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Graduate Student Spotlight: Rimsha Mehmood

Categories: Students

Chemistry Graduate Student Rimsha Mehmood describes her research and answers 20 random questions as part of the Graduate Student Spotlight series.

Rimsha Mehmood comes to MIT from Lahore, Pakistan and has been a member of the department for four and a half years. In Professor Heather J. Kulik’s lab in the Department of Chemical Engineering, Rimsha works on computational modeling of metalloenzymes. Despite advances in computational and experimental techniques, many critical voids in our understanding of the factors that control reaction outcomes in metalloenzymes still remain, especially for enzymes with highly reactive, short-lived catalytic intermediates such as in the case of non-heme iron and alpha-ketoglutarate dependent enzymes. Therefore, development of techniques that bridge computational and experimental studies of metalloenzymes could greatly enhance our ability to learn about fundamental mechanistic principles adopted by nature’s toolkit. While conducting doctoral research in the Kulik’s lab, Rimsha has developed a protocol using spectroscopically-guided molecular dynamics simulations augmented with large-scale QM/MM calculations to study factors controlling reaction outcomes in non-heme iron and alpha-ketoglutarate dependent enzymes. Using this protocol, the researchers explored the role of substrate positioning, active site isomerization and substrate-protein interactions in controlling reaction outcomes in enzymes SyrB2, BesD and WelO5. In order to overcome the unique challenges in QM/MM modeling of metalloenzymes, Rimsha also spent some time studying the relative importance of sampling and degree of QM treatment in making quantitative mechanistic predictions in metalloenzymes. Overall, they expect that the insights gained from our protocol of using experimental active site interactions to guide dynamics simulations can feed directly into efforts geared towards rational enzyme design and therapeutic drug development.

Rimsha has recently been named one of five winners of this year’s American Chemical Society’s Division of Computers in Chemistry’s Chemical Computing Group Excellence Award for Graduate Students. Her research, Revealing Substrate Positioning Dynamics in Non-Heme Fe(II)/Alpha-Ketoglutarate Dependent Halogenases Through Spectroscopically-Guided Simulation, will be recognized at the Spring meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Antonio, Texas this year.

As the subject of this month’s Graduate Student Spotlight, Rimsha shares the fictional character she feels would be the most boring to met in real life, the animal she’d like to rename, her favorite and least favorite purchases, and more!

  1. How did you decide to do the work you are doing now?
    I came to MIT from an experimental chemistry background, and was admitted in the inorganic division initially. In my graduate level class on bioinorganic chemistry, I learned about the incredible prowess of nature’s toolkit of metalloenzymes, as well as computational modeling of such systems. As I learned more about the remarkable predictive power of computational modeling of enzymes through published literature and conversations with researchers here at MIT (especially my current PI Professor Heather Kulik), I felt a strong pull towards it. Even though this research area was vastly different from my experimental inorganic research background, I decided to switch to the former and joined Professor Kulik’s lab in the Department of Chemical Engineering, which was the ideal venue for studying fundamental biochemistry using state-of-the-art hardware and computational algorithms.
  2. If you owned a boat, what would you name it?
    “Mauj”, it’s an Urdu word with multiple meanings, including wave and enjoyment.
  3. Which fictional character would be the most boring to meet in real life?
    Harry Potter
  4. What are the best and worst purchases you’ve ever made?
    The best ones are all the books (fiction and non-fiction) I’ve ever bought, since I hope to have my own little library one day. I should also mention the standing desk I bought last year for work from home during pandemic, which has certainly been a life saving (or mostly back/posture saving) purchase! The worst purchase would probably be the non-refundable return ticket I bought last year in January for a trip that never happened due to the covid-19 lockdowns.I think it has to be the narrative that women need men to save them. Fortunately, things are changing for the better now.
  5. What problem or situation did TV / movies make you think would be common, but when you grew up you found out it wasn’t?
    I think it has to be the narrative that women need men to save them. Fortunately, things are changing for the better now.
  6. If you could know the absolute and total truth to one question, what question would you ask?
    Is conflict/violence/war innate to human species, and thus ideas of universal peace and prosperity mere utopian dreams?
  7. What is something you are obsessed with?
    Eggs for breakfast!
  8. Where is the most beautiful place near where you live?
    The walkway along the Charles River.
  9. Where and when was the most amazing sunset you have ever seen?
    2019, La Jolla Cove, San Diego, CA.
  10. What food have you never eaten but would really like to try?
  11. If you were given a PhD degree (in something other than chemistry), but had no more knowledge of the subject of the degree besides what you have now, what degree would you want to be given to you?
    I wish I could say PhD in Literature, but if it has to be based on extensive current knowledge and experience, I would have to say PhD in Overthinking…or may be even PhD in Puns!
  12. What TV show character would it be the most fun to change places with for a week?
    Sherlock Holmes.
  13. What goal do you think humanity is not focused enough on achieving?
    Poverty alleviation.
  14. What artist or band do you always recommend when someone asks for a music recommendation?
    I would recommend the band Strings from Pakistan, since most people end up liking their music.
  15. If you were given five million dollars to open a small museum, what kind of museum would you create?
    A bigger science museum in Pakistan.
  16. What animal or plant do you think should be renamed, and what should the new name be?
    The insect Moth, since the name sounds eerily similar to the Urdu word for death and moths deserve better! Perhaps the new name should be nightflower fly, since many moths are nocturnal pollinators.
  17. What was one of the most interesting concerts you’ve been to?
    I haven’t been to many concerts, but a concert I attended and helped organize in Pakistan around 8 years ago comes to mind. At the last minute, we had to change the venue from an outdoor setting to an indoor setting due to some mix-up with the permit. The transition took almost two hours and so many (almost 500) people left. The band (Noori) ended up performing for only a few of us left; it was certainly a very different and interesting experience.
  18. If money and practicality weren’t a problem, what would be the most interesting way to get around town?
    Eco-friendly hoverboards.
  19. If you could only bring one book or movie with you to spend a month on the International Space Station, which would it be?
    The Lord of the Rings mega-book containing all volumes, since I haven’t read it yet and a month on the ISS might be the best time to read it (though I may not want to turn my gaze away from the incredible views of space for that long…).
  20. What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from a work of fiction?
    I think it’s best if I copy the two quotes (which collectively form the best lesson I’ve learned from a work of fiction) here directly from the book “The Architect’s Apprentice” by Elif Shafaq:“How soon things changed and how low people fell and from what heights. Even those whom he thought untouchable. Or perhaps, especially those. It was as if there were two invisible arcs: with our deeds and words we ascended; with our deeds and words we descended.”“It was after this incident that Jahan understood his master’s secret resided not in his toughness, for he was not tough, nor in his indestructibility, for he was not indestructible, but in his ability to adapt to change and calamity, and to rebuild himself, again and again, out of the ruins. While Jahan was made of wood, and Davud of metal, and Nikola of stone, and Yusuf of glass, Sinan was made of flowing water. When anything blocked his course, he would flow under, around, above it, however he could; he found his way through the cracks, and kept flowing forward”

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