Frogs, Brain Chemicals, and Feelings

Meet biochemistry and molecular biology major Nareg Kedjejian.

October 11, 2023

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Thesis adviser: Prof. Erik Zornik [biology]

Thesis: “An Enzymatic Biosensor for the Detection of Changes in Acetylcholine and Choline Levels in Xenopus Laevis

What it’s about: I built a device that can detect changes in neurotransmitter levels in real time. While I tested the device as a proof of concept on frogs, I hope it can be used for monitoring or diagnosing mental disorders, analogous to how a glucose sensor helps diabetics manage their condition.

What it’s really about: I built a device to measure chemicals in the brain so we know why we feel the way we do.

In high school: I took all the hardest classes I could. I started the chess club and inspired so many people to play that teachers had to check computer screens to see if people were playing chess in class. I also started the Science Olympiad club with one of my friends.

Concept that blew my mind: In one of my sociology classes, we read a paper about epistemology, which is essentially the study of how you know that something is true. The paper argued that epistemological dominance in STEM fields perpetuates disadvantages for students who enter higher education with alternative epistemologies. This really resonated, because I’ve seen these alternative epistemologies mocked or dismissed in STEM classes.

Awards, fellowships, grants: Dunne Currie Scholarship from the Portland section of the American Chemical Society, Reed Science Research Fellowship, commendations for academic excellence.

Influential professor: Prof. Erik Zornik [biology] has been my absolute favorite teacher at Reed and has been a major reason why my college experience has been so enjoyable. I met Erik during the second semester of my freshman year in intro biology. In one of our first conversations, I told him about a book I was reading on neuroplasticity, and we talked about how amazing the concept is. The summer after freshman year, I wanted to do research but COVID made things nearly impossible, so Erik included me in his lab meetings with thesis students and mentored me through a literature review on synaptic plasticity. Since then, he’s been involved in my academic life every year. This year as a thesis adviser, he was willing to guide me and learn with me on an exciting, new topic.

Cool stuff: I am passionate about music production and started the music collaboration club at Reed, where producers, vocalists, and instrumentalists can come together to collaborate on songs. I met one of my best friends at Reed through this club, and we frequently make songs together. I also participated in the chess club, was an intro biology tutor for two years, and did an internship at OHSU on the effects of the herb Centella asiatica on mice with a model of Alzheimer’s disease.

Challenges faced: During my time at Reed, I have had a health condition called ME/CFS. The symptoms have required me to work twice as hard to complete any homework assignment or lab work, and I’ve had to properly manage my time and prioritize my health.

What’s next: I plan to take a year off and focus on producing music. I will then either pursue a PhD in biochemistry or do research in an academic lab or industry setting.