Story in the College of Arts & Sciences
Assistant Professor, Chemistry and Biochemistry
Chemistry professor develops tools to detect diseases very early for prevention or treatment.
Steven Suljak and his research assistants are building better tools for studying chemical and biological systems. In the lab, they develop nucleic chains called aptamers that can be used to detect indicators for disease.
One protein the team focuses on is vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which is key for blood vessel growth. Understanding this protein has big implications for preventing and treating tumors.
Suljak's research assistants say the lab experience they gain is valuable: they learn capillary electrophresis, gel shift assays, high performance liquid chromatography, and solid-phase peptide synthesis. Suljak says seeing the students gain a deeper understanding of research and hands-on skills is the most rewarding part of his job.
"I get to see the progression in students, from just learning organic chemistry to practical, problem-solving researchers who ask questions that haven't been asked or answered before," he says. "It's quite satisfying."
But it isn't all serious. The students and Suljak develop a close-knit community. They joke while they work in the lab, and a recent group instigated a weekly costume day. "There's a lot of camaraderie. We work as a team. Often even when the students aren't working, they're hanging out in the lab. Everyone likes being here," Suljak says.