Rising junior Kripa Ahuja is a student in the Division of Clinical Laboratory Science within the UNC School of Medicine. She is also a research assistant at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her research focuses on cloning the AAV-CXCL 12 gene — an important cancer biomarker.

Kripa Ahuja
Kripa Abuja. Photo by Alyssa LaFaro.

When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I wanted to be a million things. One day it was a biomedical engineer — the next, a hospital CEO. But one thing I was always certain about was my desire to pursue a career in the sciences. I always asked questions like, What is this made of? What would happen if you took this out, and added this instead? Fundamental processes and examining how things work were and still are two of my passions.

RESEARCH IN 5 WORDS:

“Gel genes: cloning cancer biomarkers.”

Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.

When I was 16, I conducted my first experiment — and had to pipette 96 samples. This required me to focus for long periods of time, maintain full control of my hands, and remain aware of other variables like safety. Although it was difficult at first, it is safe to say that this experience catalyzed my love for research.

Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?

During my junior year of high school, I received a summer internship, where I worked with confocal microscopes, which focuses small, precise beams of light onto a specimen. Prior to this, I was in love with all the research I had done. Unfortunately, I realized that setting slides, resolution enhancement, and image contrast were not necessarily the most exciting fields for me to study. But this experience taught me the importance of learning a variety of techniques, understanding other science disciplines, and integrating technology.

What are your passions outside of science?

Dance, music, and literature. I believe other passions are important for people who do my type of research in particular, which is on the microscopic and nanoscale level. While it is great to view the world from the smallest of particles, it is also essential to comprehend macroscopic topics. A great researcher has knowledge of both the minute and the massive.

Women in Science Wednesday highlights UNC researchers at all levels of their careers across dozens of fields. From nursing to economics to computer science, women at Carolina excel in research, mentorship, and advocacy. Click here to nominate an exceptional scientist.