BMB Features: Xueer (Will) Han
The Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department is proud to be called home to some of the most outstanding undergraduate students in higher education. These students display a high level of dedication, not only in furthering their education but in their desire to be on the frontlines of scientific discovery.
Meet Xueer (Will) Han, a rising Junior from Jinan, Shandong China, majoring in Biotechnology. His interest in science was sparked by his junior high school biology teacher. spending extra time with Will, she provided, and directed, him to additional science materials and activities he could pursue outside of the classroom. His motivation to pursue science as a career developed even further after she taught him about a famous Chinese scientist, Yuan Longping.
In the 1960’s, after a series of natural disasters and harmful political policies, China plunged into an unprecedented famine, which caused the deaths of millions of Chinese citizens. In response, Longping dedicated himself to the research and development of a better breed of rice. In 1973, after many years of research, he established a complete process for creating and reproducing a high-yield hybrid species of rice. Because of his research not only were many lives saved, but China also became the worldwide leader in rice production.
After learning of Yuan Longping, Will’s path was clear. He wanted to be able to use science in order to help others throughout the world. “When my science teacher told me about Longping, I was fascinated by the power of biology,” said Will. “Through the power of biology, a hybrid rice was able to be developed, and millions of people were saved.”
In 2016, as a high school student at the Jinan Foreign Language School International Center, Will took part in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition, was named a student leader for his high school’s team, and helped lead his team to a silver medal finish. iGEM is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of synthetic biology, education and competition, and the development of an open community and collaboration. Each year it hosts a world-wide synthetic biology competition which aims to bring together teams of graduate, undergraduate, and high school students from around the globe. The competition encourages students to push the boundaries of synthetic biology and tackle everyday issues facing the world.
Will’s team designed, and developed, a plasmid that contained an anti-microRNA suppressor gene, conjugated to a repressor gene, and followed up with a fluorescent protein expression gene. The plasmid’s design was to diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease by detecting, and therefore examining, the concentration levels of microRNA in a subject’s blood. His team designed the plasmid so that when it detected microRNA in blood samples, the bacteria containing the plasmid would produce green fluorescent protein. Since the anti-microRNA suppressor gene would be disrupted by the microRNA in the sample, the repressor gene of the fluorescent protein would fail to work. This would cause bacteria containing the plasmid to produce more of the fluorescent protein and allow for further examination of microRNA concentration levels.
In his free time, Will enjoys reading, saying “Reading books always let me know that my “novelty thoughts” are not that novel.” He is particularly interested in modern history, and also enjoys 18th century German classic philosophy. When asked how he became interested in philosophy Will said, “I was taking philosophy 001 during my freshmen year, and we were learning about Aristotle and Plato. Some of their ideas such as “unexamined life is not worth living” made a lot of sense to me.”
Will’s experience in philosophy 001 persuaded him to take philosophy 100 as a sophomore. The course focused on existentialism and covered material from such philosophers as Arthur Schopenhauer, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. He particularly found Kant’s teachings on “thing-in-itself” to be interesting.
Through these courses, and his study of philosophy outside of the classroom, Will says he found that “for those who achieve success, majority of them have a firm idea of what they want.” He believes that successful individuals have examined their life well and stick to their goals, not being fooled by conventional ideas. He encourages others not to be distracted by the illusions in life, and not to question one’s existence. “I don’t know the meaning of life and I don’t need the meaning of life,” says Will. “I will consider myself successful if I can pursue my true self and stick to it.”
After graduating from Penn State, Will would like to continue his career in academia. He would like to pursue his Ph.D. and become a professor so that he can pass on what he has learned and help shape the next generation. He says that he would like to make the world a better place than the last second passed. “I know it sounds huge and naive, but if you never start it will never get any better.”