ABPDU Alumni Highlight: Matthew Dorsey

This series highlights ABPDU alumni. We interview alumni to learn more about their career paths and what makes them passionate about their work.

Dorsey presents a poster titled “Optimization of a Novel Biological Method for Synthesizing and Purifying Adipic Acid Using Escherichia coli” at the Spring SULI Poster Symposium in 2018.

Matthew Dorsey was a fermentation intern at ABPDU as part of the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships program (SULI) in 2018. Today, he is a PhD candidate studying chemical and biomolecular engineering at North Carolina State University. 

How did you become interested in science?

I always had a knack for math and chemistry, and I also enjoyed problem solving. I was always trying to find something interesting and exciting to do with that. That was my motivation for going into research and studying chemical engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. The last semester of my undergrad, I knew I wanted to pursue a PhD but I also didn’t want to immediately jump into it. I applied for the SULI program, and that was how I connected with ABPDU.

Tell me about your experience as an intern at ABPDU.

I worked on the fermentation team, mainly operating and cleaning fermentation tanks, preparing media, and assisting with fermentation campaigns. I ended up learning way more about biotechnology than I ever anticipated. Working with many companies and learning about what they were doing gave me a good understanding of where the field is heading.

Dorsey and his mentor Chyi-Shen Chen sample a bioreactor during a fermentation campaign.

The ABPDU helped me understand how new skill sets can add value to your career growth. I saw how staff members at ABPDU were able to specialize in an area and really run with that professionally. As I’ve moved forward in my career, I’ve always had my eye out for those types of skills that I can learn that can help get my foot in the door. 

Overall, I really enjoyed my experience at ABPDU, especially the people, the culture, and the biotechnology hub that’s there in Emeryville. I would love to work in an area like that in the future. 

Dorsey’s farewell lunch with the ABPDU team.

How did your internship influence your interests and career choices?

Working with companies at ABPDU and hearing the problems they were working on was a valuable experience for me. What I’m studying now in my PhD has a clear connection to biotechnology and the world I was exposed to at ABPDU. I’m in the area of colloidal sciences, which basically looks at the building blocks used to make materials. It involves studying how those blocks — which could be atoms, molecules, cells, or proteins — are designed. I’m studying how we can use computer modeling to design new colloidal building blocks that are engineered with desirable properties.

This is actually related to something that we discussed while I was at ABPDU. Although I am not an expert in this area, my understanding of the problem at the time is that when you’re engineering a cell to make a foreign bioproduct, there are particular interactions that occur inside the cell that impact how it ends up producing a molecule. There’s a lot of work being done in the biotechnology field to understand these interactions. That was something that really intrigued me and stuck with me as I’ve moved on beyond the ABPDU.

What are your future career goals? 

I want to continue in this area of applying computer modeling to challenges in biotechnology. This summer, I have an internship in computational drug design and machine learning. The company that I am working for, Collaborations Pharmaceuticals, Inc., has a generative design program that creates new molecules to address specific problems, like rare diseases. After I graduate, I’m hoping to continue in the area of chemical design. My experience at ABPDU and seeing where a lot of the challenges were in the biotechnology sector definitely helped guide me toward this path.