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Connor Call | Student Spotlight

Ph.D. Candidate of Chemical Engineering
Connor Call

Connor Call

PhD Candidate
Chemical Engineering
Gao Lab

"Growing up in a small town in central Illinois, I didn’t really see what research looked like or how to get to a job where I could do it, but I knew I cared about medicine and how to make better medicines. During high school, I learned about bioengineering, and the idea that I could engineer biology was just enthralling to me. I went to undergrad and pursued chemical engineering with a focus on synthetic biology, though my research path looked much different. I started research my sophomore year working on understanding rheo-dielectric properties of cement and carbon black, and I spent 3 years working on these projects and learning a lot in the world of complex fluids. However, I ultimately knew I wanted to go back to questions of human biology.

Ultimately, I chose to come to Stanford because of the people and the research that was being conducted. I knew from the visit weekend that the Chemical Engineering department was exactly what I wanted. Professors were joking with each other on the Zoom Recruitment of 2021, still making the best of a challenging situation. Every person I talked to had more collaborators than I could count. In addition, seeing the fantastic work being done in engineering biology and the full embrace of syn-bio in a ChemE program was enough for me to join.

Once here, I joined Xiaojing Gao’s lab where I now work on problems in mammalian synthetic biology, focusing around engineering protein secretion and intercellular communication. I’m really interested by the complexity of mammalian biology, particularly how our cells can talk to each other in a complicated biochemical language to instruct homeostatic regulation, disease states, and immune responses. My work aims to develop new tools to reprogram cells that already “speak” this language to become monitors that interface directly with the body and look for these signatures in local, small-scale interactions happening all over our bodies and output a new molecule that we can look for systemically. My work ranges from protein chemistry, cellular biology, and even into systems physiology, all while using chemical engineering intuition to guide my way. My favorite aspect of my work is the variety of techniques I get to learn which always leads me to fascinating discussions with so many amazing scientists from so many different backgrounds.

While at Stanford, I have really enjoyed my research and the opportunities I get both in and out the lab to be a mentor. I have mentored several rotation and summer students, as well as high school students as a part of the Stanford-Summit Tahoma Expeditions (SSTEP) Program to introduce high schoolers to what life is like as a researcher. I’ve also been involved with Stanford SPLASH where I helped teach two different classes to high school students on the fluid dynamics of cooking and how synthetic biology and tissue engineering can change medicine. After my PhD, I plan to continue doing research working in academia where I can continue to mentor and work with others to pursue new and improved ways of sensing and detecting the complex protein language of our biology."

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