Graduate Student Spotlight: Lisa Cunden

Danielle Randall
October 27, 2017

Lisa Cunden comes to MIT from the small, tropical island of Mauritius (home of the Dodo bird!), located off the coast of Madagascar. She has been a member of Professor Elizabeth Nolan's lab since 2014. Lisa's research interests focus on aspects of the tug of war for metal nutrients at the host/pathogen interface. Specifically, her research projects aim at understanding how the human host-defense proteins S100A7 and S100A12 contribute to innate immunity. Lisa studies the metal-binding properties of those proteins through the use of spectroscopic techniques, and carries microbiology assays to probe how the molecular-level information obtained about S100A7 and S100A12 relate to their physiological roles as antimicrobial, metal-sequestering proteins. During her free time, you can find Lisa hiking, running, buying more fish and plants for her aquarium, trying all the bubble tea flavors with fellow labmate Emily, and petting other people’s dogs.

As the subject of October 2017's Graduate Student Spotlight, Lisa reveals the TV show she refuses to watch, the brand she's most loyal to, the items she'd like to be buried with if this were Ancient Egypt, and more!

1. How did you decide to do the work you are doing now?
Chemistry has always been my favorite subject, so I just kept doing what I like. In terms of the research that I do, I got interested in Bioinorganic chemistry after spending a semester abroad in Australia at The University of Melbourne. I was working in the lab of Stephen Best, looking at small molecule Iron complexes, and got really interested in their coordination chemistry. After my semester abroad, I took a bioinorganic chemistry class in undergrad with Betsy Jamieson, and became fascinated with metallocenters in biological systems. My research interests eventually led me to working in Liz Nolan’s lab as an undergrad, and now as a grad student

2. If you could turn any activity into an Olympic sport, what would you have a good chance at winning medal for?
Hair braiding.

3. What is your dream car or other mode of transportation?
A Tesla!

4. If you had a personal flag, what would be on it?
The bird of paradise flower- It’s a very emblematic flower to Mauritius.

5. What weird food combinations do you really enjoy?
Mayo with pretty much anything.

6. What movie can you watch over and over without ever getting sick of it?
Either of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, or “Independence Day”.

7. In ancient Egypt, people were buried with the items they would need in the afterlife - what would you want buried with you so you could use it in the afterlife?
A pair of Asics running shoes. I’ve been running since I was 14, and it is a hobby and therapy for me, so I probably couldn’t live without it.

8. What is the most unsettling movie or TV show you’ve ever seen?
The orphan- I was tricked into watching this movie, and I cannot stand horror movies. I also really didn’t like Birdman, and think that it was very much overrated.

9. What is special about the place you grew up?
It is the #1 destination for honeymoons in the world!

10. What brand are you most loyal to?
Probably Reebok and/or Asics.

11. Would you rather have a flying carpet or a car that can drive underwater?
Car that can drive underwater! The underwater world fascinates me.

12. If you received a salary to follow whatever passion you wanted to, what would you do?
Probably sail and scubadive all over the world!

13. What TV show or movie do you refuse to watch?
A lot of people will judge me for saying this, but… Game of Thrones. I absolutely refuse to watch it and get all hooked on it like every other millennial is.

14. What is your favorite book of all time?
I’m not sure that I have one favorite book, but I’ve been reading a few good books lately, and I am currently really enjoying the book Brave Genius. It talks about how philosophers and scientists such as Camus and Monod, who went on to win Nobel prizes, became politically active and were key figures in the French resistance during WWII. Very appropriate with the current political climate. Also, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is another great autobiographic book I read recently- at times disturbing, but very well written.

15. Which is your favorite city in the world?
I don’t have one favorite city, but I would say in the US, probably New Orleans because it reminds me of home so much. I also really liked the old part of Dubai part when I was in UAE; The spice and gold Souks (markets) are breathtaking!

16. What did you think you would grow out of but haven’t?
Being a younger sister. I still tease and prank my older sister and my whole family way too much…

17. Who are three of your favorite fictional characters?
King Julien from Madagascar, Simba from The Lion King, and Mr. Bean. (Does he count as a fictional character?)

18. What food is delicious, but a pain to eat?
Lobster and oranges. I never eat them because they’re not worth the time it takes to take the shell off the lobster/peel the orange.

19. What outdoor activity haven’t you tried, but would like to?
I’ve actually never farmed, and would really like to learn how to.

20. If you were given one thousand acres of land that you didn’t need to pay taxes on but couldn’t sell, what would you do with it?
I'd definitely try to have a small farm as part of it. For the rest of the land, I am not sure. Either use is as a physical space for my hobbies; I would save it and I retire early, turn it into a petshop with a dog shelter, or turn it into something useful for the community around me, although I am not sure what.

Many thanks to Lisa for these thoughtful answers! Stay tuned for more Graduate Student Spotlights in the months to come!