Center for Biophysics and Quantitative Biology

Graduate Spotlight: Alexander Moffett

Alex Moffett graduated with a PhD in Biophysics and Quantitative Biology in August 2019. For the past five years, he had been researching how plants use the growth hormone brassinosteroids to control the growth of their cells.

Alexander Moffett

Under the guidance of his advisor Diwakar Shukla, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Alex used a number of computational methods rooted in molecular dynamics simulations to understand, atom-by-atom, how two receptor proteins act as members of the cell's sensor array, informing the rest of the cell of the presence of brassinosteroids at specific concentrations.

"Alexander Moffett was one of the first students to join my lab and start working on a project related to plant hormone receptors. His work has provided new insights into the molecular mechanism by which the activity of these receptors is regulated,” says Professor Shukla.

This work required a very broad background, from plant biology and biochemistry to statistical mechanics and machine learning. “I certainly did not have this background when I began, but I have been able to learn quite a bit from these fields and others through my research,” says Alex.

Alex had obtained a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Clemson University before joining the Biophysics program at Illinois. He is currently serving as a postdoctoral visitor in the lab of Professor Andrew Eckford of York University, Toronto, Canada, where he conducts cell biology and information theory-related research, with a main focus on understanding (bio)molecular communication from an information theoretic perspective.

In his earlier academic years, Alex planned to seek a degree in marine zoology, specializing in cephalopods. “I still hope to somehow tie in my future research with invertebrate biology, but I am currently more interested in understanding how cells ‘feel’ and ‘think’.” He continues to be fascinated by the elegant ways in which cells use a relatively small number of atoms to sense changes in their environment and make decisions based on the information they gather.

About his time at the Center for Biophysics and Quantitative Biology, Alex says that he really enjoyed being surrounded by people from different scientific and cultural backgrounds. “Studying for the Biophysics Qualifying Exam with the other biophysics students in my batch was some of the most fun I had in the past few years, though perhaps that means I need to get out more!”

When he’s not working in the lab, Alex likes to spend his free time reading scientific and history books, listening to music, cooking, and playing video games.

Published October 07, 2019 14:45