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I received my PhD in biochemistry at the University of Oregon in 2017; studying the evolutionary biochemistry of the S100 protein family. In January, 2018 I started a postdoc position with Dr. Stacey Smith at University of Colorado Boulder. My current work is focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying the evolution of flower color. My scientific interests are broad, ranging from evolutionary biology to biophysics. I also have a life-long love of herpetology, which I have pursued as an amateur. Oustide of my scientific pursuits I am an avid hiker and outdoor enthusiast. I enjoy camping, bicycling, unicycling, kayaking, photography, and many other activities.

Bio

I grew up in Bend, Oregon; in the rain shadow of the Cascade mountains. Growing up I spent a lot of time outside, hiking and camping with my family. I developed a keen interest in nature and the natural sciences. After moving to Montana at the age of sixteen I enrolled at Montana State University in Bozeman, MT. At MSU I earned a degree in biochemistry and started doing research in the fall my freshman year. My undergraduate research, in the lab of professor Trevor Douglas, was focused on creating biomimetic nanomaterials based on the encapsulation of peptides with various functions into the interior of virus-like particles. My undergraduate research was an extremely valuable experience.

After graduating from Montana State, I moved back to my home state and enrolled in the biochemistry PhD program at the University of Oregon in Eugene. I did three laboratory rotations in my first year, but ultimately decided to join the newly-minted lab of new professor Mike Harms without even rotating! As the first (and for a time the only) member of the Harms group, I had the unique and valuable experience of helping to set up a brand new research lab. Once we had the lab rolling, I began setting up several tangentially-related projects. I first studied the evolutionary lability of transition metal binding sites in the S100 protein family. Subsequently, I coupled ancestral sequence reconstruction (ASR) and high-throughput experiments to measure evolutionary changes in the protein binding specificity of the S100s. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of my PhD work, I learned to implement a diverse range of approaches and techniques from biochemistry, biophysics, molecular biology, evolutionary biology, and bioinformatics in order to answer difficult questions about molecular evolution.

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Outreach and mentorship activities

Growing up, I participated many years in a row in the Inventerprise contest hosted by Bend Research, Inc., which won me the opportunity to visit the research campus and interact with professional scientists. It was an invaluable chance to learn about the scientific process in an educational environment. Those experiences shaped my view of science and inspired me to pursue a scientific career. In an effort to inspire a love of science in others, I have engaged in outreach activities periodically since the beginning of my undergraduate education. I was the secretary, and later the vice president, of the Undergraduate Chemistry Society at Montana State. In graduate school I participated in the Mad Duck Science Friday series and several other outreach events in Eugene. During my postdoc I have put together a Chemistry teaching lab for the CU Upward Bound Program and chemistry learning activities for the free Summer program at the Pinhead Institute in Telluride, CO. I have a strong interest in continuing my involvement with outreach to the general public throughout my career. I believe that science is made stronger when the public is engaged and that it is incredibly important to give young people in particular the chance to participate in scientific activities.

I have been fortunate enough to have great mentors throughout all stages of my education. They have helped me to develop important skills and given me opportunities for learning that I otherwise would not have had. I have done by best to pass along my experiences by mentoring others, including several summer undergraduate students. One of my proudest moments as a mentor was seeing my long time undergraduate mentee defend her thesis and receive highest honors. These experiences have been a valuable learning opportunity for me as well and helped me to further appreciate the importance of good mentorship. As my career progresses, I seek to continue improving my mentoring skills and incorporate these into my work.

Interdisciplinary science

I have a strong interest in promoting policies of open science and broader collaboration among scientists. Particularly I believe that interdisciplinary connections strengthen science as a whole. I have found that outside perspectives are often incredibly invaluable. Sharing and discussion of ideas and advice amongst scientists from diverse backgrounds can be the basis for novel approaches. Toward this end I, along with some of my peers in the UO chemistry department, created two clubs. 1) The highly entertaining and often educational Beer and Theory Society, which focused on learning theory from diverse fields with the option of partaking in local craft brews; and 2) a student organization called the Quantitative Problem Solving and Research Communication Consortium. This organization held student-led meetings giving students from diverse fields such as biology, physics, and chemistry an opportunity to present their work and seek guidance from peers. These meetings were a useful venue for helping students to solve conceptually challenging research problems as well as to practice communication skills in a constructive environment. More recently, I have helped to build an interdiscplinary collaboration with members of the geogiology group at CU Boulder. Moving forward, I intend to continue seeking interdisciplinary collaborations and bringing together scientists from diverse backgrounds.

Statement on diversity and inclusion

Recent events in the United States have made it clearer than ever to many people that our country exhibits pervasive problems with racism and discrimination. As much as we might like to believe otherwise, academia is not immune from these problems and in fact suffers from many issues regarding a lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion. In many cases people are actively driven from academic communities by the misdeeds of others and the burdens of a system that carries the marks of this country’s long history of discrimination. During my as yet brief career, I have tried to contribute to activities that help to weaken the barriers of discrimination. I have engaged in a variety outreach and mentorship activities with students from communities that have been marginalized and/or are historically underrepresented in STEM. However, I recognize that I have not done enough; I have been more complacent than is acceptable. Going forward, I hope to take a more active role in dismantling the pervasive issues that plague our society. I see the practice of science as something beautiful, an opportunity to learn about our world and to make it better for each other. I believe that it can and must be shared by everyone.

Membership on the CDA Noxious Weed Adivsory Committee

At the beginning of 2021 I was appointed to a two-year term as an at-large member of the Colorado Department of Agriculture Noxious Weed Adivsory Committee. The purpose of the committee is to advise CDA on strategies for the classification and management of noxious weeds in the state of Colorado. As an at-large member my constituency is the entire state, so if you live in Colorado and you have questions, comments, concerns, or ideas about noxious weed management, please reach out.

Contact me

If you would like to contact me regarding my research, collaboration, etc. please use the following email.

lucas.wheeler@colorado.edu