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Staff Spotlight Young Yun

Thursday, June 20, 2019
By Aaliyah Bowden
Young Yun

Young Yun is a research technician in the laboratory of Ornit Chiba-Falek, PhD, who uses single cell type sorting techniques to experiment with human brain samples. Yun explains how he uses frozen brain samples to perform DNA/RNA extraction on future analysis.  He also collaborates with coworkers on single cell omics study, pyrosequencing, and PCR just to name a few. Outside of working in a demanding laboratory, he is planning to attend medical school to study the fundamentals of medicine with hopes of becoming a radiologist in the future. Yun decompresses from work by painting and drawing beautiful artwork and designing Ponyo book covers.

What are your current responsibilities within the Chiba-Falek lab? What does a typical day for you look like?
I am responsible for the single cell type sorting and analysis with Julio and for analyzing the methylation profiles. I start my day by checking the CoreResearch calendar to see when our allotted time at the Nuclei sorting facility is. After that, I turn on the Ultracentrifuge and start preparing for the FANS sorting experiment. Julio and I choose frozen human brain samples from our cohort and process them through homogenization, centrifugation, NeuN antibody tagging, etc. When we receive our samples from the sorting facility, I then do the downstream DNA/RNA extraction for later analysis (methylation profiling, ATAC sequencing for chromatin accessibility, gene expression, etc.). Depending on the day, we do different experiments such as single cell omics study, pyrosequencing, PCR, and so on.

How and when did you first get interested in neurology?
​I think my love for neurology gradually developed over time. I've been in a quantitative biology lab, cellular biology lab, and analytical chemistry lab throughout my undergraduate career. I've always been fascinated by the different techniques of analysis, and it was the combination of my experience/fascination in the different analytical methods that I learned in class and the analytical chemistry lab as well as my fascination with human anatomy and physiology that led me to join a brain imaging and neurodevelopmental research lab at UNC. When I saw a research technician position open for neurodegenerative disease study at Duke, I immediately jumped on it.

I also competed for the Churchill Scholarship to study abroad at Cambridge for a master's degree, and as I was researching the prominent neurological research, I started reading about APOE genotypes. I got into the Cambridge program to study in a lab that studies different genotypes of APOE and its effect on AD. Luckily, although I did not start my graduate career at Cambridge for financial reasons, I get to study what I wanted to study back then at Dr. Chiba-Falek's lab!

What do you enjoy most about your work?
What I love the most about this work is that I work in an environment that fosters my understanding and appreciation in this field. I've gotten accepted to work for companies that produce medication, etc., but I would never have been intellectually challenged as much as I am at Duke. I get to learn new techniques for downstream analysis, brain nuclei sorting, and so on.

Another thing that I love about working here is the people. I work with some of the most amazing people -- people that make me push my understanding of science, but also people that I am honored to call some of my closest friends. I look forward to coming to work every morning to interact with my coworkers. As a person that's worked in various and hostile work environments, the atmosphere that the people create at my job is very important to me.

In conclusion, Chiba-Falek lab is a place that I am surrounded by people that I am comfortable asking any questions to foster my love and knowledge about the subject. I also feel proud to be involved in a project that pushes the boundaries of the status quo.

What is the hardest part of your job?
There aren't many parts that I would necessarily deem to be hard. Keeping up to speed with the current literature about the single cell type analyses for AD, making sure that all the paperwork is done, handling each of my experiments with the level of precision that is to be expected for my position... these are all examples of "challenges," but that's another reason that I love working in this fast-paced research environment at Duke. To me, fast pace and demanding deadlines mean faster advancements in our understanding.

What plans do you have for the future? If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
I am currently in the process of applying for medical school, and my immediate plan is to enter medical school to learn the techniques and the art of practising medicine. I always loved research, but through my undergraduate career and my various experiences in volunteering both locally and abroad fostered my love for the special interaction between a physician and a patient. Considering my love for neurology and imaging techniques, I aspire to be a radiologist.

Also, if I could have any job in the world as a side, I would also love to have my own art gallery to create a space to display my artwork and local artists' work.

What other passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
​I love art​; I studied both biochemistry and studio art at UNC, and I am so glad that I got to experiment with different methods of art-making and that I got to see and interact with so many types of artwork and artists. Art is somewhat discouraged in Korea, where academia is emphasized above all others to a student. It has always been my way to decompress; whenever I have a stressful day or when I am emotionally distressed, you can always find me somewhere in my house painting, drawing, and expressing. A project that I'm thinking nowadays is to read books and make book covers to fit the theme and my response to the contents of the book (since I also love reading); they say to never judge a book by its cover, but my wish is that the emotions portrayed in the book be reflected on the cover and that anyone can pick up my book and have an idea of the ideas and the emotions that the book engenders before even opening the first page.

The subjects of Yun's paintings include a piano, a scene from Ponyo, and many more. Check out his work and photos on his Instagram here.

Yun painting

Yun piano

Yun ponyo