Communicating breakthrough research to new audiences

Editor’s note: This profile is the third in a series that highlights students and recent alumni as part of the admitted students weekends on February 10 - 11 and March 11 - 12. Learn more about the first steps for admitted students and our PhD Program and Master’s Program.

Abigail Lauterbach was a chemical and biological engineering undergraduate at the University of Alabama when she realized she did not want to follow a typical chemical engineering career path.

More interested in biology, she considered attending medical school or pursuing a different line of research in graduate school. When she visited the University of Chicago and learned more about the graduate program at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME), she knew it was the right choice for her.

“All the faculty members came from different backgrounds,” she said. “That felt like it led to more innovation, which was exciting.”

She ultimately joined the group of Prof. Jeffrey Hubbell, and though she had planned to conduct research related to cancer, she found herself working instead on regenerative medicine.

Her research project is focused on cytokine engineering for diabetic wound healing—specifically, working to extend the life of cytokine proteins and pairing them with targeting domains so they can find chronic, non-healing wounds and direct the immune system to heal them.

As part of PME’s science communication program, she has been working on a project to communicate her research to middle school students.

“The first step is trying to help them understand what proteins are and how the structures of proteins can communicate different functions,” she said. “I have really enjoyed working on it.”

Those communication skills helped her in her recent internship with a venture capital firm, where she performed due diligence on scientific companies.

“I see myself in a career like that, at the intersection of scientific experts and non-experts,” she said.

Lauterbach remains open-minded about her career trajectory—a mindset she advises incoming graduate students to embrace.

“I came in thinking I wanted to do cancer research, but I was willing to be flexible,” she said. “I’m glad I was so open-minded about it because the research has been really interesting and gratifying. Exploring different options might work better than you think.”