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Science from the Start

An interest in science began early for Benyam Kinde ’10.

As a child, he spent weekends with his father, a veterinarian and microbiologist, performing necropsies (animal autopsies) in a lab. When his mother, dean of mathematics at San Bernardino College, couldn’t find a babysitter – she brought him into the classroom, and he performed basic math problems in the back. These moments had a considerable amount of influence on his career choice, said Kinde, but his experience afterward – specifically with UMBC’s Meyerhoff Scholars Program – transformed his early fascination into a research career. 

“Coming to UMBC was the best decision I could have made for a career as a reseacher,” said Kinde.

Born and raised in Southern California, Kinde learned about the Meyerhoff Program, which was established to increase diversity among future leaders in science, technology, engineering and related fields, from his brother Isaac Kinde ‘05, now a 5th year M.D./Ph.D. student at the Johns Hopkins University.

Since enrolling in the program, Benyam Kinde has been able to pursue research opportunities he hadn’t imagined – which are now leading him to Germany. This summer, he will attend the 60th Interdisciplinary Meeting of Nobel Laureates. Selected from a pool of more than 20,000, he’ll join 500 young researchers and network with leading scientists in the fields of medicine or physiology, physics and chemistry. Kinde was nominated to attend by Peter Agre, a medical doctor, professor and molecular biologist at Hopkins who was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and received an honorary degree from UMBC in 2009.

“I’m excited to have been selected for such intellectual fellowship. This honor is a testament of the research opportunities and academic preparation available for UMBC students,” he said.

Kinde’s experience with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has provided a solid background for his research. Under the guidance of Michael Summers, HHMI investigator and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Kinde is conducting leading research on HIV, developing protocols that allow for the elicitation (drawing out) from large RNAs (similar to DNA, a molecule called ribonucleic acid). This research provides insight into the life cycle of the virus and an understanding about where the virus spreads.

“Dr. Summers is more than just a powerhouse in the field of NMR spectroscopy; he also finds the time to be a fantastic mentor to his students with an office door that is essentially always open,” Kinde said.

In addition to his research at HHMI, Kinde performs research at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, where he studies neurophysiology and the importance of circadian rhythm – which allows us to wake and sleep. He will continue his work deciding between combined-degree M.D./Ph.D. programs and leaning toward Johns Hopkins. Kinde plans to specialize in neurology and continue to conduct research in the field of neuroscience.

Active on the UMBC campus, Kinde belongs to the Golden Key International Honor Society (serving as president), Minority Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (MARC U STAR) and Getting Everyone to Unleash Potential (GET UP! – founding member). He also volunteers, tutoring genetics in the Department of Biological Sciences, among other activities.

(3/12/10)