshman laser-focused his intellect, curiosity and considerable energy.

“I believe that the University of Arizona is unique – because while the UA recruits world-class scientists, it still provides substantial resources, infrastructure and opportunities for undergraduate research. While it is rare for undergraduates to publish as a first author, the opportunities the UA affords makes it very possible,” Gordon said.

His mentor is BIO5 Institute scientist Bentley Fane, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Plant Sciences in the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Fane is a leading expert on microviruses, with a focus on scaffolding proteins. He has received continuous funding from the National Science Foundation since 1993.

“My freshman year at very beginning of college – he let me work in his lab for free,” Gordon said. “Bentley has played an integral role in my development as a scientist. His invaluable insight, advice and encouragement have given me the inspiration to pursue research as a career.”

He wryly added, “My mentor is a perfectionist – definitely a perfectionist. Each manuscript leaves some trauma in my life.”

Gordon's broad exploratory research in Fane's UA lab involved a small well-studied microvirus that has just 11 proteins. Because microviruses can be so easily altered genetically and biochemically analyzed, they serve as a model for other dangerous pathogenic viruses that cannot be so readily investigated in a laboratory setting.

Fane also noted, “Emile had to master some rather sophisticated genetic and biochemical concepts and techniques. His project required patience, a high level of technical competence and lastly – maturity. Many students struggle when experimental results do not agree with the initial hypotheses and model.” Gordon persevered.

Triple-Major Scholar and Active Leader

Gordon came to the UA on scholarship to study political science. It took just one microbiology course to change his major to microbiology. Then he added two more science majors and the Honors College.

“It’s not hard when you know what you want to do,” he said.

The Phi Beta Kappa student triple majored in microbiology, molecular and cellular biology, and human anatomy and physiology. He also led a campaign to start a flu vaccination clinic for the homeless, which today inoculates more than 300 persons each year. He spearheaded the initiative to create a tobacco-free campus, collaborating with Campus Health Service and the Arizona Cancer Center. And he created the Honors Biomedical Journal Club to engage freshman in the wonders of scientific discovery. Off campus, he was a hospice volunteer and emergency department volunteer.

“I am particularly adamant about the mantra ‘practice what you preach,’” he said. That led him to engage UA students in these and other projects. “You do not need a Ph.D. or M.D. to make a difference. You can make a difference without any letters on your name.”

Support from Undergraduate Biology Research Program

Gordon was able to remain so engaged in his research in Fane’s lab thanks to a program partly funded by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“I would not have been able to delve so deeply into my project if it were not for theUndergraduate Biology Research Program,” he said. “Without UBRP funding, I would not have been able to conduct research over the summers, and may have spent significantly less time there during the semesters in order to find a job to pay for college.”

He noted that principal investigators like Fane cannot invest hard-won research dollars on inexperienced students as they learn – yet are committed to providing that opportunity. That’s where UBRP helps. UBRP also assists student scientists in other ways, such as paying Gordon’s transportation to present his research at an international conference.

After graduating in 2012, Gordon became an assistant research fellow at the National Institutes of Health where he is working on two projects related to cerebral malaria.

No Other Institution Presents These Opportunities

“I never wanted to do research,” Gordon said. “I was looking to become a doctor, doing public health. My mind changed. I learned the value of basic science. Now I want to become a medical scientist.

“I don’t know of any other undergraduate institution where I could have written a manuscript (now two) and practiced my speaking ability” before national and international colleagues. “I don’t know of any other place with those types of opportunities. This is going to make me a better scientist.”

© 2017 Tucson Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Welcome to the discussion.

Saturday 09/26/2015

Little goes right for the Wildcats

Saturday 09/19/2015

Records fall in lopsided win

Friday 09/04/2015

Arizona challenged by Roadrunners

Tuesday 08/18/2015

Arizona has few questions at QB

Thursday 08/06/2015

Cats open fall drills

Monday 03/09/2015

McConnell, Johnson finalists for awards Johnson Named FOY, Four Wildcats Honored by Pac-12

Monday 01/19/2015

Johnson named Player of the Week

Friday 01/16/2015

Wildcats down shorthanded Colorado

Monday 01/05/2015

Vote for Sean Miller & win $100,000 for the Tucson Ronald McDonald House

Monday 12/15/2014

Arts and Sciences Are Writing a New Love Story Together

Thursday 12/11/2014

More hardware for UA's Wright

Wednesday 12/10/2014

S.H.I.E.L.D half season finale delivers Cats get a glimpse of the future in blowout

Friday 11/14/2014

UA Eller College To Share Economic Outlook for 2015-2016

Wednesday 11/12/2014

UA Humanities Seminars

Tuesday 11/04/2014

What's Up UA? - Hiring Interns? Top 8 Tips for Companies

Wednesday 10/15/2014

What's Up UA? - Close Encounter 'One in a Million'

Monday 10/13/2014

What's Up UA? - Austin Hill: The Comeback Kid

Monday 10/06/2014

What's Up UA? - Health, Wellness Practices Highlighted by Chinese Culture Festival

Thursday 10/02/2014

What's Up UA? - Ready for a Super-Fast Internet? UA Scientists Are Fast at Work on It

Tuesday 09/30/2014

What's Up UA? - Using the Force: UA Police Officer Completes NASA Project

Monday 09/29/2014

What's Up UA? - How New Social Movements Take Root

Friday 09/26/2014

What's Up UA? - PBS 'NewsHour' to Feature Inspirational UA Student

Wednesday 09/24/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Paves Way to Redefine STEM Education

Monday 09/22/2014

What's Up UA? - Wildcats Rally, Hail Mary TD Defeats Cal, 49-45

Thursday 09/18/2014

What's Up UA? - When Job Loss Equals Weight Gain

Monday 09/15/2014

What's Up UA? - Don’t Underestimate Your Mind’s Eye

Thursday 09/11/2014

What's Up UA? - 'What I Wish I Had Known as a Freshman'

Tuesday 09/09/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Undergraduate Researchers Take to the Radio

Thursday 09/04/2014

What's Up UA? - Send Your Tweet – and Your Name – to an Asteroid

Tuesday 09/02/2014

What's Up UA? - Brown Foundations' $2.5 Million Kicks Off Catapult Corp

Thursday 08/28/2014

What's Up UA? - New Veterinary Degree Program Made Possible by $9M Gift is Critical for State

Monday 08/25/2014

What's Up UA? - Laser 'Lightning Rods' Channel Electricity Through Thin Air

Thursday 08/21/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Fall Enrollment Sets Record for Diversity, Number of Freshmen

Tuesday 08/19/2014

What's Up UA? - Remarkable Résumé: UA Student Journalist's Career Includes CNN, NYT Phoenix

Friday 08/15/2014

What's Up UA? - Through Innovative Partnership, 'Hot Shot' Team Tackles Yuma Produce Perils

Wednesday 08/13/2014

What's Up UA? - The UA Named a Top College by The Princeton Review

Monday 08/11/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Researchers Study Increasing Lifespan and Immune Function What's Up UA? - UA Undergrads Conducting Microgravity Research Aboard NASA's G-Force One

Monday 06/09/2014

What's up UA? - UA to Host U.S. and Mexico Officials Exploring Collaborations in Education, Innovation, Research

Thursday 06/05/2014

What's Up UA? - New Wilderness Medicine Class Hones Patient Care Skills in Rugged Conditions

Tuesday 06/03/2014

Track Cats Send Eight Athletes to TrackTown USA

Monday 06/02/2014

What's Up UA? - Bringing a Spacecraft Back From the Dead

Friday 05/30/2014

What's Up UA? - Heart Attack Patient Defies Odds with Tailored Surgical Treatment at UA Medical Center

Thursday 05/29/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Marketing Students Win National AT&T Competition

Tuesday 05/27/2014

What's Up UA? - Scientists Discover Genetic Basis of Pest Resistance to Biotech Cotton

Friday 05/23/2014

What's up UA? - Four UA Students Picked for Pat Tillman Foundation Scholarships

Wednesday 05/21/2014

What's Up UA? - Scientists Discover Genetic Basis of Pest Resistance to Biotech Cotton

Monday 05/19/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Tunnels Get Carbon Fiber Makeover


Follow us on Facebook

Online poll