It’s not every day that a first-year college student finds him-or herself at Princeton University for a research opportunity, but for Wesley Murray ’19, can make this claim. For the past two summers, Murray, a computer science and physics major, has worked on two research projects with Princeton, spending one summer on campus and another in the Czech Republic.
“At Princeton, my project was to build a complex ecological system for studying cancer cells,” Murray said. “I would describe the project as a synthetic environment that mimics the conditions of the human body and allowed us to study the behavior of cancer cells in response to various stimuli. In the Czech Republic, the research group I was a part of studied a fluorescent, voltage sensing protein called ArcLight.”
The research experiences Murray had at Princeton and in the Czech Republic, each 10 weeks long, were a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“It was surreal that I, as a rising sophomore and junior undergraduate student, got to not only be exposed to leading edge science but to actually contribute to it,” he said.
Surprisingly, Murray’s hobbies are what best prepared him for his Princeton research.
“I grew up building things, taking things apart and repairing things,” he said. “I would learn how from the Internet. Building a complex ecological system sounds intimidating, but the concept isn’t all that different from any other project I had. The key difference is in the amount of time I spent reading, planning and designing before I started building, and the quality of tools I had access to.”
His project in the Czech Republic was similar in how it took several weeks of research to wrap his brain around the project before starting it.
“Centre prepared me well for this opportunity, because while I was supposed to be working in a wet lab, I ended up writing programs to do the lab’s data processing,” he explained. “I felt like the computer science department had equipped very well with the skills I needed to decide what programming language to use, how to properly design the programs and how to understand programming language libraries so that I could expand the capability of my programs beyond what I previously knew.”
During both of his research projects, Murray learned the importance of the people around him and how they contribute to the projects and his life.
“Between hitchhiking around Europe and the people I did research with, I learned that constructive communications among people inspires the best ideas,” he said. “It is the mixing of very different perspectives that brings out something unique. The key is to let everyone’s voice be heard equally.”
Murray said he was brought to work in a wet lab for this very reason—to bring a unique perspective. Without any prior biology experience, he was able to learn from those around him.
“The people I met both hitchhiking and in research were from very different backgrounds, but all had interesting stories and hobbies in their own right,” he added. “The more you are around people of different backgrounds, the more well-rounded and exciting your life will become. They see and think of things you don’t.”
While Murray may not be able to use much of the specialized knowledge he gained this past summer in his classes this year, the learning skills he developed will definitely be put into use.
“Being independent in my learning, motivated, a little stubborn and a problem solver are extremely important to my academic performance this year,” he said.
Ultimately, Murray realizes that everything and everyone he’s met along the way has helped him get to where he is today.
“At home, I have a family that always supports my decisions and will always do what they can to help me get there,” he said. “Without this foundation, or safety net, I would not be able to go after many of the things I do. I love to create and problem solve; this is why computer science and physics interested me so much. They never fail to challenge.”
by Kerry Steinhofer
October 18, 2017