What They Learned: Gabriel Braun ‘19

The chemistry major, biochemistry concentrator, and French and Francophone studies minor reflects on the collaborative aspects of his thesis process.

Chemistry major, biochemistry concentrator, and French and Francophone studies minor Gabriel Braun ’19 built his thesis on the work of nearly a generation of Haverford chemistry students. He had been working in Professor of Chemistry Karin Åkerfeldt’s lab since the summer after his sophomore year, and his thesis work was a continuation of past theses from the Åkerfeldt lab, including investigations conducted by at least five previous lab members.

Braun explored peptide hydrogels with a specific eye towards biomedical applications. This investigation ultimately evolved into two smaller projects: he studied how such hydrogels aggregate, forming a gel material, and he also studied a particular way of measuring acidity within these gels. In each case, Braun’s research built simultaneously upon the local genealogy he found in the Åkerfeldt lab and upon a larger cohort of researchers, both at Haverford and internationally.

“I’ve worked closely with collaborators for both of my projects,” he said. “My research into the mechanism of aggregation is in collaboration with Professor Sara Linse at the University of Lund in Sweden, while my work on the pKa determination of histidine is in collaboration with Professor Casey Londergan here at Haverford.”

Braun’s work is evidence of a deeper partnership between the Åkerfeldt lab at Haverford and the Linse lab at Lund University. Åkerfeldt’s faculty page notes that she and Linse regularly send students back and forth between their labs, and Haverford alumnus Brett Pogostin ‘18 is currently doing research funded by a Fulbright Research Award at the University of Lund with Linse and her collaborator Ulf Olsson, after having spent the summer of 2017 working with Olsson. Braun will soon be following in Pogostin’s footsteps.

“I’ll be studying peptide aggregation (in the context of Alzheimer’s disease, rather than hydrogels) in Dr. Linse’s lab in Lund under a Fulbright Research Award,” said Braun. “After that, I’m planning on pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry or biochemistry. My decision to go to grad school has definitely been influenced by my incredibly positive experience with my thesis work.”

What is your biggest takeaway from your thesis project?

One of the most important things I’ve learned from my thesis work is the importance of collaboration in scientific research. Another important takeaway from the thesis process is the importance of a growth mindset in research. With long-term research projects, you’ll inevitably run into failure; what determines the success of a project is not so much avoiding failure, but embracing it, learning from it, and using it to make your next attempt that much better.

What are the implications for your thesis research?

Both parts of my thesis represent new ways of studying hydrogels (materials that have numerous biomedical uses). We’ve taken the approach of trying to understand hydrogels from a biophysical standpoint, rather than a materials science standpoint. Hopefully, this work will inspire further research into hydrogels through a biophysical lens, allowing for the development and optimization of new hydrogels for biomedical uses.

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.