Sarah Gunasekera — the URECA Researcher of the Month for June — is a student in the Honors College double majoring in applied mathematics and statistics, and biology with a specialization in quantitative biology and bioinformatics. She is also a recipient of the 2023 Barry Goldwater Scholarship, a prestigious national award recognizing outstanding undergraduates in math, science and engineering — one of two Stony Brook students to achieve this honor in 2023.
Under the mentorship of Carlos Simmerling from the Department of Chemistry, Gunasekera performs optimization experiments on small RNA structures to refine computational tools. She is a co-author of a paper, “Accelerating the Ensemble Convergence of RNA Hairpin Simulations with a Replica Exchange Structure Reservoir,” published in the Journal of Chemical Theory and Computation; was awarded a URECA summer fellowship in 2022; and this summer will be continuing her work on RNA simulation tools as a Frances Velay Fellow.
Gunasekera said that the COVID pandemic led her down an unconventional path, but she is grateful for the non-linear journey that led her to a better understanding of her interests.
When asked about research advice for fellow students, Gunasekera said, “I found that going to research talks — which are often advertised on department websites/noticeboards — are useful opportunities to learn about the scope of the research carried out at SBU. I would tell new students to pay attention to which research topics, questions, and/or methods are most interesting to them, and then to not be afraid to reach out to the scientists to ask about opportunities to get involved.”
She plans to apply for PhD programs in bioinformatics and/or computational biology in the fall.
Read the interview with URECA Director Karen Kernan.