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Uncovering Our Sense of Touch: Dr. Ellen Lumpkin

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Author: Evelyn Head | Category: Around Campus | November 07, 2014

Dr. Ellen Lumpkin is an associate professor in Dermatology, Physiology, and Cellular Biophysics within Columbia University's Medical Center. As a part of the Physiology Department's seminar series, Dr. Lumpkin will be lecturing about her research today at 12:00 pm in lecture hall 309L. In addition to asking Dr. Lumpkin questions about her research, the Pipette Gazette had the opportunity to ask Dr. Lumpkin about her reasons for becoming a scientist, her hobbies and interests, and advice for graduate students. 

[PG] How did you become interested in a science career? 

[Dr. Lumpkin] I grew up in East Texas, where I was a member of the Future Farmers of America. In ninth grade, I became fascinated with Mendelian genetics in a class on animal breeding. I decided then to be a scientist.

[PG] How would you explain your research to the non-scientist? 

[Dr. Lumpkin] My group aims to understand how the skin’s sensory neurons pick out different tactile features of the objects in the world around us. How can we detect shapes, edges and textures? Why do some objects feel soft, whereas others feel firm? We address these questions at the molecular and cellular levels, using transgenic mice, electrophysiology, live-cell imaging, and quantitative 3D neuroanatomy. We are particularly interested in how skin cells communicate with the nervous system to encode touch.

[PG] What are some of your other interests and hobbies? 

[Dr. Lumpkin] I love modern art and live music. My husband is a professional bassoonist so I hear plenty of classical concerts. Hobbies are running (essential for my mental health!), hiking and gardening. Since I moved to Harlem, I’ve become obsessed with growing heirloom tomatoes and chiles. My neighbors and I have created a ‘guerrilla garden' in an empty lot on our street. At the height of the summer, I was harvesting two pounds of tomatoes every day!

[PG] What advice do you have for our graduate students? 

[Dr. Lumpkin] Take charge of your own graduate education. Be bold in advocating for yourself to ensure that you have a terrific scientific environment. Also, learn when to say ‘no thank you’ so that you can truly focus on your research.

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