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Bioinformatics Major Jenna Vesey ’24 Radiates at Stanford

November 13, 2023

Faculty mentorship, on-campus lab research, a prestigious internship…and now an award-winning poster at the 2023 SSRL/LCRL Users’ Meeting. Meet bioinformatics major and neuroscience minor Jenna Vesey ’24!

How did the opportunity to present at the conference come about? 

This summer, I did an internship for a program called BioXFEL at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. This internship  involved looking at studying biological molecules that were studied/captured via the use of extreme intense x-ray rays. During this specific project, I did my summer research on analyzing virus snapshots taken with the use of XFEL (the intense x-rays) with the use of machine learning to sort through the 20,000 snapshots of these viruses. Due to the summer research experience, the program reached out to the interns to present our summer research at the conference at the SLAC National Accelerator Lab at Stanford University, with the entire trip paid for. I thought it would be a good opportunity and a great experience, so I accepted.

What did your research entail?

I examined if unsupervised machine learning was a good way to sort through single particle snapshots. The XFEL data is capable of capturing incredibly small particles, such as viruses and proteins, without the need to crystallize them. The X-rays can then be directly shot at the object of interest and is captured onto a detector. For my specific project, I was given a dataset of 20,000 x-ray snapshots of a virus that infects E. Coli. The goal of the research was to clean up the data set to remove the snapshots that were noisy or were images that contained detector images. The original dataset was purified to about 35% of the original points after all of the noisy snapshots were removed.

What impact has Ramapo College had on your research pursuits?

Honestly, when I first got to Ramapo, I genuinely did not know what I wanted to do. I knew I loved biology, and after talking to Dr. Paramjeet Bagga my freshman year about genetics and structural biology opportunities that the bioinformatics major offered me, I I knew bioinformatics was the major for me. Learning about biology and programming were very helpful for the BioFXEL internship at the University of Wisconsin. One of the most helpful things to make me research for me was working with Dr. Joost Monen in his beer/yeast genetic lab. I started working in this lab during the summer after my sophomore year. He let me learn some of the techniques to try it out and see if I wanted to do lab work in general. I fell in love with conducting lab work. Being able to answer questions on topics I really enjoyed was super exciting. Working in Dr. Monen’s lab has been one of the highlights of my college career. I love doing all of the genetics work and all of the hours spent in the lab have really set me up for success.

Why did you choose Ramapo College?

I chose Ramapo for a variety of reasons. When I first got here, the first campus tour I took, I had a gut feeling I was going to end up here. The school had a great atmosphere and everywhere I looked, people seemed happy to be here. Plus, Ramapo had amazing opportunities. They offered good study abroad programs, a good honors program, and a lot of campus activities. I even got super involved which I am happy about. All of this for a reasonable price made Ramapo an amazing first pick for a school.

Who has been your biggest mentor at Ramapo College?

Dr. Joost Monen has been a huge mentor to me. Last year, I thought I wanted to be pre-med because that is what most people I knew getting biology degrees wanted to do. When I started researching in Dr. Monen’s lab, I got experiences working in a real lab compared to a lab that we had done for classes. This experience has been awesome. I never realized how much I would love working in a lab. He has encouraged me to pursue getting a PhD instead. He has helped me every step of the way: from writing letters of recommendations, helping me for hours on my poster, or giving me advice for my classes and future career. He has helped me figure out what to do with my life and encouraged me to be the best I can be.

What are your plans after graduation?

I want to go into a PhD program and eventually pursue some sort of genetics or bioinformatics research to look at diseases.