Chantz Thomas

University of Washington
Seattle, WA

Microbiology, Immunology, History of Science

Principal Investigators: DR. Richard Boyle, ARC & Millie Hughes-Fulford, UCSF
Project: Effects of Spaceflight on Murine Thymus Structure and Function

Education and Experience:

I was only a few years old when I told my parents that I wanted to become a "NASA scientist." The years that followed brought pursuits in medicine and molecular biology into focus, but space exploration and research was never far from my mind. I was walking to an Organic Chemistry lab several years ago when I made a fateful decision to detour to a temporary NASA exhibit on the Constellation Program. When I walked out of the exhibit, I resolved that I had to try to contribute to the space program - humanity's most daring endeavor. Since that day, I have relentlessly sought the opportunity to participate in research at NASA.

I have spent the past four years at the University of Kansas. In May 2011, I received a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology with Honors and a Bachelor of Arts in History with Honors. My scientific research has been in immunology with projects focusing on immune cell differentiation and migration control. At KU, I have also worked on a project that tested the efficacy of an enhanced immunosuppression strategy in a new model organism. In the summer of 2010, my immunology research took me to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School for additional training and research on the structural biology of the T cell receptor (D.K. Sethi et al., 2011). My honors thesis in history, titled "'In Hours Only': The Controversial Birth of Heart Transplantation," focused on redefining the role of an early, but forgotten pioneer of heart transplantation in the scientific and ethical development of his field.

At KU, I participated in the Student Senate, the Journal of Undergraduate Research, and the Student Health Advisory Board. I also founded an undergraduate microbiology society and played a role in a variety of other campus activities. Outside of science, I enjoy cooking, photography, music, writing, and the occasional chance to go sailing.

I have recently joined the University of Washington's Medical Scientist Training Program. There, I will complete an MD and a PhD in immunology. I plan to pursue a career that will bridge medical research and patient care. I am excited to explore the possibility of undertaking this career path in association with NASA. I also hope to dedicate a portion of my time to the public relations and political workings of science through published writings and leadership opportunities.

I look forward to the chance to test my mettle on a variety of challenges in the company of this year's participants. The opportunity to apply myself to new studies in astrobiology, microbial ecology, radiation biology, and other spacerelated fields is exciting for a scientifically- inclined mind. I also plan to apply my training in history to enhance the projects conducted by our assemblage of young scientists and engineers. My goal will be to ensure clear communication that fully contextualizes our subject matter and which is appropriately tailored to the varied interests and backgrounds of those who will read about our research. Ultimately, I hope that we can employ public outreach and other means in an attempt to improve the perceived relevance and actual impact of our work.

A couple decades on, it seems that my career path is giving me a chance to realize my childhood dreams. By participating in the Academy, I will finally get the opportunity to explore research and career opportunities at NASA. The scale of the Academy's training goals, the pace of our learning, the collaboration between students with disparate backgrounds, and the momentous scope of NASA projects make the Academy a uniquely enriching experience. In addition to gaining scientific skills, I hope to take advantage of the Academy's fiscal, public, and political policy focus to better my ability to manage scientific organizations ranging from laboratories to federal agencies. The Academy is a perfect opportunity to gain a perspective on all aspects of science and engineering in space and on Earth and is beneficial to all of the career paths - and more importantly the scientific growth - of its varied participants.