Visiting chemistry professor lectures about membrane proteins


Graphic by Yolanda Chow

What do Brian Greene, Paul Farmer, and Eileen Collins have in common? All are respected scientists who have spoken at Calvin in the past ― and they are far from the only ones. As recently as Thursday, Sept. 26, chemistry, chemical engineering and biochemistry students gathered in the basement lecture hall of the Science Building to hear from a noted expert in their own field.

University of Virginia chemistry professor Linda Columbus visited Calvin to present on her research relating to membrane protein structure, function and dynamics. Her team of scientists investigated how bacterial pathogen membrane proteins interact with human host proteins. Before diving into her research, Columbus began with a narration of her early life. 

“Her mom was really young and dropped out of high school to later graduate from law school,” explained Lindsay Pederson, a junior chemistry student. “That part [of the talk] was super engaging and honestly made me excited to get [to hear] her talk about actual science. It made her talk feel more personal when hearing talk after talk about research can get very cold and analytical.”

After her lecture, a few students had the chance to have lunch with Columbus. 

“[It] was really fun… The conversation flowed pretty naturally and she seemed genuinely happy to get to sit and talk with us,” Pederson said. “I personally asked her a lot about graduate school and looking for research advisors.” 

Columbus could only stay for a few hours at Calvin because she was also scheduled to present at Hope College that Friday. Nevertheless, Columbus enjoyed the brief time she spent on campus. 

“Wonderful day at Calvin!!” she tweeted later that day. “Thank you to everyone I met with!” 

While not all had the scientific background to fully understand Columbus’s talk, Pederson noticed and admired the professor’s demeanor, personality, and intelligence. 

“She was very kind and down to earth and funny…It was really inspiring to get to meet a woman of science like her,” she said. “It gave me a greater confidence to pursue my interests and ask questions and struggle and rely on those around and above me.” 

Columbus’s visit will likely continue to influence and energize Calvin’s chemistry majors as they progress in their studies this year and in years to come.