ESP Biography

STEPHEN SERENE, MIT junior studying physics

Major: Physics

College/Employer: MIT

Year of Graduation: 2012

Picture of Stephen Serene

Brief Biographical Sketch:

Before I came to MIT, I didn't much like school. I liked the writing, which was hard and exciting and which my school was good at teaching, but not much else. I did like sports and music, so I spent a lot of my time running and playing cello.
These days, I'm a junior in physics major at MIT, and I like school a whole lot (though I still run, play cello, and sing). I work in a lab that studies evolution from a quantitative perspective. It's in the physics department, which seems strange, but its approach - looking at physical systems and trying to model them and predict what they'll do in the future - is really all that physics is (it's just that physics is a few centuries farther ahead). It's fun to be involved in such a new field, and there's nothing like putting on nitrile gloves, opening a -80 C freezer, and wielding a 12-tip pipette to make you feel like a real scientist! In the past year I've also found out that I like math and programming, so I'm going to try to keep learning those things.

Past Classes

  (Clicking a class title will bring you to the course's section of the corresponding course catalog)

S4328: Evolution of proteins and gene-regulatory networks in Splash! 2010 (Nov. 20 - 21, 2010)
From Darwin's time to just a few decades ago, most of what we knew about evolution came from looking at fossils, plants, and animals. Since then, aided by the incredible growth of biotechnology, people have started to understand evolution on its fundamental molecular scale. I'll introduce you to some neat results from this field, focusing on ways to understand evolution using mathematical objects called directed graphs (and some undirected ones, too). In particular, I'll talk about antibiotic resistance, whether evolution is reversible, how fast evolution can go, and when evolution allows cooperation.

C4366: Optimizing graph-search run times, with applications to Cambridge in Splash! 2010 (Nov. 20 - 21, 2010)
Graphs are a ubiquitous formalism in computer science and beyond. In particular, rapid graph search is a classic problem for computer science. In addition, rapid locomotion is a classic problem for humans. Coincidence? We think not. Under the guidance of seasoned MIT trackmen, you'll run into Cambridge, then explore a variety of search algorithms as we navigate our way back to MIT, where post-run bananas and chocolate milk will be waiting. Total mileage will be around five.

S2892: Evolutionary Dynamics: Graphs, Genes, and Germs in Splash! 2009 (Nov. 21 - 22, 2009)
Yes, it's true, evolution happens. But how? Darwin had an awfully good guess: species evolve from a low to a high level of fitness through a series of intermediates, getting fitter at each step. This guess seems pretty radical. After all, as many people ask, what use is half an eye? Or, as slightly fewer people ask, what use is half an intracellular regulatory network? My lab and others are just beginning to test Darwin's guess by using synthetic biology to generate the intermediate steps bacteria pass through as they evolve resistance to antibiotics. I'll discuss the techniques we use, how we analyze our data (a fun variation of graph search, for you computer people), and what people have found out so far about Darwin's guess. And I'll discuss how these tools could eventually be used to stem the spread of antibiotic resistance in the real world.