Student Spotlight with Michael Duong

HOW THINGS WORK: Rising junior Michael Duong says for as long as he can remember, he’s been interested in science. A triple major in biochemistry, biophysics, and biology, Duong looks at biology from many different perspectives. “That’s one of the great things at Penn, that we have the opportunity to go across fields and really have an interdisciplinary education,” he says.

GOLDWATER WINNER: Last month, Duong was one of two Penn students to receive the Goldwater Scholarship (the other recipient was fellow sophomore Tiberiu Mihaila). The scholarship is a competition to foster excellence in science and math, and is awarded annually to 300 students across the country. When Duong got word that he had won, he was reviewing notes and slides for a microbiology exam. “I was very happy, honored, and humbled by this experience,” he says.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: In the eighth grade, Duong channeled his interest into the science fair, where his first experiment looked at how DNA can be methylated in bacteria. Duong, from Worcester, Pa., participated in the International BioGENEius Challenge, held in San Diego in 2014, and then in 2015, took second place in the worldwide competition. In that project, he tried to understand the inflammatory process in the brain. “The reason I’m interested in brain research is definitely personal. My [maternal] grandfather has Alzheimer’s disease,” Duong says. “I wanted to try and do something at my level to try and make an impact.”

RESEARCH FOCUS: Before he matriculated at Penn, Duong knew he wanted to pursue research, and in 2014, began working in the lab of Jennifer Phillips-Cremins, an assistant professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and Perelman School of Medicine. Duong investigates dynamic patterns of three-dimensional genome folding in brain development and disease. “The lab is a great environment,” he says, “and I really appreciate the guidance and mentorship of Dr. Cremins.”

MAIN INFLUENCES: Duong has a long list of Penn professors who have inspired his work: Linda Bagley, an associate professor of radiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania; Eric Weinberg, a professor of biology; chemistry professors David Christianson, Ponzy Lu, and Gary Molander; Philip Nelson, a professor of physics; and graduate student Maria Ryan, who teaches in the Department of Music.

ON THE SIDE: In his spare time, Duong is involved with the Vietnamese Students’ Association—which he says has a special connection to his family: His mother was one of three founders of the group in 1983, when she was a Penn student. “It’s really nice coming full-circle,” he says.

FUTURE PLANS: Duong will graduate in 2019 with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and hopes to get a Ph.D. and work as a physician-scientist. He’ll spend this summer in Phillips-Cremins’ lab. “Penn prepares me for my goal to join the biomedical community in clinical and research settings. I am very excited for my journey ahead.”

MIchael Duong