A male graduate student wearing a hawaiian shirt stands in front of a wall

Graduate Student Spotlight: Louis Papa

Categories: Students

Chemistry Graduate Student Louis Papa describes his research and answers 20 random questions as part of the Graduate Student Spotlight series.

Originally from Rochester, New York, Louis Papa is a fifth year graduate student in Professor Matthew Shoulders‘ group. Louis’ research is focused on developing a system for carrying out directed evolution in human cells. The Shoulders group is trying to do this by coupling the survival of adenovirus, which replicates in human cells, to the ability of a virus-borne target protein to evolve new functions. As the target protein mutates into a family of variants, the few viruses that carry variants with improved function thrive and take over the population. Hopefully, this evolution-in-a-dish approach will allow us to evolve new proteins, such as transcription factors or enzymes, that have optimized activity for working in the human cellular environment. As the subject of November 2018’s Graduate Student Spotlight, Louis shares what would be on his personal flag, his dream mode of transportation, his favorite book of all time, and more!

  1. How did you decide to do the work you are doing now?
    As a first year, I went to my future advisor’s recruitment talk (initially for the free food, of course) and heard about a new directed evolution project in his lab that I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I pretty much decided immediately that I wanted to join that project and bombarded him with questions after the talk.
  2. If you could turn any activity into an Olympic sport, what would you have a good chance at winning medal for?
    I once slept for 18 hours without waking up once.
  3. What is your dream car or other mode of transportation?
    I love sailing, so getting around via Spanish galleon would be ideal.
  4. If you had a personal flag, what would be on it?
    Chicken nuggets.
  5. What weird food combinations do you really enjoy?
    Stale tortillas and peanut butter.
  6. What movie can you watch over and over without ever getting sick of it?
    Napoleon Dynamite! It gets better every time you watch it!
  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?
    I would absolutely require an air conditioning unit, especially if we’re talking about ancient Egypt.
  8. What is special about the place you grew up?
    Kodak, Xerox, Bausch & Lomb and Wegmans were founded there; Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony used to live there; Rochestarians are super friendly and the food is great (look up “garbage plate”); and many of my close friends and family live there.
  9. What brand are you most loyal to?
    Dr. Pepper, it has exactly the correct number of flavors
  10. Would you rather have a flying carpet or a car that can drive underwater?
    A flying carpet seems the most practical. I don’t need to cross bodies of water too often and a car that can drive underwater will still get stuck in land traffic.
  11. If you received a salary to follow whatever passion you wanted to, what would you do?
    I would be doing exactly what I’m doing now research-wise, but without having to write a thesis, papers or any progress reports. I would just do the research and post it on a blog or something.
  12. What toy played the biggest part in your childhood, and why?
    When I was a kid, we used to play dodge ball, spud or kick-the-can with this ridiculously huge exercise ball that would knock people down hard. It gave me great memories and concussions!
  13. What is your favorite book of all time?
    “The Bacteriophage Lambda Volume 2”. It’s this awesome book from 1972 that covers all the important lambda phage research of that era, which basically led to modern molecular biology.
  14. Which is your favorite city in the world?
    Rochester, NY is the greatest city in the world, but Buffalo, New Orleans and NYC are tied for second.
  15. What did you think you would grow out of but haven’t?
    I used to be a picky eater, but now I’ll eat pretty much anything…but I still hate bell peppers with the passion of a thousand white-hot suns.
  16. Who are three of your favorite fictional characters?
    Dumbledore from Harry Potter, Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad and obviously Napoleon Dynamite.
  17. What food is delicious, but a pain to eat?
    Pineapple: it’s impossible to cut and burns your mouth if you have too much, but it is delicious.
  18. If magic was real, what spell would you try to learn first?
    I would learn how to teleport so that I could easily commute to MIT from any place that actually has affordable apartments and 24-hour diners.
  19. What outdoor activity haven’t you tried, but would like to?
    Scuba diving!
  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 would just let it overgrow with plants and occasionally go hiking there.

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