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Rachel Thomas

Institution/Organization: University of Saint Mary

Department: Biochemistry

Academic Status: None

What conference theme areas are you interested in:

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) for science and engineering;
Applications in science, engineering, and industry;
Data assimilation, challenges in data science, math of AI and ML


I am broadly interested in biomedical research and in particular bioinformatics and its applications to systems biology. My future research interests are shaped by the emerging trend of machine learning and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations and their role in facilitating and complementing experimental studies of biomolecular systems. The impact of MD in molecular biology and drug discovery has expanded dramatically in recent years. These simulations capture the behavior of proteins and other biomolecules in full atomic detail and at very fine temporal resolution. These simulations have proven valuable in deciphering functional mechanisms of proteins and other biomolecules, in uncovering structural basis of disease and in the design and optimization of small molecules, peptides, and proteins. My research agenda focuses on harnessing the power of these powerful computational methods to continue to explain the behaviors of biological processes; specifically those pertaining to the immune system. My past research investigates protein-ligand associations and the resulting conformational changes in the Stimulator of Interferon Genes (STING). STING plays a major role in facilitating innate immune signaling in cells. This is an area of scientific research that is of great interest to me.

Non-Work Related Activities/Interests:

With a bright smile and eager eyes, I greeted the new students and welcomed them to the Upward Bound (UB) Summer Program. Over the next several weeks we would go from complete strangers to life long friends. I was hired to be a tutor and peer mentor for the federally funded Upward Bound and College Launch program for the Navajo Nation chapter in southern Utah. This program is designed to provide opportunities for participants to succeed in pre-college performance and ultimately in their higher educational pursuits. As mentors, we encouraged students to engage in and take ownership of their learning and make positive choices in a friendly and supportive environment. We helped students develop important life skills such as making new friends, public speaking techniques, and peaceful conflict resolution. Skills such as creativity, sportsmanship, and teamwork were strengthened through daily enrichment activities such as talent shows, mural, and drawing competitions, sporting events, and scavenger hunts. As a result of this program, students were able to develop and enhance core values such as accountability, honesty, integrity, respect and self-confidence, and overcoming challenges. They also were able to build and strengthen meaningful relationships as well as improve their academic performance and improve math, English, and fundamental study skills. My life was also enriched by this experience. I was able to learn about and come to appreciate more fully the Navajo culture and traditions. I saw first-hand how encouragement and support leads to increased self-confidence and assuredness. This ultimately leads to improved self-perception and a new-found sense of self-empowerment. Lastly, I was reminded of the pure joy that comes from helping and serving others. I hope to continue to encourage and promote STEM education and support underrepresented and underprivileged individuals through my community outreach efforts