Matthew Lu is a senior majoring in biology within the UNC College of Arts and Sciences. He studies how white blood cells respond to and remember the chlamydia organism.
Q: How did you discover your specific field of study?
A: My first year of college was during COVID-19 lockdowns, and I was hoping to join a lab. I looked at the list of professors performing research in the biology department and the School of Medicine and emailed the labs doing research I thought I would be interested in. I’ve always had a fascination with immunology — and the idea of helping to create a vaccine that could prevent hundreds of thousands of diseases. Thankfully, I ended up in the Darville Lab to do exactly that.
Q: Academics are problem-solvers. Describe a research challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it.
A: One of my first projects in the lab was attempting to create an assay that measures the amount of chlamydia in the genital tract. But it can be laborious and lead to human errors when counting. My project focused on utilizing an EVOS microscope and the Celeste program to create an automated counting system for quick analysis of the assay.
Unfortunately, I had no experience coding, and no one else in the lab did either. It was a combination of digging through the user manual, watching online tutorials, and banging my head against the computer to eventually create a line of code that would run properly. In the end, the effort required to set up automation and the lack of scalability meant that manual counting was still the most practical. But something cool happened: I presented my efforts to ThermoFisher technical scientists, who used the feedback I provided for the next iteration of the microscope and software.
Q: Describe your research in five words.
A: Developing a vaccine for Chlamydia.
Q: Who or what inspires you? Why?
A: My parents. When they came to Canada, they had little with them — just their two suitcases. While my dad restarted his engineering degree, my mom worked to put food on the table. Now, my dad has a great job with an engineering firm, and my mom runs her own traditional Chinese medicine business. They have worked extremely hard to provide my brother and I with a better life and have always supported me 100% in whatever I’ve chosen to do. Their dedication and work ethic inspires me to work harder.
Q: If you could pursue any other career, what would it be and why?
A: I’ve always been fascinated with space and building things. In another life, I’d be a NASA aerospace engineer — or maybe even an astronaut!