Physics’s Christina Othon Expert on Membrane Protein Folding, Dynamics

Christina Othon

The Department of Physics welcomes Christina Othon as an assistant professor.

This semester, Othon is teaching a graduate level course called Advanced Topics in Condensed Matter. It is an introductory soft condensed matter physics course that encompasses the physical, mechanical and thermodynamic properties of liquids, colloids, polymers and biological systems.

She’s also teaching an upper-level undergraduate laboratory called Experimental Optics, where students learn about the propagation of light, diffraction and polarization.

In her own research, Othon uses ultrafast fluorescence spectroscopy to investigate changes in protein-solvent interactions during protein structural transitions. She has also investigated the modification of electrostatic and hydrodynamic properties of protein surfaces with the introduction of non-canonical amino acids.

She’s also an expert on membrane protein folding and dynamics.

“At Wesleyan, I would like to develop techniques to monitor the structure and dynamics of membrane proteins developing a time-resolved fluorescence microscope capable of following the orientation of protein molecules as they are adsorbed into the membrane,” she says.

Othon comes to Wesleyan from the California Institute of Technology’s Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology in Pasadena, Calif. Between 2007-2010, she investigated protein folding and hydration using ultrafast laser spectroscopy.

Othon worked as a graduate research assistant between 2001-05 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. There, she researched switching dynamics of ferroelectric polymer films. In 2006-07, as a National Research Council associate, she researched laser-processing techniques for biological materials at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C.

Othon double majored in physics and astronomy at the University of Iowa in 2000. She earned a master of science in physics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2002, and a Ph.D in physics there in 2005. Her dissertation was titled “Switching Dynamics of Ferroelectric Langmuir-Blodgett Copolymer Films.”

Othon is the co-author of 14 publications including “Hydration Dynamics at Fluorinated Protein Surfaces,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Issue 107, 2010.

During her on-campus interview in February 2010, Othon met with faculty and students from the Department of Physics, and other members of the science community.

“Wesleyan is well known for the excellent education students receive and I was impressed by the insightful questions students asked about my research,” she says. “The faculty were extremely warm and gracious, and the quality of the research was exceptional, especially given the size of the institution. By the time I left, I was convinced that Wesleyan was a place I would fit in well, and would enjoy building my career.”

Othon resides in Berlin with her husband Brett Barwick who is an assistant professor of physics at Trinity College, and her two year old son Seth. Her hobbies are cooking, painting, and playing volleyball.