Ayesha Arefin soaks up new experiences while working in nanoscience
Ayesha Arefin experiences a dream come true working at the Lab
Ayesha Arefin, known as Tumpa to her friends, experiences a dream come true by having the opportunity to work with the Biosecurity and Public Health in the Bioscience Division. Originally from Bangladesh, Ayesha attended the Shah Jalal University of Science and Technology, where she received her undergraduate degree in Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology.
Chris Detter, a Bio-Threat /Bio-Defense Program Manager from the Laboratory, visited her university and encouraged Ayesha to take steps toward furthering her career. She sent him her undergrad thesis paper and talked about what she wanted to do; he decided to bring her over as a part of his Genome Sequencing group, and both he and his wife made her transition to America as smooth as possible. Chris, along with Lance Green, helped with the legalities, and Chris and his wife picked her up from the airport, even going so far as to open up their home to her while she got settled in America. Lance mentored Ayesha when she first arrived and he, as she says, “inspired me to stay here and go to grad school.”
Now she studies Nanoscience and Microsystems at the University of New Mexico, and works on her PhD research under the supervision of Rashi Iyer, a leading female scientist at the Lab. Her PhD thesis will be on Optogenetics, which involves protein engineering, Transfection, electron microscopy, and data analysis, aiming for the optimization of cellular activities by transecting them with light sensitive protein. This technology will bring new hope in the area of Prosthesis.
Rashi’s project at the Laboratory involves artificial human organs that can be tested with toxins and diseases without violating bioethics. Ayesha constructs a nanomembrane as a candidate scaffold in the development of an artificial human lung facilitating the understanding of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), third most common cause of death and the fifth most common cause of disability in the United States. This potential platform could be used to study the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in COPD such as: protease dysregulation, understanding how the disease may differ from person to person, the physiology of airway obstruction, biomarker research, and drug screening.
One of her projects consists of developing a hollow, fiber-based neurovascular model to mimic a brain artery environment in order to study arterial embolism (blockage/ disturbance in the blood supply), which leads to a brain stroke. Ayesha is incredibly excited about her work, saying, “I can’t believe I’m here. I’m having fun, doing my research, and they’re paying me for it.” Her research is not just about having fun, however. She goes on to explain, “My goal is not just to do cool things; my goal is to do something helpful for other people.”
The desire to help people is not limited to her work; back in Bangladesh Ayesha volunteered for three years at a rehabilitation center for victimized girls. Now she volunteers at Camp Corazon, located in Santa Fe, where children and families affected by AIDS receive support and nurturing. “I feel obligated,” she explains, continuing on to speak about how fortunate she knows she is.
Ayesha’s heart for children and dream for them comes from the story of the “Fun Upside Down School,” where children learn math and science because they want to, and discipline is basically nonexistent. This story comes from the book Adhdozen School by Zafar Jqbal, who still teaches at Ayesha’s university in Bangladesh - Jqbal’s story has become her inspiration, and someday she wants to establish a school where any child can come and learn, regardless of background.
Since coming to America, Ayesha is like a sponge, soaking up new experiences. “Everything is new for me,” she says. In the past two years, Ayesha has learned how to ride a bike, drive, and even tried skiing. As she says, “For me life is colorful and full of unlimited choices.”
Her joyful nature makes the transition between countries seem like the most natural thing in the world. Despite not knowing how to speak English when she first arrived (though she could write it), she makes friends wherever she goes. Even while speaking she waves at friends who pass by. “I know everyone,” she laughs, “from the bus driver to the grocery baggers.”
Her love for people doesn’t stop with her newfound friends. Ayesha enjoys photography, especially capturing the variety in human faces. “I like people,” she says simply. People like her too, it seems, and it’s no surprise. She describes her work environment, saying, “If I have any problem, I can run to everyone and they will help me.” She’s inspired by her coworker and previous mentor, Momo Vuyisich, “who always gave me courage to survive as a foreign national.” Everyone she’s met has been incredibly supportive, “I feel like I am so blessed for all these people in my life.”The Lab provides amazing opportunities for students just like Ayesha. “It’s a place to grow up for students,” she says. “There are lots of countries and lots of students out there better than me.” The Lab, according to her, is definitely the place to be. “I really like being here. I feel grateful and lucky.”