Senior Newman student David Baalmann recently traveled with Assistant Professor of Chemistry John Leveritt, Ph.D. to attend and present research at the 61st Biophysical Society Meeting which took place Feb. 11-15 in New Orleans, La.
The international conference takes place annually to give researchers a platform to share their work. Baalmann described the experience as exciting, stating that his education at Newman University helped prepare him for what he would see and learn.
"I really thought that my background here would help me out a lot," he said. "And it really did. Every presentation and everything I saw, I could understand because of my background in science. But everything I saw also took it to another level."
Being the first biophysical conference he's been to, Baalmann said he was happy to have the opportunity to learn from so many. As for his research, his time to shine was during a two-hour time period that consisted of answering questions and explaining his research to those who were in attendance.
"There were these poster sessions with about 200 posters each. I created a poster for one of those sessions," he said. "And as people would come by and ask me about it, I would give them a two or three-minute presentation on my research and then answer questions they had."
Baalmann's research focused on the very rare Pompe Disease, which is caused by the build-up of glycogen in the body's cells. He explained that his research revolved around simulating the enzyme alpha-glucosidase in order to find a commonality between different mutations.
"Alpha-glucosidase is not something you can find in protein data banks, or someplace you can find its structure," he explained. "So you have to simulate it yourself."
He said he wouldn't have been able to do his research without the aid of Leveritt.
"He taught me everything I know about molecular simulations," said Baalmann. "And if I didn’t have that crutch there, I couldn’t have done this research, so I’d say it [the research] was very much in collaboration."
Baalmann added that Leveritt "was there to help me with simulations. When something needed to be done, he’d do it really quick and explain how to do it the right way."
He also mentioned that the conference was not all undergraduate students. In fact, the majority were graduate and post-doctoral. "This was the first time for a Newman student to attend, let alone present a poster."
Baalmann explained that another student, Levy Hacker, also traveled with them to the event.
"His role in the conference is what I foresee for future students. A lot of people come to just look at other people’s research to get an idea of what they might want to do, to learn."
Baalmann said that with thousands of posters being presented throughout the five days, those in attendance are sure to find something that sparks their interest.
Baalmann said he will use his research for his senior honor's thesis and also on Scholars Day at Newman, adding that the time he spent presenting his poster at the conference was a great learning lesson for what he'll be doing at the end of the semester.
After graduation, Baalmann is hoping for acceptance into KU Medical School and eventually, to practice primary care in a rural setting. He said, "The hope is, right now, I have my heart set on going into rural primary care to work out in clinics."
Baalmann was raised on a dairy farm and said he wants to return to a community that made him who he is today.
"Over time, I learned that medicine could be my calling, and it’s always been in my heart to return to that setting, not that it has to be Colwich where I grew up, but I certainly hope it will be a rural setting."
In the meantime, he's keeping his eyes, ears, and heart open to any new opportunities that come his way.