Graduate Student Profile: Joseph Brown

Joseph Brown

Joseph (Joey) Brown Ph.D. '19, believes researchers are often tasked with evaluating the potential of specific ideas in a long-term outlook for society. Thus, any researcher is best paired with outreach. During his time at Cornell, Joey focused on outreach as a critical part of the experience to give toward day-to-day needs of the community, maintain perspective, and uphold trust between society and science. He feels he has been fortunate to engage with the community at all levels, ranging from a broad audience through the Science Blender podcast to Upstate New York with 4-H, Expanding your Horizons (EYH), CBE Women, and locally at Cornell through the Civic Engagement Team and the Big Red Barn. 

Of these specific experiences, co-founding Science Blender and volunteering with 4-H are where Joey learned the most. The Science Blender podcast presents the journey and science of fellow researchers to inspire younger generations through the diversity of scientists in the department. The podcast focuses on science as a process driven by people engaged at the end of collective knowledge, not just highlights and soundbites. Overall, Joey feels grateful to have helped lead this exciting opportunity and hopes that it will continue to grow. 

Working with 4-H, Joey led the Alabi Lab as an Outreach Coordinator for several years, along with Michelle Sorkin and now Meghan O'Leary. Each summer, they would organize a 3-day summer camp containing 10+ scientific demonstrations for 12-20 high school students from across New York State. They also had the opportunity to engage with the general public at the New York State Fair. Joey particularly loved working with the 4-H because of the diversity of students in their level of interests in science and engineering, mirroring the general public more so than the typical group of high-achieving Cornell students. Thus, the few disengaged students stretched their teaching skills, and helped each to growing their ability to communicate and inspire young scientists. 

In the lab, Joey says his motivation has always been at the intersection of chemistry and biology toward clinically relevant problems. with Professor Chris Alabi, his thesis centered on engineering macromolecules that disrupt the bacterial membrane as potential antibiotics, with a specific focus on their molecular structure. While in the lab, he developed and used oligothioetheramides (oligoTEAs) as proteolytically mimetics of natural peptides. These oligoTEAs were prepared with cationic and hydrophobic groups to selectively disrupt bacterial membranes. Joey measured their solution-phase molecular structure and biophysical interaction with bacterial membranes to evaluate their potential as antibiotics and provide feedback for their optimization. He explored a large number of techniques ranging from advanced magnetic spectroscopies, X-ray, scattering, and computational simulation. He also explored microscopy and surface plasmon resonance (SPR) to observe the interface of Staphylococcus aureus mimetic membranes treated with several oligoTEAs. Joey was able to identify new parameters that control this process of membrane disruption for further antimicrobial optimization. For all of his studies, he observed our oligoTEAs formed multimeric lipid aggregates, correlating with biological potency.  

According to Joey, "It has been an absolute privilege doing science at Cornell and I cannot think of a better place for collaborative research. And I am very grateful to have worked at all scales from molecular interactions to helping people express their short stories and journey to do science. Though I am missing Ithaca's wonderful summer, I have started working as a postdoctoral researcher with Professor Brad Pentelute in the Chemistry Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I will continue to engage in drug discovery, medicinal chemistry, and science communication."

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