REU Student Spotlight: Karla Rivera

By Christelle Paul, SEAS Correspondent

NAME: Karla Rivera


COLLEGE: Barry University


MAJOR: Biochemistry

RESEARCH MENTORS: Ben Maoz and George Touloumes

HARVARD LAB: Kit Parker, Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics

What have you been studying in the lab this summer?

I have been working to grow neurons on a Petri dish. I am creating different brain proteins and networks where neurons can grow. The overall goal is to get neurons in-vitro to “feel” as if they are in-vivo in the brain. I am creating a brain-like environment for neurons to grow, so they will be able to resemble real neurons based on their surrounding conditions.

What is challenging about this work?

Not having complete control over the outcomes of experiments is challenging. I want things to work perfectly, but I can’t fake the data. Figuring out ways around unexpected results requires a lot of trial and error.

What interested you in biochemistry and the brain?

I am passionate about the role brain research can play in both a military setting as well as a civilian setting. More traumatic brain injury research needs to be conducted, and the Parker Lab is taking such unique approaches to studying this issue. I am interested in brain research, because it is the only organ that we don’t yet fully understand. To me, the complexity of the brain brings so much beauty to it. I feel like it would be impossible to become bored of learning about the brain. A researcher could make a discovery, then have 10 other questions or problems arise, making scientists continuously question what next route to take, or what next problem to solve.

Do you feel like you’ve grown this summer, academically or personally?

I have definitely grown in both ways. This project has made me reconnect with the fundamental concepts involving neuroscience, cellular processes, and protein functions. I have seen constant connectivity between my prior knowledge and how it applies to the work I’m doing here. Personally, this program has boosted my confidence because I am in an environment that challenges me intellectually. Also, I've gained a sense of independence by leaving Miami for the first time and coming to Boston.

Do you have any hobbies?

I like to work out and hike. I enjoy outdoorsy activities. Since I’ve been in Boston, I have spent a lot of time working out at Harvard Stadium.