Meet Diego Prado De Maio, a graduate student in Lori Covey's lab, conducting research on CD40L and its role in the immune system. 

How did you become interested in science?
I was always just naturally interested in math and science and puzzles. I had really memorable science teachers as a kid who caught on to this and would suggest things for me to read or watch and planned fun experimental lessons. My parents also were always very supportive of our learning and bought us chemistry kits and other science-y toys. I remember my brother growing bright blue copper crystals in our bathroom and burning things with colored flames. This all made me curious enough to seek it out.

As a student, did you do undergraduate research?
I did. My first summer as an undergraduate I joined an inorganic chemistry lab where I was studying the chaotic nature of an oscillatory chemical reaction. Outside of the chemistry itself, it was a really neat reaction that would spontaneously flash blue every minute or so then go back to red. Doing independent research in that lab led me to want to do more research as an undergrad in protein engineering and eventually grad school, where I switched fields to immunology.

What are you researching (in layman’s)
My research is looking at the way that a certain gene called CD40L controls the strength of a normal immune response. People with CD40L mutations can develop immunodeficiencies that make them very susceptible to infections. On the other hand, people with autoimmune disorders have been found to have higher than normal levels of CD40L. Using mutant mice that carry modified version of this gene, we’re exploring its role in an autoimmune disease context in an effort to reduce the severity of illness. We are also trying to understand the pathways that underlie the formation of immune memory which is critical for vaccines.