Amazing Students

Tuan Nguyen

Goldwater Scholar Tuan Nguyen spends a lot of his time doing research in the lab, but the future doctor also has a soft spot for basketball and history.


Douglasville, Ga.

High School:

Douglas County High School

Degree objective:

B.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology, mathematics

Expected graduation:

Spring 2015

University highlights, achievements and awards:

I’ve been immersed in research throughout my years at UGA. I’ve worked in Natarajan Kannan’s lab since the beginning of my freshman year with the backing of a CURO Honors Scholarship and the CURO Summer Fellowship. Most of my work focuses on understanding the intricate structures and functions of protein kinase from an evolutionary perspective to uncover new drug targets. I really enjoy the nature of my work. I like to call myself a theoretical biochemist (like a theoretical physicist), because what I do is create models of how a protein is regulated by looking at the sequence and structural data (which is a bit analogous to the equations in physics). I do complex sequence alignments and protein structural comparisons to find out which amino acids make a protein unique.

During the summer of 2013, I also worked with Susan Taylor at the University of California, San Diego and learned protein crystallography to solve protein structures that I’ve closely studied from a computational standpoint here at Dr. Kannan’s Lab. At UGA, I was among the first members of UGA’s International Genetically Engineered Machine, or iGEM, team, which won a silver medal in the North American 2013 competition. In March, I was awarded a national Goldwater Scholarship. I’m quite grateful for the supportive environment provided by UGA and the Honors Program, which has kept alive my dream of becoming a scientist.

Family Ties to UGA:

I’m the first member of my family to attend college in America.

I chose to attend UGA because...

… of the supportive academic environment offered by the Honors Program, and a very accommodating research environment in Dr. Kannan’s lab. Also, I could not turn down the Ramsey Scholarship program, which appeared to take quite excellent care of its students when we first visited UGA.

My favorite things to do on campus are...

… playing basketball either at Ramsey Center or any other outdoor playground that I stumble upon. I also love going to the Creamery to get some snacks whenever something seemingly good happens to me.

When I have free time, I like...

… to play basketball, watch live basketball games and watch old hoop mix tapes. I study the game very closely and I think I would be an OK basketball scout if given a chance. I also really enjoy watching historical documentaries and going through archived historical photos and the stories behind them and catching up on the latest National Geographic issues. I’d call myself a history and geography buff, but I don’t necessarily like the “how” of historical interpretations enough to call myself a historian.

My favorite place to study is...

… the science library and my lab bench. It’s impossible not to focus when I’m amid the absolute silence of my lab bench. It also helps that my lab bench is purely computational so I don’t have to worry about chemicals or contaminations.

My favorite professor is...

… Dr. Kannan, who played a major role in me coming to UGA. I’m grateful that I’ve been given the freedom to pursue and initiate my own projects in the lab while at UGA.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with...

It would most likely be Richard Feynman. He is perhaps one of the most idiosyncratic scientific figures of his time and I would very much like to have a frank discussion about the deeper values of science and the relationship between science, society and education. I’d also like to meet Eric Lander, who is a charismatic scientist, and have a talk about the latest unaddressed problems in genomics and medicine.

If I knew I could not fail, I would...

… train my students to be super awesome scientists who would one day make great contributions to our world. I don’t think a scientist’s greatest legacy is how groundbreaking his or her work is. Great discoveries don’t come often and are often subject to other situational factors. On the other hand, my students would hopefully carry out my work and do more science. Certainly, anyone would rather have 10 competent scientists versus one going hard at a problem.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to...

I’d like to produce improvised lab benches made out of recycled/scrapped materials, where we can “play” around with bacteria to engineer different sorts of “programmable,” low-cost biosensors to diagnose everything from diseases such as cancer to toxic chemicals, and release them to the public at no cost (analogous to open-source software). I’d like my research to be accessible to a broad audience who can get involved and let their imaginations roam without any constraints.

After graduation, I plan to...

… perhaps take a year off and deeply learn a particular research technique and just master it.  I’d like to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. program afterward and have further training in molecular biology techniques to improve cancer drug delivery and diagnostics.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be...

… all the home football games I attended at Sanford Stadium; I was never into football until I set foot on campus.

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