Marlon Valladares Nuñez, Junior, Physics

Marlon Valladares Nuñez, Junior, Physics:

Marlon Image

What do you research?
I conduct research in the field of biophysics. Right now, I am working under the guidance of Dr. Hamza Balci from the physics department at Kent State. I help him when it comes to the I-motif, which is a specific form of DNA that was primarily found in the 1990s. It is essentially a third way in which you can find DNA inside of cells and has to do with the G-quadruplex. We are trying to find out how this molecule of DNA interacts with the molecules that we formally call small molecules. We have a lot to work on since the field is so new.

How do you conduct your research?
We will prepare samples, put them under a microscope and record data, and then, using computer software, we will try to identify trends with graphs. The most specialized part of the process is using the microscope, since we use a technique called total internal refraction.

What do you enjoy most about research?
To use an analogy, research is like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: an open world game where you can go anywhere and do anything. There is a beginning and sometimes an ending, but what happens in the middle is entirely up to you. It is about opportunity, but it is also about the thrill of not knowing what will happen and what you will discover. You hope for the unknown, make a path, and set out to adventure.

What was one of the biggest challenges you have encountered in the process of research? How did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge is that there is not an exact frame to work with. Students are typically used to an academic structure that is usually not present in research. Even when I am working under a professor, there are times when they give me a chance to be in charge while still under supervision, like a “fenced playground.” Having that liberty can be frightening if you have never had it before. Especially during the summer, I had to make my own schedule, make my own experiment, and decide what I would be doing for the whole day. It requires a lot of courage at the beginning, but it is a process, and you will learn. Just take it slow and accept that you will make mistakes.

How do you think you have grown as a student and/or as a professional as a result of research? What would you tell a friend who would like to become involved in research?
With research, there is more that you can see. It is not just doing the work that professors and graduate students do not want to do themselves; you learn and you grow. One idea that I realized through research is that, as undergraduates, we tend to think that this is the end of the line, but it is far from it. It keeps you humble.
If I were to explain why to conduct research to a friend, I would say it would be for the fun of it. Regardless of what a student is researching, it is always fun to try something new. At Kent State, research is available to anyone at any level of study! Take advantage of this because it helps in the future with graduate school, job applications, starting on your path, and it gives you another look at what you might want to pursue in life.