UAF BLaST Celebrates Scientists of the Month: January and February 2022

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By Amy Topkok

Since 2016, the Biomedical Learning and Student Training (BLaST) program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) has highlighted scientists from all biomedical fields through their Scientist of the Month articles. These articles are shared across all University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Alaska Southeast rural campuses and with BLaST’s partners: Iļisaġvik College, Fort Lewis College, Diné College, Salish Kootenai College, and Alaska Pacific University. Below are the Scientists of the Month for January and February, 2022. For more information on the BLaST Scientist of the Month series, click here

January 2022 Scientist of the Month: Natalia Podlutskaya

UAF Scientist of the Month, January, Natalia Podlutskaya
January 2022 Scientist of the   
Month: Natalia Podlutskaya



Natalia Podlutskaya, a Research Advising and Mentoring Professional (RAMP), has been with BLaST since 2015. She earned her master's of science degree in biology at Kharkov University, Ukraine. 

“My profession and passion for science led me to many labs in the U.S. However, for the past nine years, I have lived in Alaska. I fell in love with nature, people, and especially the Fairbanks community. I enjoy exploring nature, hiking, and camping in my free time.”

Podlutskaya’s passion in research led her to projects under Principal Investigator (PI) and former BLaST faculty pilot project awardee Andrej Podlutsky, Ph.D., such as “Diabetes in Alaska Native People,” “Hibernation and DNA repair,” and “I'qmik toxicity,” which focused on DNA damage and repair. Podlutskaya trained many students in molecular biology techniques, and particularly cell culture and Comet assay. 

“I enjoy teaching students in laboratory settings and seeing their professional growth,” she said.

Podlutskaya helped many undergraduate students enter biomedical research over the years at UAF. She was instrumental in forming strong collaboration efforts across many partner departments and institutions. Her courses are built around students' interests and desires to know more about biomedical research and research processes. Podlutskaya helped collaborate BLaST coursework with the Alaska Summer Research Academy (ASRA) in 2015, and Rural Alaska Honors Institute (RAHI) in 2020 and 2021. 

Podlutskaya coordinated many BLaST workshops such as the Research Mixers, summer One Health workshops for Fort Lewis College students in 2019, and for Xavier University students in 2019. Podlutskaya has fond memories teaching and coordinating the BLaST Biomedical Exploration Experience (BEE) courses in the summers of 2016 to 2019. 

“I enjoy teaching the BMSC 214 and BMSC 224 BLaST-sponsored courses to help undergraduate students consider a career in medicine or science. The students met with health care professionals and explored medical careers through doctor's presentations, facilities’ visits, medical simulations, and hands-on activities. Students participated in research projects, met with principal investigators, graduate students, and learned about their projects during these courses,” she shared.

UAF Scientist of the Month, January Natalia Podlutskaya with Students
Top Photo: Podlutskaya (bottom-center) with her BEE students. (2016)
Bottom Left: BLaST Scholar Kristian Rivera (right) with Podlutskaya
in the BLaST Student Engagement Center. (2019)
Bottom Right: Podlutskaya at the Molecular Biology Techniques workshop
at Ilisaġvik College at Utqiaġvik, Alaska. (2016)


Since 2015, Podlutskaya has mentored around 40 undergraduate students through her research projects, as well as 24 BLaST scholars and 15 undergraduate research experience students (UREs). Her philosophy is to help students find their dream research projects, discover their passion in science or medicine, and help them to determine their career paths. 

“I'm thankful for the experiences with my students. I believe mentoring is a two-way street; it's a relationship where both contribute to each other. I learned a lot from my students, and they are all brilliant people.” 

As part of the mentoring experience, Podlutskaya attended the University of New Mexico Mentoring Conference, Experimental Biology Conference, Annual Biomedical Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), One Health Conference, and the Western Alaska Interior Science Conference (WAISC).

February 2022 Scientist of the Month: Samantha Wade

UAF Scientist of the Month, Feb Samantha Wade
February 2022 Scientist of the    
Month: Samantha Wade


Samantha Wade, who is of Iñupiaq descent, is a senior pursuing a bachelor’s of science in biological sciences with a concentration in physiology. Wade is a fourth-year BLaST Scholar and holds an officer title in the UAF chapter of Pre-Medical Society. Wade was born and raised in Wainwright, Alaska, and attended Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka, where she was valedictorian for the class of 2018. She is a first-generation college student and plans to graduate by the end of April 2022. She is interested in climate change and how it affects the Arctic and the One-Health issues that arise from it. Wade plans to attend medical school to become a physician to give back to rural communities in Alaska.

Wade first started her research journey in 2012 when she attended the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) conference after attending the Climate Change summer camp led by Linda Nicholas-Figueroa, PhD. She joined Nicholas-Figueroa’s lab at Iļisaġvik College in Utqiaġvik in the summer of 2018, where she studied microbes in Arctic soil and their effects on animal health, human health, and the environment. 

At UAF, Wade joined Mary Beth Leigh, PhD’s, lab in the spring of 2019, where she sequenced the genome of an oil-degrading bacterium from the Arctic Ocean. Wade also studied the effects of Micro-Blaze™–a non-toxic microbial formulation used for bioremediation of hydrocarbons and other organic compounds–in its effectiveness in cleaning up diesel-contaminated soil collected in Alaska. Wade also worked in the medical lab in Nome in the summer of 2021 where she utilized her laboratory skills to analyze medical samples, premiered the use of a new Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine to analyze local COVID samples, and assisted with their phlebotomy department. Wade presented at the 2019 NIH Diversity Program Consortium (DPC) Conference, the 2019 American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Conference, and at several Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity (URSA) UAF research day events. 

UAF Scientist of the Month, Feb Samantha Wade with fellow BLaST Scholars
Above left: BLaST Scholar Samantha Wade (middle-right) with BLaST Scholar
Garrett Taylor (left), Dr. Nicholas-Figueroa (middle-left), and BLaST Scholar
Daphne Mueller (far right) at the 2019 ASM Conference (Photo credit: Wade)
Right-top: Jars of microbe samples from the tundra of the Arctic.
Right-bottom: Wade in Mary Beth Leigh’s Lab. (2021) (Photo credit: A. Topkok)


Wade would like to thank Leigh and Nicholas-Figueroa for guiding her through her research journey.  

“I first met Dr. Linda Nicholas-Figueroa when I attended a summer camp, where she taught on climate change in 2012. Attending summer camps is where my passion for science truly grew. It is now 10 years later where I was able to present research at conferences through her guidance. I am grateful to have met such a wonderful friend, teacher, and mentor.” 

Nicholas-Figueroa shares, “Samantha has never backed away from a challenge and has held true to her word of pursuing a M.D. degree and planning to return home to service the rural communities of Alaska where she was raised. I am very proud of Samantha, as her mentor and her friend.” 

Wade would also like to thank her BLaST RAMP Natalia Podlutskaya and extends gratitude to Leigh lab members Kristin Hruska, Taylor Gofstein, and Benjamin Hedges (past BLaST URE AY2015, AY2016).

The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.
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