Jason Lerner

2016 Thinking Outside the Box


What makes you a Difference Maker?

I strive to have the deepest possible intuition on the wild and fantastic complexity of life by applying models and developing new approaches that may change the way that we view ourselves and other living organisms. Although many biological processes are extremely complex and convoluted, they can be often broken down into simpler physical and chemical interactions. In many cases, models like the hydrogen atom, acid-base chemistry, and simple dipoles can be extended to larger concepts like protein interactions and functional results. Melding together the knowledge that I have acquired from physics and biochemistry, I believe that I have opened myself to substantially greater opportunities for discoveries by way of novel connections linking previously unrelated topics that would otherwise go undetected.

Leading by example, I would like to show the world how much an individual can accomplish and how much they can contribute to the community. As a long distance runner, I have learned the values of patience and persistence which I apply in everything that I strive to accomplish. Competing in the Boston Marathon 2014 and nationals triathlons in 2013 and 2014 is a testament to this drive for success. This devout mindset is what continually drives me to improve and seek out ways of satisfying my goals no matter how long it takes. However, I know that I am not perfect, and I understand that I will not always have all of the answers. Collaboration is just as important, in my opinion, as critical thinking skills because there will come a time when I hit a wall that I will need help to overcome.

Campus Achievements:

I have received several awards including the Merk Index Award for Organic Chemistry and the Honors Scholar Award for Physics, but they are of little significance to me when compared to the outstanding research that I have accomplished in a wide range of fields. My proudest accomplishment as an undergraduate was to have designed and created a program using LabVIEW that generates music in any key and with any number of harmony parts and outputs onto a midi synthesizer.

However, I have also accomplished much in chemistry and biochemistry. Working with Dr. Bandyopadhyay and other students, I created and used gold nanoparticle surfaces as biosensors for uric acid, dopamine, and glucose. Ahmed Hamzah and I worked with Dr. Ali Bazzi and Judith Bazzi in order to determine capsaicin content in spicy foods like Flamin’ Hot and Extra Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Eric Nelson and I worked with Dr. Naik to analyze PVDF (polymer) film conformations under varying preparation conditions. And, I developed a mathematical model for Alzheimer’s disease progression via the beta amyloid protein and treatment with immunotherapy. If I could convey a single message from this effort, it would be to never allow yourself to be satisfied with a superficial understanding of what you are learning; go out and get your hands dirty.

Leadership Experiences:

As an active member of Global Brigades, I have had the eye opening opportunity to venture to rural areas of Honduras and Panama with other members from U of M and outside universities on medical missions. The purpose of our organization is to help establish sustainable communities through practices that educate and support the populace of these areas. In this way, I helped sort and distribute medications as well as understand the societal reasons for the poor standards of living. The greatest need for many of these people was access to fresh water to reduce parasitic infections, sanitation, and knowledge of healthy birth control practices. I may have attended Medical Brigades, but other water, engineering, and microfinance brigades are gaining support to help bring stability and raise the standard of living for these third world countries.

I have also made attempts to better the campus life back at Dearborn through the foundation of the Chess Club, organizing races for the Running Club, tutoring, and supplemental instruction (SI). It is my belief that strategy and effort are two of the most important traits in establishing a successful future. The Chess Club is designed to promote creative strategies and friendly competition that might improve the academic environment. Further, the Running Club has helped to improve friendships and encourage healthy growth for its members. I have developed teaching skills through tutoring and SI that has proven valuable for any times that I needed to convey my ideas or help people understand contrasting perspectives. Stressing all of these aspects has allowed me to improve myself as well as the nature of the community on this campus.

What is your Dream Career?

For as long as I can remember, I have been determined to apply old methods and tools in novel and interesting ways. One promising field is that of bioengineering of proteins to be used in external systems. Proteins have many unique structural and physical properties that are not yet studied thoroughly enough to know what they can be used for in environments outside of the living organisms. Therefore, these building blocks of cellular machinery would provide a set of tools to be integrated into or inspire new development of designs for devices that could drastically influence this world. For example, imagine that an array of proteins could bind to certain airborne pathogens and change conductivity upon binding. This changing conductivity could be used to transduce and thereby convey the presence of these pathogens in areas to help diagnose or track the spread of outbreaks. I would like to pursue this path of studying functional properties of proteins for potential applications in my upcoming graduate program and hopefully design a groundbreaking device that employs these properties in an efficient mechanism.

What was a defining moment at UM-Dearborn?

The University of Michigan-Dearborn has an enormous array of diverse opportunities for people that are willing to dig a little. A fun and rewarding experience that exemplifies this fact is the annual math modeling competition. It is a four-day topic based team event that combines aspects of cooperation and teamwork in research, programming, and writing that strengthened friendships and encouraged creative approaches to problem solving. Many Red Bulls and coffees after the competition began, we would establish a way to model orbiting space debris using an unraveled torus. But, even more so than the success of our Monte Carlo program, it will be the fun that our teams had in CASL after midnight that will surely be remembered for the rest of our lives. Most students likely had no idea that this competition ever took place, but these kinds of events occur all over the campus in all kinds of fields.