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Graduate Student Spotlight: Yanina Pankratova

Categories: Students

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

Yanina Pankratova is comes to MIT from Russia, and though she is in her second year in the Department of Chemistry, this is her first year on campus due to COVID-19 restrictions. Though early in her pursuit of a PhD, Yanina has always have been curious about the molecular structure of the materials and biological systems. When she was 13 years old, she tried to obtain malachite from copper sulfate and washing soda at home, following a procedure described in one of introductory chemistry textbooks. At that time, she became extremely curious about the molecular and structural transformations which lead to the formation of the malachite. It was then that she realized her desire to study chemistry as a career. She completed her undergraduate studies at the Department of Chemistry of the Moscow State university, and credits her mother with supporting and helping her to determine her chosen career path.

A member of Professor Mei Hong‘s lab, Yanina’s research is devoted to the investigation of the detailed structure of biological molecules, such as proteins and polysaccharides, by solid-state NMR spectroscopy. This is a really powerful technique which allows to extract a lot of important structural information about the biomolecules which is often not accessible by other methods. The results the group obtains are extremely helpful for the design of new drugs and materials. Yanina recently started a project which aims to understand the structure of plant cell walls, and is excited to get the insight into the detailed molecular organization of plant cell walls as well as to learn complex NMR techniques!

As the subject of this month’s Graduate Student Spotlight, Yanina shares the best vacation she’s ever taken, the irrational fear she has, the food she craves most often, and more!

  1. If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
    I’d improve my cooking skills and do more sports.
  2. If you were on a 27 hour flight and could only watch one movie, what would it be?
    I’d love to sleep and watch dreams. I cannot fall sleep in the plane so that long flights are always some sort of a torture for me.
  3. What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
    It was a trip to Cyprus with my family. I loved this wonderful island with amazing beaches and lovely monasteries and I strongly recommend everyone to visit it, too!
  4. What are some small things that make your day better?
    Cappuccino and nice music! These two things can significantly improve my mood.
  5. What is special about the place you grew up?
    Moscow is one of the largest cities in Europe!
  6. What irrational fear do you have?
    I am so scared of the disposer in my kitchen, that black hole with jaws inside my sink just fills me with dread. Such a super irrational fear!
  7. If you could have a never-ending candle that smelled like anything you wanted, what fragrance would you want it to be?
    Bergamot, definitely.
  8. What was your favorite book as a child, and what is your favorite book now? As a child, I really loved the Chronicles of Narnia, all the seven books. Now, I like the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer which I discovered just recently. I love fantasy since childhood!
  9. If you could pick any career other than the one you’ve chosen, what would it be?
    A lawyer.  I recently realized how complicated the legislation system is. I think it is often may be interesting to figure out how to apply the laws properly in any complicated situation.
  10. Where is the most interesting place you’ve been?
    It is the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow. I was there on an excursion with my classmates long time ago, and the tour guide not only showed us all the musical instruments and told us about them, but also provided audio samples of how they actually sound.
  11. What invention doesn’t get a lot of love, but has greatly improved the world?
    Pen and paper. Seriously, writing down your ideas or to-do lists is so convenient and helps to do planning and organizing the life. And of course, it has facilitated the technology progress a lot.
  12. What movie, picture, or video always makes you laugh no matter how often you watch it?
    “Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future”. I really love this Soviet comic science fiction film, and watch it every year around the New Year time. Such an amazing, nice and funny movie.
  13. What food do you crave most often?
    Coffee with a chicken or turkey-containing wrap or sandwich.
  14. What one thing do you really want but can’t afford?
    My own house somewhere next to sea and pine forest.
  15. What’s something common from your childhood that will seem strange to future generations?
    I believe it will be paper versions of books, since nowadays people are shifting towards electronic books and notebooks.
  16. What skill would you like to master?
    Playing the guitar!
  17. What two things are terrible when separate but great when you put them together?
    Hydrochloric acid and alkali solutions are quite terrible for a human, but they will neutralize each other when put together and produce some table salt which is good for food taste!
  18. If you could know the absolute and total truth to one question, what question would you ask?
    It will be “What is God and does it exist?”
  19. What is the darkest movie you’ve ever seen?
    “Insidious: Chapter 3
  20. What would be the best thing you could reasonably expect to find in a cave?
    The way to escape from it!

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