Graduate Student Spotlight: Martin Gelenter

Danielle Randall
November 27, 2017

Martin Gelenter was born in San Diego, CA. Due to his father being in the Navy, he spent much of his childhood on the move, from San Diego to Omaha, NE, with a year in Bahrain thrown in for good measure. Today, Marty is a third year physical chemistry PhD student in Professor Mei Hong’s research group. The Hong group utilizes magic angle spinning solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (MAS SSNMR) spectroscopy to investigate the structure and dynamics of heterogeneous, insoluble biological systems that are difficult or impossible to study using techniques such as X-ray crystallography, solution NMR, or infrared spectroscopy. The bulk of Marty’s research projects focus on the development of 2H-13C correlation techniques to study site-resolved conformational dynamics in biological systems. Deuterium (2H), an isotope of hydrogen, is an extremely sensitive probe for studying orientation and dynamics on a molecular level. Unfortunately, these signals overlap when multiple sites are labelled with 2H, making the study of dynamics in extensively deuterated systems using 2H NMR intractable. 13C nuclei are less sensitive to dynamics than 2H, but form well resolved peaks allowing for explicit chemical shift assignment (tying a particular NMR peak to a specific labeled nucleus in the sample). Marty’s research strategy is to correlate the dynamically sensitive 2H nuclei with the site-resolvable 13C nuclei in a multidimensional SSNMR experiment. This correlation results in complementary information in the 2H and 13C dimensions: the 13C dimension tells him what atoms he is looking at while the 2H dimension tells him about the local molecular motions. Marty plans to use these techniques to help unravel the connections between structure and function for transmembrane proteins, such as the influenza M2 protein, and complex carbohydrate and protein containing systems, such as plant cell walls.

As the subject of November 2017's Graduate Student Spotlight, Marty reveals the food he craves most often, his secret talent, the themed hotel he'd build, and more!

1. How did you decide to do the work you are doing now?
Growing up, I had always had a passion for both teaching and scientific discovery. After getting involved in undergraduate research at UC Berkeley, I realized that I could best incorporate both of these passions by studying for a PhD and hopefully becoming a research professor later on in my career. My undergrad research focused on utilizing NMR to characterize diffusion and solvent interactions within porous media. I fell in love with the field of magnetic resonance, but wanted to work on biological applications in grad school. Research in a biomolecular solid-state NMR group therefore seemed like a natural fit for my PhD.

2. Where is the most interesting place you’ve been?
El Tatio geyser field in Chile. Because it is at 4300 m, the boiling point of water is only 86°C, leading to extra impressive steam plumes above the geysers.

3. What invention doesn’t get a lot of love, but has greatly improved the world?
Eyeglasses.

4. What did you think was going to be amazing but turned out to be horrible?
All you can eat restaurants. Every single time I go to one I realize the true meaning of having eyes that are bigger than my stomach.

5. If you built a themed hotel, what would the theme be and what would the rooms look like?
“Winter Wonderland” consisting of alternating rooms with extreme blizzard conditions and really cozy couches complete with hot coffee, blankets, movie projectors, and windows to look out at the whiteout conditions.

6. If money and practicality weren’t a problem, what would be the most interesting way to get around town?
The best way to get from Cambridge to Boston is clearly via a human cannon that launches participants across the Charles.

7. What food do you crave most often?
California burrito from Ortiz’s Taco Shop (Why must you be a 6 hour flight from me???)

8. If you had an app that showed three stats about any person you looked at, what three stats would you want it to show?
1) Do they want to talk to me?
2) Happiness level
3) When was the last time they listened to Lana del Rey

9. What is your secret talent?
Water chugging.

10. What would be an accurate tag line for each month?
January – Yay snow!
February – Yay, more snow!
March – It’s almost spring!
April – Wait, I thought it was supposed to be spring now, why is it still cold?
May – Hong
June – Here comes the sun
July – And I say, it’s alright
August – Who needs a steam room when you can go outside?
September – Are you ready for some football?
October – The trees changing color are so boo-tiful.
November – Is it too early to start drinking egg nog?
December – Definitely okay to drink egg nog.

11. As a child, what did you think would be awesome about being an adult, but isn’t as awesome as you thought it would be?
Owning a car (good thing I don’t :-) )

12. What are you most looking forward to in the next 10 years?
Hopefully starting up my own research lab and having the opportunity to mentor students like all the great mentors I have had throughout my education.

13. What sport could you play the longest in a televised game, without anyone discovering you aren’t a professional athlete?
Major league baseball closer: they wouldn’t find out I’m an imposter until I blow the save in the bottom of the 9th inning.

14. What fictional characters have you had a crush on over the years?
Ginny Weasley

15. What is the most heartwarming thing you’ve ever seen?
Having the opportunity to see both my sister and brother read their wedding vows from only a couple feet away. I was honored to be my sister’s “Man of Honor” and the officiant at my brother’s wedding.

16. What one thing do you really want but can’t afford?
A personal 1.2 GHz superconducting magnet.

17. What job doesn’t exist now but will exist in the future?
Lunar Helium-3 miner

18. What’s something common from your childhood that will seem strange to future generations?
T9 text input for cell phones.

19. What would be the scariest monster you could imagine?
A monster that acts as a source of high-power UV radiation; anytime they get near you, you get blistering sun burns.

20. What irrational fear do you have?
Trypanophobia. When I was five years old and heard that I needed to get more vaccinations I took off running down the hospital hallways and the nurse had to chase me down. I’m still not the biggest fan of getting shots or blood drawn, but a visit to the doctor no longer results in a hospital foot race.

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