Raghu Parthasarathy

University of Oregon professor discusses his research, teaching, and his little bit of spare time

By UO Student Lili Wagner

University of Oregon professor Raghu
Parthasarathy will give an upcoming talk as a
part of the UOAA’s Portland Science Nights
lectures series.

Raghuveer Parthasarathy will be giving an upcoming talk February 18 at the University of Oregon Alumni Association's Portland Science Night. Following a PhD in Physics from the University of Chicago and a postdoctoral position in the Department of Chemistry at UC Berkeley, Parthasarathy joined the physics faculty at the University of Oregon in 2006, where he has since been researching and teaching in the area of biophysics.

“I’ve always tried to pay attention to lots of areas of science. I began thinking physically about biological products,” he said. “Often science is organized into different artificial boxes. I think it’s liberating to look at how these boxes work together.”

Since coming to the University of Oregon, Parthasarathy’s work has concentrated primarily in two areas, developmental biophysics and membrane biophysics. Studying the structure of biological substances like membranes and fibers, Parthasarathy makes revealing discoveries about the organic world.

“It’s an interesting time to be working in this field. Biologists know a lot about the ingredients of life but we’re still learning the mechanics of what bio materials do,” Parthasarathy explained.

One area of Parthasarathy’s current research focuses on understanding microbial communities and how these microbial communities influence the development of animals. He elucidated, “We’re learning a huge amount about microbiomes in recent years. There are enormous communities of microbes in the human body that are incredibly important to sustaining life. And we’re learning that different microbiota are associated with different conditions. There are specific communities of microbes that are present in people suffering from diabetes or obesity.”

What Parthasarathy studies is the physical structure of these communities. Using home-made optical tools that allow for microscopic three-dimensional imaging, Parthasarathy and his team of undergraduate and graduate researchers study the microbiota of zebrafish.

“One of the really big questions is how you can change microbial communities. For example with communities associated with obesity, can you change that community to change a person’s development? We’re looking at how nature does it, the mechanisms by which it happens.”

Despite his intense research efforts, Parthasarathy enjoys teaching general education science courses from non-science majors.

“Broadly speaking I’m passionate about the issue of science literacy and getting people to understand the importance of the scientific process,” he said. “I think that sometimes students are taught that science is a series of facts but it’s really a puzzle that involves creative problem solving. It’s a thriller, a mystery.”

Parthasarathy recently created a one-hundred level course on biophysics for non-science majors, which divides the term between studying the macroscopic and microscopic and highlights exciting areas of contemporary science.

Between researching and teaching, in his free time, which he said there seems to be less and less of these days, Parthasarathy enjoys spending time with his children and drawing and painting.

“I do water colors. Sometimes they’re science related and I use them for illustrations in my articles. So I guess that half counts as work,” he laughed.

Don’t miss Parthasarathy’s Portland Science Nights talk “Glimpses of the Gut” on February 18 at Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland. Click here to register and learn more!