George Hamilton visited the Institute of Molecular Physical Chemistry in frame of the StayConnected@HHU Programme

George Hamilton received his Bachelor in Physics at the North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2016. He is currently enrolled in a PhD programme in physics at Clemson University in the U.S.

In frame of the "Researcher Alumni Staff Exchange" of JUNO's StayConnected@HHU Programme, Mr. Hamilton spent a three month research stay at the Institute of Molecular Physical Chemistry at HHU from May to August of 2018.

Mr. Hamilton is working on the project entitled 'Resolving Interdomain Organization of PDZ Tandem in PSD-95' under the supervision of Prof. Claus Seidel at HHU and HHU alumnus Prof. Hugo Sanabria at CU.

George Hamilton, Photo: © Susana Mogollón

In 2016 you received your Bachelor in physics and now you are in a Ph.D. programme but first pursuing a Master’s degree. How exactly does this programme work?

Clemson University offers an on-route Masters programme. If you fulfill certain requirements along the way then you can apply with the approval of your committee. This change is given to you under the condition that you are going to stay for the Ph.D. as well. On the one hand it is a security kind of thing but it’s also a great motivation. It is fewer credits and less time than doing the Master and the Ph.D. separately, about two years less. So you kind of get your Master degree through your Ph.D. work.

Prof. Sanabria is an HHU alumnus: What motivated you to apply for the Staff Exchange Programme to come to his alma mater?

I guess a few things: I had never traveled outside of the USA before, so this was a great opportunity to do that. It’s work that both of our groups have been involved in and it’s work that is directly related to the work that I need for my Ph.D. It also seemed like a great opportunity to have a crash course in the lab. I consider biophysics to be my field, but my training has been in physics. I don’t have much experience in the laboratory aspect of biology. So far, I had only limited prep work experience.So this was a great opportunity to take a sample, do all of the prep work involved to take it from a plasmid all the way to experimental conditions and actually do every step.

Would you explain to us what your research project is about?

There is a protein called Postsynaptic density protein 95, abbreviated PSD-95, which can be found in the postsynaptic density. This protein has aroused interest in the medical field for quite a while because it turns out that its inhibition can be useful for the treatment of strokes, for example. In order to figure out exactly how the protein acts, we are trying to do single molecule experiments where we look at individual proteins in solution as they undergo dynamics. The protein has five main components and using our technics we can basically attach a dye to different combinations of its domains. The pairs of dye give us information about how far apart the different domains of the protein are so we can track how the protein is moving.

How exactly does your research project benefit from the Institute of Molecular Physical Chemistry here at HHU? And how do they benefit from your stay at HHU?

Well, I can access a lot of resources here. The lab is bigger than our lab in the USA. My professor at Clemson University has also a lot of other responsibilities there. Here I work under the supervision of a postdoc, who is guiding me along the way, which allows a lot more one-on-one training.

I was led to believe, these samples I’m working with weren’t actively being used. So, me coming to Düsseldorf was the opportunity to actually get some use of these samples.

What are your expectations regarding your research stay at HHU? What would you like to accomplish?

That I hopefully get through the whole process I was talking about: growth, purification, labeling, testing, analysis, etc. I hope at the end I’m at least pretty deep into the analysis of my data so that we can get close to drawing some conclusions. I wish I can end my stay here with some semblance of results, but with experimental work, it can be hard to make guarantees.

What could we do to make the research cooperation with HHU even better?

As far as the programme concerns, I don’t think there is anything. Everything was handled really well. HHU even found me an accommodation, so my transition was very smooth.

Interview by Susana Mogollón in June 2018.

Personal Details

George Hamilton


05/2016 - Bachelor of Science in Physics. North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA.

Currently - Enrolled in the physics PhD program at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, USA.

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