BYU

The Unexpected Uses of Cell Sorters and Composition Notebooks

The concrete floors of the Benson Building laboratories and hallways are already familiar to new faculty member Dr. Daniel Mortensen.

Mortensen was an undergraduate at BYU where, under the mentorship of Dr. David Dearden, he published two papers. After pursuing his PhD at top-ranked University of California, Berkeley, Mortensen returned to BYU to complete his postdoctoral research before formally joining the faculty.

As one of the newest members of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, Mortensen will be teaching classes in addition to his unique role of directing the new mass spectrometry and cell-sorting facility. This position allows Mortensen to participate in a wide range of research.

“The thing that I like about this position is that I am going to get to be involved in a lot of different projects,” Mortensen said.

As the director of the facility, Mortensen will assist university researchers in measuring the mass of molecules with mass spectrometers and separating cells according to various characteristics with the cell sorter. Mortensen will be collaborating with professors such as Dr. John Price, who has plans to investigate cellular mechanics and protein regulation in the facility.

“[As a] traditional research professor, you establish a research program with your students. You direct it, and it tends to become very focused on a single subject or just one or two lines of inquiry,” Mortensen said. “Whereas with this facility . . . , I am going to be able to get involved in a lot of different people’s projects. I won’t have direct control over the projects, but I will be able to dip my toes into a lot more waters than I would [otherwise].”

Mortensen’s graduate research in protein folding dovetails well with the work he will be doing in the facility.

“I will help [researchers] look at protein content or metabolite content in their samples and see how their experiments are affecting biological systems like mice, or humans, or flies,” Mortensen said.

Mortensen may have recently settled into his new office in the Benson Building, but that doesn’t mean he is settling into just one of his interests.

“In my free time, I actually have been writing a fantasy novel for about five years,” Mortensen said.

Writing the book began during his graduate studies. Instead of drawing mindless doodles as his attention wandered in class, Mortensen wrote the first sentences of his novel. After receiving encouragement from his wife, Mortensen decided to continue writing. But between pursuing his PhD and raising three kids, his novel was often placed on the backburner.

“My book was mostly entirely written on the bus to and from school,” Mortensen said. “It is about the size of the first Harry Potter book.”

Mitch Rogers, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences

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