David Nico Lopez - Physics Research Project

Nico and Narendra discuss his research
David Nico Lopez '21 discusses his research project with faculty mentor Narendra Jaggi.

Name: David "Nico" Lopez 

Class: 2021

Major: Computer Science and Physics

Hometown: Quito, Ecuador 

Name of research project: A Computational Model for Telomere Dynamics and Cell Carcinogenesis.

Name of faculty research mentor:  Narendra Jaggi

Name of research grant: State Farm Summer Research Fellowship '19


Research Summary: Telomeres are caps at the end of our DNA that protect our chromosomes’ genetic information, and they have been shown to be tightly linked to aging and cancer. This summer I have created a computational model that successfully encapsulates telomere dynamics (the shortening or lengthening of telomeres over time) and cell carcinogenesis (the transformation from a normal cell to a cancerous cell). I have been working with my mentor, Narendra Jaggi, reviewing state-of-the-art research in Computational Biophysics to create our model that incorporates the latest understanding of the field and attempts to extend it. What initially started as a fun computational project, has evolved into a robust computational model that can help us qualitatively understand multistage cancer progression. 


How has Illinois Wesleyan prepared you for conducting research?

I am a firm believer that creativity and innovation stem from lateral thinking, and Illinois Wesleyan has provided me with the right ecosystem to harness it. I am a Computer Science and Physics major that is currently doing research in Biology, a seemingly orthogonal field. The truth of the matter is that the tools that Computer Science and Physics have given me allow me to view problems within the field through a completely different lens. Dr. Jaggi, a physics professor, also enjoys tackling problems out of his comfort zone, and his attitude towards problem-solving has shown me the value of getting the ball rolling and making progress instead of getting hung up on details.


What do you hope to gain from this experience as you look forward to your future? 

During my summer research, I have had the opportunity to learn how to dive deeply into one subject matter, but also laterally across several fields. This approach of tackling research's multidimensional space will definitely prove to be an invaluable asset in graduate school and in any personal venture.


Nico and Narendra
David Nico Lopez '21 says he and Professor of Physics Narendra Jaggi share an enjoyment for tackling problems out of their comfort zone.

What’s been your favorite part of conducting research so far? 

My favorite part of conducting research is reading about any thought-provoking idea or interesting innovation at night, and being able to share them with my mentor the next day. This is followed by a fun and intellectually stimulating conversation that sometimes may or may not lead to progress in our research, but never ceases to be fascinating.


In your opinion, why is it important for undergraduate students to participate in research opportunities? 

I believe that undergraduate research is the bridge that connects the classroom to the real world. Being able to visualize how the tools you have been equipped with through your academic career, can be applied to real life problems is a fundamental motivator in my academic career. Additionally, conducting research has shown me how vast a field can be, but the fact that I am working on the shoulders of giants and have been able to extend their work has been a tremendous confidence booster!