"Within the cells in every plant and animal on earth, countless microscopic molecular machines are in constant motion."

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Student Profile: Matthew Leighton

Physics Master's student in the Faculty of Science

January 14, 2021
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I grew up in Vancouver, then moved to Halifax to do an undergraduate degree in physics and mathematics at Dalhousie University. There I had the chance to work on biophysics research with Professor Andrew Rutenberg over several summers and an honours project, which cemented my interest in both biophysics and scientific research in general. This fall I started as a graduate student in physics at SFU. I’m working with Professor David Sivak, investigating the nonequilibrium physics of molecular machines. Outside of the academic world I really enjoy skiing, hiking, and singing classical choral music.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO COME TO SFU?

I’m really interested in studying and researching the physics of biological systems, and SFU has one of the best biophysics departments in the country. I heard about the work going on in the Sivak Group at a conference, then got in touch with David to talk about some really cool potential research projects. It doesn’t hurt either that SFU is so close to both the ocean and great mountains!

TELL US ABOUT YOUR RESEARCH AND/OR PROGRAM.

Within the cells in every plant and animal on earth, countless microscopic molecular machines are in constant motion. These machines convert between different types of energy, transport materials, and assemble complex structures. The behaviour of molecular machines, unlike the everyday machines we’re used to interacting with, is characterized by random fluctuations — they do useful work only on average. My research is focused on understanding these machines; both why they’ve evolved the way they have, and how we might go about designing better ones in the future.

WHAT ARE YOU PARTICULARLY ENJOYING ABOUT YOUR STUDIES/RESEARCH AT SFU?

I’m really enjoying the research I’ve been involved in so far with the Sivak Group, as well as being immersed in the more general biophysics community here at SFU. The weekly biophysics seminar series is a great way to hear about exciting new developments in the field. 

HAVE YOU BEEN THE RECIPIENT OF ANY MAJOR OR DONOR FUNDED AWARDS?

This year I was awarded an NSERC CGS Masters Scholarship as well as a BC Graduate Scholarship, which have enabled me to focus more of my attention on exciting new research. I was also awarded two NSERC USRAs over the course my undergraduate degree, which helped me to get research experience early in my career.

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