OSU doctoral student Heather Masson-Forsythe used dance to communicate her research.

Dec 27, 2021

A recent doctoral graduate of Oregon State University who won a national contest for using dance to communicate her research will be the speaker at Oregon State’s Science Pub on Jan. 10.

The virtual event, a joint effort of Oregon State University in Corvallis and OSU-Cascades in Bend, will feature Heather Masson-Forsythe, who earned her Ph.D. from Oregon State earlier this year. Her presentation is titled: “Investigating how COVID-19 proteins stick to viral RNA and taking research from the lab to the dance floor.”

Masson-Forsythe’s thesis research centered on the nucleocapsid protein of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the current pandemic. Using a variety of biophysical and biochemical techniques, Masson-Forsythe, along with members of Elisar Barbar’s lab group in OSU’s Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, characterized the nucleocapsid phosphoprotein and protein-RNA interactions.

The nucleocapsid protein, or N protein, is a prime target for disease-fighting interventions because of the critical jobs it performs for the coronavirus’ infection cycle and because it mutates at a comparatively slow pace. Drugs and vaccines built around the work of the N protein carry the potential to be highly effective and for longer periods of time – i.e., less susceptible to resistance.

Throughout the research project, Masson-Forsythe used the app TikTok to document what it’s like to be a scientist trying to make research contributions to the ongoing global pandemic. With the handle @heycurlytop, she accumulated more than 50,000 TikTok followers and created videos that received hundreds of thousands of views.

She also turned her COVID-19 research project into a dance and submitted it to the 13th annual Dance Your Ph.D. contest organized by Science Magazine. She won in the newly created COVID-19 category and the video has been viewed approximately 40,000 times on YouTube. 

The free Science Pub will run from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The event will be broadcast on YouTube Live. Registration is required and can be completed at https://beav.es/U9R.

Sponsors of Science Pub include the OSU Office of Research, OSU-Cascades in Bend and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. 

About OSU-Cascades:  Oregon State University’s campus in Bend brings higher education to Central Oregon, the fastest growing region in the state. Surrounded by 2.5 million acres of mountains and high desert, OSU-Cascades is a top-tier research university where small classes accelerate faculty-student mentoring. Degree programs meet industry and economic needs in areas such as innovation and entrepreneurship, natural ecosystems, health and wellness, and arts and sciences, and prepare students for tomorrow’s challenges. OSU-Cascades is expanding to serve 3,000 to 5,000 students, building a 128-acre campus with net-zero goals.