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Science Journey: Conformational Changes

Katelyn Radford, PhD student in biochemistry and molecular biophysics

When scientists tell their story, they often say they knew it was what they wanted to do. Radford always struggled in STEM classes, and never thought she would be able to do it, even if she wanted to.

Radford went into linguistics, and over the course of five years of study as an undergraduate and graduate student, her focus drifted closer and closer to neuroscience. Then it happened: she watched a friend go through a severe mental health crisis. Radford's desire to understand his condition and find a way to treat it spurred her to set aside her doubts, and plunge into biochemistry.

Six years later, Radford is a graduate student in biochemistry. Though her interests have morphed, she has found a passion for her work that she has never experienced before.

Now, Radford is a structural biologist. Using a huge electron microscope and a lot of data processing, she looks at proteins, which are tiny molecular machines inside our cells in order to help figure out how they work. Proteins mediate a vast amount of what goes on at the cellular level, enabling reactions, moving food and waste around, forming many of the cell's structural components, and even generating chemical energy. The past year has made us all familiar with one particular protein: the Spike protein on SARS-CoV-2. Structural biology not only informed the iconic red and grey virus illustration, but it also played a critical role in developing the vaccines against COVID-19.

In this talk, Radford will explore the science of structural biology more deeply, and she will also discuss her transition into science and what it taught her.

About the Speaker

Katelyn (Kate) Radford is a graduate student in biochemistry and molecular biophysics at Caltech. Her graduate work in the lab of Pamela Bjorkman focuses on describing the structures of proteins and protein complexes involved in virus-host interactions using electron cryo-microscopy. Before becoming a biochemist, Kate received her master's degree in linguistics from Oxford University. In her ever-diminishing spare time, Kate sings with choirs, including an octet, which she organizes. She loves long walks, good conversation, and just about any type of coffee.

Series Cosponsor: Caltech Employees Federal Credit Union

About the Series

Science Journeys online programs are recommended for grades 8 and up, but everyone is welcome to attend.

These programs are made possible through the generosity of the Friends of Beckman Auditorium.

If you have questions, please email Mary Herrera at

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