Arianna Schuck | Staff Writer

Chemistry professor Nasri Nesnas runs a research lab on Florida Tech’s campus. The lab focuses on caged molecules, used in neuroscience labs to help map neuron locations and functions.

A caged molecule is activated by light, as described by Nesnas.

“We make molecules that absorb light for specific functions, whether it’s understanding neural connections or understanding the human vision,” Nesnas said.

While exact numbers vary among experts in the field, the human brain is usually cited as containing 86 billion neurons, all connecting to each other trillions of times. A report from the Stanford University Medical Center states that there are over 125 trillion synapses — the connections between neurons — in the cerebral cortex alone. 


A rotary evaporator used to heat dry samples. Photo // Arianna Schuck

Nesnas said that in recent years, the lab was able to explain how a certain molecule responded to light and functioned which will help in discovering a more efficient molecule next.

“On a daily basis in the lab, I am reading articles, planning my next synthesis, or performing synthesis/analysis of compounds,” said Alexzandriea van Hoekelen, a Ph.D student working in the lab, in an emailed response. “My favorite part of the lab is constantly learning new things.”

Caylin Lepak is a sophomore majoring in genomics and molecular genetics who works as an undergraduate research assistant in the lab. 

Lepak said that her daily tasks in the lab include weighing and measuring reactants and solvents, and researching current work in related fields.

She observes advanced techniques performed by graduate students such as high performance liquid chromatography, or HPLC, and nuclear magnetic resonance, or NMR. The MRI scan many people have in their life is one application of NMR.

“I want to learn skills such as how to run HPLC, NMR, and other advanced chemistry techniques on my own and analyze the results from these tests,” Lepak said. “I also hope to learn how to write and publish articles that can make a significant contribution to the scientific community.”

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