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Appreciation of Abstractions and Uncertainty in Physics Leads to Interest in Neuroscience
Natalia Meijome | Undergraduate, Physics
(Update: Natalia Meijome is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Purdue University in West Lafayette. She graduated from IUPUI in 2012.)
The lessons of physics may one day help senior Natalia Meijome unlock some of the perplexing mysteries associated with brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.
Curious about everything as a child, Meijome grew up in both Argentina and the United States. Rather than attend a conventional high school, she elected to home school herself and participated in an online program. Soon she discovered she especially enjoyed learning about science and began to consider a career in astronomy.
Deciding where to attend college was easy. IUPUI, which was close to home, is known for its prowess in the physical and life sciences. And, for the Meijomes, attending IUPUI has become a family tradition.
Brother Marcelo, whose senior thesis was among the animated short films screened as an official selection at the 2010 Heartland Film Festival, majored in computer graphics technology. Brothers Tomás and Mariano are currently on campus. Tomás is a biology major who hopes to attend medical school; Mariano is majoring in media arts and science. Oldest brother Timothy Pablo, a commercial pilot and certified flight instructor who attended Indiana State, is the only non-Jaguar.
Upon enrolling at IUPUI, Natalia Meijome immediately decided to major in physics.
“I am interested in the macro like the universe and the micro like photons or electrons -- things too big or too small to be seen,” she said. “I have really liked physics from the first class I took, but initially I was behind in math. I hadn’t taken calculus or even pre-calculus. But that didn’t really matter; freshman year I took the most basic math available at IUPUI and soon discovered I was good at it, took more courses and now really enjoy math. Eventually I worked at the Math Assistance Center, helping other students.
“I like abstractions and uncertainty, which is why physics appeals to me. My classes from the introductory physics lecture course to quantum mechanics -- one of my favorites -- have kept me engaged. And being an undergraduate physics tutor kept my focus on physics as a potential career. I planned to go into biophysics, taking what I had learned in the physical realm and applying it to the life sciences.”
But her career trajectory gravitated to neuroscience when she began to do independent research with theoretical physicist Yogesh Joglekar, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the School of Science with a growing reputation as a mentor.
Meijome initially found the idea of doing independent research rather intimidating until someone in one of her math classes recommended that she talk with Joglekar.
“All the research ideas I had in mind were much too advanced for me to pursue, and he helped me find something I had never considered,” she recalls.
Meijome is now studying memristors, microelectronic circuit components that are among the hottest areas of research in the computer industry because they hold the potential for faster processing using less power.
“Memristive systems can hold memory of the past and mimic the synaptic connection between neurons in the brain,” she said. “So, surprising as it may sound, physics triggered my interest in neuroscience.
“Memristor research is really helping me develop my analytical skills. It’s challenging me to think about problems that don’t have solutions yet. Looking at the synaptic functions of memristic systems has awakened my interest in the brain. It has led me to realize that I want to study neuroscience to gain a better understanding of the human brain so that I can hopefully some day make a difference in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease research.”
Meijome is a McNair Scholar. The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program prepares underrepresented, low-income or first-generation college students for doctoral studies through involvement in research. She also participates in the IUPUI Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, which offers undergraduate research project and travel grants and conference travel funds to support and encourage undergraduates who participate in research.
When not focused on academics, Meijome enjoys photography, knitting and sewing. One of her favorite activities is cracking vexing three-dimensional puzzles posed by Foldit. She and tens of thousands of participants around the world play the computer game, not unlike an extremely difficult version of Tetris, to help solve one of the most difficult computational problems in science: how proteins fold. Understanding the structure of protein molecules, she has learned, could be key to developing treatments for many diseases.