Chemistry Blog Series: Judith U. De Mel
by Gretchen Schneider | December 2020
Judith U. De Mel is a 5th year graduate student in the Schneider Research Group. Judith attended the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka for her undergraduate studies and graduated with BSc (hons.) in chemistry. She is an active member of numerous student organizations at LSU, including the National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE), Iota Sigma Pi, and International Students Association. Judith plans on graduating with her Ph.D. in chemistry in December 2020.
When did your interest in science start?
My interest in science started at a very young age. I was a very curious child and started collecting encyclopedias, reading a lot about everything science and history. I did science experiments that I could do at home with my father’s help. He is the one who encouraged me the most to explore.
Who is your favorite scientist(s) and why?
I grew up fascinated by people like Nikola Tesla, Mari Curie and Da Vinci who were polymaths and problem solvers. I always dreamt of being like them one day.
"I think that’s one of the reasons I was drawn to chemistry because it is the central science that connects many disciplines."
What made you decide to pursue a PhD at LSU?
Until I was a junior in undergrad, I didn’t even know it was a possibility for me. I am a first-generation PhD student which meant figuring out a lot on my own. I knew I wanted to learn more so I decided to apply in the U.S. because chemistry has a big presence here.
I was encouraged to apply to LSU by two of my professors from my undergrad institution
who were postdocs here and I had heard all good things about the department and faculty.
So, even when I had other offers I decided to come to LSU. Of course, LSU being one
of the most beautiful campuses also played a role in my decision.
What is the big question behind your research?
I am investigating the structure and dynamics of phospholipid vesicles and the changes at nanoscale upon interactions with different molecules.
So the big question I am trying to answer is of two parts: One is to understand how the lipid membrane in our cells responds to perturbations by molecules of varying complexity; and two, understand how different molecules and conditions can manipulate phospholipid self-assemblies such as vesicles.
Our findings then become useful in making efficient drug delivery systems which is one of the key challenges in targeted drug delivery. If we understand the drug delivery systems such as phospholipid vesicles at a molecular level, it becomes easier to make better drug cargos using them in nanomedicine.
What has been a highlight during your time in graduate school?
I had the opportunity to travel to many federal laboratories and international laboratories in Germany and the UK to conduct experiments. I also received generous support through travel awards to communicate our findings at national conferences. I love to travel so being able to do that and talk science was amazing.
What are your plans after graduation?
I hope to start postdoctoral research in biomedical engineering working on targeted drug delivery.
If you could write a book, what genre would you write it in? Mystery? Thriller? Romance? Historical fiction? Non-fiction?
Definitely non-fiction. In fact, I'm writing one now. I just don't know if I will ever publish it!
What is your favorite Louisiana dish?
There's too many because I love the food culture here. I think seafood gumbo is my favorite!