Infectious Research

Brinkley Raynor ’17 receives priceless hands-on research experience studying bacterial biofilms at the Institute for Molecular Infection Biology in Wuerzburg, Germany.

Goodnight Scholars Program: Tell us about your summer enrichment experience in Germany.

Brinkley Raynor: This summer I worked at the Institute for Molecular Infection Biology in Wuerzburg, Germany. My project was to screen secondary metabolites produced by 30 different marine actinomycetes, a class of bacteria known for their antibiotic activity, against bacterial biofilms. Biofilms are a microbial formation of microbe and secreted matrix creating a permanent community of the microbe on a particular surface. Biofilms cause significant health problems because they are much more resistant to antibiotics and immune surveillance. Some of the marine actinomycetes I worked with produced substances that effectively prevented biofilm formation or dispersed formed biofilms. This project was made available and funded by the DAAD RISE program in Germany. Through RISE, I was able to attend a conference in Heidelberg with the other interns scattered in different labs throughout Germany. In addition, I traveled independently on weekends and holidays.

Why did you choose Germany?

I chose my internship location mainly based on the research lab I worked in. However, Germany has a long history of scientific excellence and is a central spot for exploring most of Europe on weekends. Wuerzburg, located in Bavaria, is a beautiful and historic city that I really enjoyed getting to know. The DAAD RISE program offers internships all over Germany. I would highly recommend students interested in traveling and research to look into it.

What are the implications for your biofilms research?

Biofilms are a major medical problem, especially when working with implants such as joint replacements or catheters. Additionally, bacteria in biofilms are highly resistant to both antibiotics and immune activity. Biofilm research could eventually lead to pharmaceutical breakthroughs with treatments that are effective against biofilms.

Undergraduate research seems important to you. How would you recommend a fellow undergraduate student get involved in research like yours?

I’m entering my fourth year at NC State and my fourth year of doing undergraduate research. Undergraduate research helps student development in so many ways. First, when working on a project, undergrad researchers become an expert on that little niche of science. This will help later on in classes. Doing research and actually seeing how science works is, in my opinion, the best way to learn the topic. So if you’re a student worried about organic chemistry, maybe you could consider working for a semester in an organic chemistry lab. Second, research is a look at the kind of work that students might encounter later in their chosen fields. I’ve found that research has enabled me to discover what topics I love, and which ones I don’t enjoy as much. I could go on into many, many benefits of research, but summarized, research is fun, a great way to connect with professors and a great way to learn a lot quickly. Getting involved in research at NC State is easy. Most professors are also researchers, and most can really use extra help. Getting involved in research can be as easy as writing an email to a professor doing research in an area of interest and asking to help.

There must have been a lot of major highlights for you during this trip.

I was very fortunate that my lab had very flexible hours, enabling me to travel on weekends. In Germany, I got to see Heidelberg, Berlin and Munich. I also got out to Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, Barcelona, Paris, Rome and Copenhagen. Seeing a lot of Europe and learning about different cultures was definitely a highlight of my summer experience. Of course, I also enjoyed my work week. My favorite part was staining biofilms to visualize them. This process involved crystal violet stain, a lot of paper towels, and the final results of my experiments. My favorite pastime in Germany was watching the 2016 Euro Cup. Even though the valiant German football players fell to France in the semifinals, followed by day of mourning in Germany, watching the games with new friends was really fun.

How did you see yourself growing personally and professionally while you were in Germany?

In the second to last week of my internship was a chain of tragedies throughout Southern Germany where I was living. Starting with an ax attack in a train in Wuerzburg, followed by a mass shooting in Munich, a machete attack in Reutlingen, and a backpack bomb detonation in Ansbach, the challenges with terrorism Europe and the Middle East are facing suddenly became very real. On the flipside, watching the drama of the American Presidential Election unfold from afar and discussing it with my international friends was very surreal. These two factor combined led to the greatest personal and professional growth I experienced abroad: a greater awareness of international issues and a greater understanding of the power of collaboration, especially in scientific research. The professional world is becoming increasingly global. This internship gave me the know-how to work in a foreign country, the confidence to communicate with people who speak a different language, and first hand experience of the power of collaboration in research.

Let’s say you’re talking with someone who wants to travel abroad. What do you tell them?

For anyone going to Germany, be prepared for the internet to not be available everywhere you go like in most European cities. Some cafes have WiFi in bigger cities, but very few in smaller cities. Even train stations and airports also don’t always have internet access. So if you are traveling to Germany, don’t be completely reliant on finding free WiFi. Also for Germany, if planning on traveling a lot by train – which is one of the best ways to travel in Germany – go ahead and buy a BahnCard at the very beginning. They are only 20 euros, give you travelers insurance and give you discounts that are definitely worth it. For general traveling, I advise always bringing a jacket. It doesn’t matter if it’s the middle of July and the forecast says hot and sunny, you never know when you will be spending four hours at a windy train station in the middle of the night.  Overall though, my biggest piece of advice is to actually do it. Plan your trips and go!

Photography credit: Brinkley Raynor/Goodnight Scholars Program, Jenny Vaughn