Science + Design

About

About page for Peter Dong, neuroscience Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania.

The story so far...

 

Science + Design? What might that entail? As you might expect, this is a story best told in two parts.

Snoqualmie Falls, WA, Winter 2016

Snoqualmie Falls, WA, Winter 2016

I grew up in Michigan, and I enjoyed reading and learning about science throughout my childhood. When I started college, I quickly decided that I would major in biology. However, it wasn’t until I joined an olfaction lab at Duke that I was introduced to the study of neuroscience. Since I was in a lab that investigated the sense of smell, I became particularly interested in the field of sensory neuroscience—how various stimuli in our environment are encoded by neurons. This interest and desire to learn more led me to apply to graduate school.

I ended up studying neuroscience as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Broadly speaking, my research focused on somatosensation, which gives us the ability to perceive touch, pain, temperature, and itch. Because these senses are still poorly understood, I and others in my lab worked to answer questions such as how touch and pain drive behavior, and how the neurons which carry somatosensory information function. After nearly six years at Penn, where I conducted research in the lab but also learned more how to more effectively communicate science outside the lab, I graduated with a Ph.D. in neuroscience. I then sought to make use of the skills I gained by becoming a medical writer at Nucleus Global, where I currently work on the ClinicalThinking team. 

At the same time, I remain interested in conveying science as well as the importance of scientific research and thinking to the general public. At Duke, I was the co-founder of an organization devoted to exposing students to research opportunities on campus. I continued to volunteer at Penn, helping lead summer neuroscience courses for high schoolers, and participating in outreach programs geared towards kids and adults alike. I’ve also had experience as a teaching assistant during both college and graduate school.

Duke Chapel during graduation. I never went inside nearly enough while I was a student...

Duke Chapel during graduation. I never went inside nearly enough while I was a student...

So what about the second part of this story? This part of the story begins with a map. There was a map of metro Detroit taped to the wall of one of the rooms in my childhood apartment, and I remember intently staring at it for long periods at a time, making a note of all the details in my head. After taking a family trip to New York City when I was perhaps 7 or 8, I became fascinated with the city’s subway system, and again, would often look at the system map for hours on end.

I was never very good at drawing, but I could certainly draw maps. My earliest creative memory is drawing a map of a massive highway / national park system in third grade that expanded page by page until it consisted of 8 pieces of lined paper taped together. I was often inspired by other interests of mine at the time, which led me to create, among other things, an entire automobile manufacturer lineup with full trim lines and styling details for each model, restaurant menus, video game interfaces, website and reference book layouts, a fantasy land with its own map / alphabet / history, logos, advertising copy for made-up companies, and architectural floorplans.

Luckily, I saved that first highway / national park system map I made, along with most of my other doodles from back in the day.

Luckily, I saved that first highway / national park system map I made, along with most of my other doodles from back in the day.

I made most of the above in elementary and middle school, until, well, the first part of this story took over. My interest in what I now understand to be largely graphic design and branding lay dormant until I suddenly remembered it all a couple of years ago. I began learning about design in my free time, both independently and taking courses online and in person. I also dove head-first into creating designs of my own yet again, now with the assistance of a computer and design software. 

So there you have it—science + design. They may appear to be disparate topics at first glance, but at their core, they are united by the goal to solve a problem—whether it’s a question regarding the nervous system or a need to communicate an idea visually. My hope is to use what I’ve learned and continue learning to solve these and other problems in our world.


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