Kevin Vasquez

Headshot of Kevin Vasquez in a suit and tie smiling Hometown: Medellin, Colombia/Malden, MA

Research Area: RNA & Protein Engineering

Why I chose chemical engineering: I think it is fascinating that chemical engineers can be involved in anything from making cheese to creating the newest types of solar cells. The biggest similarity in the roles we can play is that our products have a direct impact on society, whether by designing new medicines, or producing more and cleaner gasoline.

The lab I work in and my role: I am co-advised with Dr. Contreras and Dr. Sanchez and work on developing novel methods to probe RNA structures inside living cells, and developing novel techniques to improve proteins.

Current methods to determine RNA structure disrupt RNA and utilize harsh chemicals that are harmful to cells. Utilizing our method, we can use the cell’s natural machinery to provide data about RNA structures and how differences in structure can be correlated to differences in cellular networks. The biggest challenge is “visualizing” molecules that are extremely small, while they are in the crowded environment of a cell.

In the area of protein engineering, we are exploring how “silent mutations” at the RNA-level that influence the primary structure of RNA (but not the primary structure of proteins) can lead to improved protein folding.

My plans after UT: I plan to continue my involvement in research either by pursuing a position as a faculty member or by joining the research and development branch of a pharmaceutical company. 

My favorite thing about Austin: Chi’Lantro

What I will remember the most about my time here at UT: The amazing people from all over the world that I have met here.

Three things most people don’t know about me:

1. I can speak four languages almost fluently (English, Spanish, French and Thai)

2. I have been playing piano since I was four, but have since also picked up flute and tuba.

3. During my first year, I organized a campus-wide carnival.