RNA Scientist Spotlight – Robb Welty, Chemistry


Robb Welty

Post-doctoral fellow

Principal Investigator/Faculty: Nils Walter
Google scholar

  • What are your research interests?
    Academically speaking, my scientific interests lie at the intersection of chemistry, physics, and biology. I suppose that I just enjoy figuring out how systems work. It turns out that physics provides an awesome framework for figuring things out, and the most interesting systems involve the chemicals made by living things.
  • How does RNA relate to your research interests, and why?
    Two things. First the physical mechanism for how RNAs interact with themselves and their environments is very much an open question. Second, answering these questions are necessary for understanding how life works. Studying the biophysics or RNA allows me to fulfill my desire to discover while trying to make the world a better place.
  • Is there a layman image for your research?
    At their most fundamental, RNA molecules are simply chains of interconnected atoms which interact (e.g. wrap around, thread through, connect etc.) with other pieces of cellular machinery. These interactions are predicated on the oscillations, vibrations or (simply put) wiggling of these molecules. Like how symphonies emerge from vibrations of musical strings, life emerges from the motions of RNA.
  • Who/what brought you to science?
    I don’t really know. I’ve always been pretty independent, and academic science is one of the few environments that encourages free inquiry and rewards novel insight. My graduate mentor once told me that she was an academic because she didn’t like other people telling her what to do. That ethos strongly resonates with me.
  • What brought you to the University of Michigan
    My lab. When choosing which school to pursue a post-doc in I made a laundry list of things I wanted. For doing the kind of work I like there is literally no better place in the world.  I have amazing access to very specialized tools and expertise. Not to mention the freedom and intellectual support to maximize my potential.
  • What are your professional goals?
    I’d like to run my own lab.
  • What is your favorite hobby?
    Idle conversation. There are very few things in life as satisfying playing with ideas.

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