Amazing Students

Amar Mirza

The recipient of a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, Amar Mirz has been an author on four research publications, volunteered in Haiti, spent countless hours in a microbiology lab and has visions of a career in health care. His passion beyond academia? The art and athleticism of parkour or freerunning.

Hometown:

Hiram

High School:

Marietta High School

Degree objective:

BS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Expected graduation:

Summer 2012

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

I have spent the majority of my time at UGA conducting biomedical research. I have worked in Dr. Natarajan Kannan’s lab for four years including the summer of 2009 as a CURO Summer Fellow. I also worked in Dr. John Kuriyan’s lab at the University of California, Berkeley during the summer of 2010, and Dr. Michael Eck’s lab at Harvard Medical School. In Dr. Kannan’s lab I have published three papers in scientific journals, including one first author publication. I am an author on two other papers in preparation. My research has focused on studying the structure and function of protein kinases from an evolutionary perspective. I was also named a Goldwater Scholar in 2011.

Family Ties to UGA:

My brother, Baber Mirza, graduated from UGA.

I chose to attend UGA because…

UGA offered an excellent education, strong research environment and unique development programs. When considering the strength of the Honors program, UGA seemed like a great place to be.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

parkour (also known as freerunning). Parkour is a discipline which focuses on training to move through an urban environment as quickly as possible. This involves practicing jumping gaps, vaulting various obstacles, climbing walls, and other movements. People often mistake what we do for an extreme sport, or something which is fun simply because of the danger of it. In fact it is just the opposite. Parkour is based upon the notion that if you want to be capable of doing dangerous moves like jumping between two buildings, then you must first train in a safe setting to be prepared thoroughly for the real jump. Parkour is a thought process. When confronted with a daunting obstacle, it is natural to be afraid. It is natural to say it is dangerous and should be left alone. Parkour teaches you to confront that fear and instead develop a training method to surmount the obstacle. In parkour, it is the challenge which gives our movement meaning.

When I have free time, I like…

I spend the majority of my free time on parkour, but I do spend a lot of time studying cosmology and particle physics. I would love to see cosmology become part of the required curriculum because I believe it offers a perspective which we can all benefit from. I think it is remarkable that we now understand the history of the universe from the moment of the Big Bang to the present day with relatively few gaps. I also love sharing what I read about with other people, because people tend to not realize how far cosmology really has come.

The craziest thing I've done is…

While doing parkour, you tend to do some crazy things. While we train rigorously to ensure that we are prepared for the situation, it is also necessary to put yourself in a situation where there are consequences for mistakes. What is the point of being able to jump a far distance on the ground if you are too scared to do it up on a building? I remember one of the craziest jumps I have done was a jump between two buildings in San Francisco. It was the largest gap I had jumped across with such a large drop below, but I was confident I could make it since I have jumped larger gaps while on the ground many times. You would be amazed at just how focused you can be when you need it. It is important to note that we do not do anything risky like that in Athens because we respect the request of authorities who ask us not to.

My favorite place to study is…

at my lab bench. It is always very quiet and I have plenty of space. Since I work in a computational lab, I do not have to worry about chemicals and all of that.

My favorite professor is…

Dr. Kannan. He allowed me to join his lab as an incoming freshman. Because of his guidance, I have been able to publish several scientific articles and experience so much of the world of biomedical research. In our lab we study signaling molecules called protein kinases. Our investigations focus on studying the evolution of the kinase domain to develop mechanistic hypothesis of the structural significance of various mutations.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

I would love to share it with Carl Sagan. Dr. Sagan was a well renowned scientist who became famous for explaining science to the masses. His perspective on our place in the Universe and the development of our society was truly inspirational. He was responsible for getting NASA to turn Voyager I (the spacecraft) around and take a picture of the Earth from the edge of the solar system. The resulting picture showed Earth as nothing more than a pale blue dot against a great cosmic blackness. Carl went on to explain that this pale blue dot is our home. Humanity does not occupy some special place in the Universe, and we must learn to deal more kindly with each other on this tiny world of ours. I would love to talk to Carl about his perspective on humanity and what we should all do in order to progress socially and scientifically.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

I would like to develop a program which could effectively predict drug efficiency. One of the major challenges in projects involving inhibitor design for cancer treatment is that drug-resistance is quickly acquired. At the moment, finding new drugs to overcome this resistance is challenging. I would like to make a program which could screen drugs in silico to find the most effective ones. This would both reduce the cost of drug production, and allow us to make cancer step for step.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

I would love to travel to Europe and go to all of the famous areas where parkour was invented. Lisses, France, and London, England, are at the top of that list, and if I’m lucky I would like to train with the best practitioners of parkour while there.

After graduation, I plan to…

I would like to take a year off and do parkour professionally. If the demand is great enough, I would love to do stunt work for movies and commercials and various other exhibitions. After that I plan in enrolling in a MD/PhD program and becoming a clinical researcher.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

I will always remember my first publication. As a CURO Summer Fellow, I was studying the evolution of a protein called Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor. A lot of times people think of science as a cold and emotionless field, but that opinion is often based on their bad experiences in the classroom. When doing research yourself, you begin to understand that science is not what you read in a book. Science is the process of finding the answers to the biggest questions there are. Biochemists are not just people in labs studying proteins and DNA. They are detectives that are ultimately answering on of the greatest questions of all. What is life? They are studying the complex biological machines which represent the bridge between the dead world of simple molecules and the living world of cells. Publishing that first paper was the first time I felt like I was a part of that investigation.

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