Mueller talks weird science at RTP event
By Eddy Ball
NIEHS staff scientist Geoffrey Mueller, Ph.D., was one of ten local scientists featured April 16 in the Research Triangle Foundation 180 Degree series (http://www.rtp.org/) event Weird Science. The series of events is designed to celebrate the collaboration between the Research Triangle, N.C., universities, companies, and communities. Mueller, a structural biologist, discussed “The Structural Characterization of Allergens.”
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Emceed by entrepreneur and comic Will Hardison, the event was an entertaining combination of stand-up comedy and unusual science, delivered rapid-fire in audience-friendly five-minute segments. Topics ranged from the mind-boggling potential of the new Geomagic (http://www.geomagic.com/en) 3D printing technology, which makes off-the-grid design and manufacture of products, tools, and even weapons possible, to the utterly gross sample collection practices of Duke University biologist William Parker, Ph.D., (http://sciences.surgery.duke.edu/research/institutes-and-labs/parker-lab) who catches his own rats to study their intestinal parasites as part of his research into gut biology.
The fast-paced presentation by Mueller fell somewhere in the middle range on the scale of weirdness. His magnified images of a dust mite and the guts of eviscerated cockroaches could be described as gross, but Mueller was entirely serious when it came to his commitment to understanding inappropriate immune responses that threaten human health and sometimes even human life.
After all, Mueller told the audience, “I work at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and we like to think of what we do as very serious science.” By determining crystallographic structures of proteins, Mueller and other structural biologists are gaining new insights into the mechanisms involved in allergic reactions, and discovering new potential targets for developing safer forms of immunotherapy to reverse the allergic process.