Dr. Candice Viddal, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Physics, has taught at CMU since 2010.
What did you teach this past year that most excited you?
I began teaching a sequence of courses in biochemistry. Biochemistry is essentially a course about the chemical reactions that underlie the way that biological organisms work. I find it very fascinating. In particular, I really enjoy learning about proteins. Proteins are essentially the workhorses of the cell. They do all kinds of different things and each protein has its own task. In the last 50 years, there have been so many advances in our knowledge of what specific proteins look like in terms of their three dimensional structure. I can often find in the literature new stories, new contemporary findings, and new discoveries to share with students in the class.
I study protein dynamics with computer modeling. This means that I track the motions of the tens of thousands of atoms that compose a protein as a way of trying to understand how it performs its function. When proteins do their job, they have to jiggle around. They’re generally very, very dynamic. One of my particular interests is in tracking the energy flow. That is, if an event happens in a protein, I’m interested in knowing how the information of that event, like the binding of a chemical, transmits throughout the protein so that the rest of the protein responds to it.
What are you reading for enjoyment?
I’m reading Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears. It’s a historical mystery novel about the rise and fall of a wealthy man named John Stone around World War I. The story has a very interesting structure: three different people in three different locations at three different times tell it. What I find particularly interesting about the book is that Iain Pears understands the human condition very well. He gets into the characters’ minds and plumbs the depths of their experience, which makes for an engaging narrative.
What do you most long for in your work?
One dream I have is for CMU to eventually offer a Bachelor of Science degree program. Another dream I have is to teach a “Big Ideas” course in science. Right now, I teach very rigorous scientific courses, and I enjoy that. But I would also love to be able to teach courses that engage with students that are not necessarily interested in the real heavy duty mechanics of the subject, but maybe are intrigued by the concepts. I’d love to teach “Science for Poets,” or something like that. It always fascinates me to think about how I would approach a course like that.
What saying or motto inspires you?
I don’t know who said it, but “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” I often think about that. It inspires me to grow daily and to live courageously. It also serves as a reminder that we can do a lot more than we imagine sometimes.