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Student Spotlight

Adam Jabak, ’20
Story Series
Bridgewater Magazine

Adam Jabak, ’20, was looking rested and refreshed following his January trip to San Diego, California, where he’d presented the findings of his undergraduate research. The physics major has already spent a lot of time showcasing his work, which has to do with testing individual DNA molecules with potential anticancer drugs in search of new treatments.

He had also earned the Best Presentation Award in the physical science category at the 2019 National Collegiate Research Conference, held at Harvard University and billed as the largest event of its kind in the United States. It attracts more than 200 top students from 81 universities.

His research at BSU was funded by the Bartlett Internship Award, Bartlett Scholarship and the Adrian Tinsley Program for Undergraduate Research.

The work has paid off. Adam was accepted into six PhD programs with full funding, ultimately electing to enter the molecular biophysics program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Adam was born in Boston, but as a teenager moved with his family to Lebanon, his parents’ homeland, where he attended high school and a year of college. Knowing good jobs were hard to find there, Adam and his brother Rami (also a BSU student) returned to the States. He now lives in Bridgewater.

Dr. Thayaparan “Thaya” Paramanathan, assistant professor of physics, is Adam’s mentor. After earning his PhD, Adam hopes to work in a research-based industry.

Recently we caught up with this burgeoning scientist.

What drew you to physics?

I initially started at BSU as a chemistry major, but during my first semester I took Physics I with Thaya, and he asked me if I’d be interested in joining his biophysics lab. After doing so for two semesters, I changed my major.

Can you tell us about your research?

I use optical tweezers to trap single DNA molecules and test them with potential cancer drugs. We were trying to characterize how these molecules interact with DNA and to see if that could help people by creating better drugs or enhanced treatments. The research was done in collaboration with Northeastern University and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.

How did it feel to present at Harvard and earn a top award?

I was shocked, but it really encouraged me to stay in the field and further pursue my studies.

What have you gained through undergraduate research at BSU?

It taught me to be persistent, and it also gave me the skills necessary for post-graduate research. Also, another impact was we were able to go to these major scientific conferences, including one in Lima, Peru. It was a small conference with leaders in the field, which gave me the chance to display the quality of the research we do here at BSU and network with a Columbia University professor who encouraged me to apply there.

Would you advise other students to get involved in undergraduate research?

I recommend to everyone to take advantage of these great opportunities. If you look hard enough, there are unlimited opportunities for students to grow and go wherever they want. It’s how I got to work with an amazing mentor like Thaya. He’s been more like a father to me than just a mentor.

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