PhD Spotlight: Vyshnavi Karra, PhD‘22 – Chemical Engineering
Vyshnavi (Vy) Karra earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering from Rutgers University. As a chemical engineering PhD student, advised by Francisco Hung, associate professor of chemical engineering, she used molecular simulation to model two families of biocompatible nanomaterials. In her first project, Karra developed a coarse-grained model for rosette nanotubes, self-assembled cylindrical structures of molecules composed of guanine and cytosine from DNA. Her model groups four non-hydrogen atoms into a coarse-grained bead with chemical specificity. This model is key to understanding the interactions between rosette nanotubes with cell membranes and biomolecules while simultaneously being able to model larger system sizes for longer times than those accessible to all-atom molecular simulations. Understanding these interactions is relevant to using these nanotubes in drug delivery and molecular sensing.
In her second project, Karra used a combination of all-atom and coarse-grained models to study liposome formulations. These drug-delivery platforms, similar to current COVID vaccines, consist of active pharmaceutical ingredients encapsulated in a lipid nanosphere. Karra aimed to fundamentally understand the mechanical properties of the formulations to develop ultra-deformable liposomes that could squeeze through fibrous tissue and efficiently deliver drugs to treat cancer and human fibrotic diseases.
In 2020, she published the book Necessary Symbiosis: What Happens When Science and Government Work Together (and When They Don’t). In her book, Karra carefully argues that scientists have a duty to fight misinformation and anti-science policies. During her PhD study, Karra also worked as a Chemical Engineering Communication Lab Fellow, offering graduate students peer-to-peer coaching in disseminating their scientific accomplishments. While at Northeastern, she completed a co-op at Novartis and worked as a teaching assistant in several undergraduate and graduate chemical engineering courses. Following her recent graduation, Karra plans to pursue a career as a computational scientist in the private sector.