North Texas Daily

Doctoral student receives Nobel opportunity

Doctoral student receives Nobel opportunity

Doctoral student receives Nobel opportunity
April 22
23:19 2015

Samantha McDonald / Senior Staff Writer

Two years ago, Michael Jones applied to become one of about 600 participants to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, an annual congregation of young scientists and leading researchers in the fields of medicine, physiology, physics and chemistry.

The doctoral student, who learned about the event from an advisor, did not make the cut.

Jones refused to pass up the opportunity, an act of perseverance that led to his acceptance at the 65th Lindau meeting in Germany this year, which will allow him to network with 70 laureates and 672 students from 89 countries from June 28 to July 3.

“I gave it another shot because I had to try again,” he said. “I feel that it’s going to be one of those life-affirming events that change you. It’s like joining the higher society.”

Although this will mark his first trip to Germany and first time at an international conference with decorated laureates, Jones said he looks forward to interacting with and learning from the experiences of those who are also attending the event.

“Everyone has a story, and those stories are actually helpful and inspirational,” he said. “You can learn from different pathways. What I’m hoping is to gain different research strategies because I want to advance my career in science as well as get some inspiration and meet future collaborators and future colleagues.”

The “bottom-up approach”

Jones grew up in the small town of Sikeston, Missouri, describing the residents’ lifestyles as simple and conservative.

As a kid, he remembered his parents telling him to “go help people.” That notion persuaded him to become a doctor, and he began his undergraduate studies in chemistry.

During his freshman year, Jones said he was lost – moving from one class to another without a tangible goal. When he met with his advisor, she pitched a project on HIV research, which propelled an academic career participating in science-related activities and attending conferences that served as motivation for his current work.

“With that experience as an undergrad, I grew more interested in terms of the actual research,” Jones said. “We’re answering ‘why’ questions and getting a better understanding — connecting what we see in the big world scope of things to what we actually want to know.”

As a college junior, Jones said he realized he didn’t want to be a doctor. Instead, he wanted to focus on research that delves deep into the atomic level of chemical systems. He calls it the “bottom-up approach” – figuring out the fundamentals of biological problems, particularly in illnesses like cancer.

“I’m not trying to save the world by curing cancer,” Jones said. “We have these ideas – we either die or live – but we want to have a better understanding of what’s going on, so that we can tailor that and be specific and really save lives. That’s the missing key.”

A future in science

Jones regularly conducts his research, which focuses on inflammatory diseases, at the Wilson Research Group, a laboratory based at the UNT chemistry building, where he has worked for more than two years.

The group’s director, Angela Wilson, has known Jones for three years, serving as a regents professor of chemistry and director at the Center for Advanced Scientific Computing and Modeling. She and Jones work together in computational chemistry, a division of science in which students use computers and mathematics to understand the physical properties of molecules.

Wilson said about a year ago a colleague at the National Institute of Health asked if she could send them a student for the summer to start a collaboration at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute for a research, training and education program between scientists and students. Wilson said she sent Jones, whose work was so impressive the NIH now supports his graduate studies.

“Michael is great at interacting with other people and has a great deal of curiosity, so he asks many questions,” she said. “He will be a great participant in the meeting.”

Doctoral student in physical chemistry Alexis Morris said she has known Jones for about five years, working in the Wilson Research Group after becoming friends during their undergraduate studies. While Jones can turn a simple idea into a prominent research project and acts as a mentor to fellow students, Morris said his strength lies in a solidly driven and reliable personality.

“If I could describe Michael’s personality in one word, it would be resilient,” she said. “Despite any situation he experiences, he still effortlessly remains to be an enthusiastic, dedicated, hardworking and well-rounded student who genuinely loves what he does.”

These characteristics are also noticeable to Jesseca Short, a doctoral student in the department of public administration, who first met Jones at a Graduate Student Council town hall meeting. She said they immediately became friends and constantly informed one another of conferences, professional development opportunities and workshops around the area.

However, it was his work ethic that struck her. Jones started his day at 5 a.m. and ended only when his tasks were complete, usually in the evening. Despite being the first one in the lab and the last one to leave, Jones manages to maintain a positive attitude, Short said.

“He is always enthused about his day, and tries to spread knowledge, enthusiasm and positivity to all those he encounters,” she said. “[His] only weakness is working early or late hours on a project until it is complete because, for Michael, there is no such thing as putting off until tomorrow when it could be done right now.”

Short said Jones’ research in physical chemistry has raised the profile of the chemistry department at UNT, which shows through his passion for chemistry and his eagerness to learn.

“He is illustrating that an investment in graduate education helps to increase research opportunities in addition to funding for research that helps to solve many issues in today’s society,” she said. “I am proud of Michael’s many accomplishments and look forward to what his future has in store for him.”

Featured image: Ph. D student Michael Jones is conducting advanced computational cancer research. Photo courtesy of UNT News

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