WK resident Chris Abin earns Graduate Research Fellowship

Chris Abin is pictured at work in a University of Georgia laboratory

While an unbroken string of all-A grades could point a bright student in any direction, Christopher Abin seemed destined for a career in science.

Early in May, Abin was announced as one of 2,000 nationwide recipients of the 2012 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship awards.

“Maybe it was from reading those science fiction books by Michael Crichton,” he said while being interviewed from a graduate laboratory at the University of Georgia campus in Athens, GA. “At least by the end of high school, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the life sciences.”

If so, Crichton’s Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain were only part of the inspiration leading to such a major merit award for the West Kendall student, an honors graduate of Florida International University only a year ago.

Perhaps the most prestigious pre-doctoral fellowship in the U.S., the total award of $126,000 will allow Albin to continue an intriguing project in microbiology, investigating how microbes from an ancient salt lake in California “make a living” by consuming highly toxic compounds containing antimony.

“The discovery of microbes that can transform toxic compounds through their metabolism will not only have substantial implications for the bio-remediation of antimony contaminated sites worldwide, but may also provide insight into life on other planets,” he explained.

To further his exploration into the microcosmos, he now looks forward to a July trip to the Sierra Nevada Mountains in eastern California where he’ll spend a week at Mono Lake, one of the oldest lakes in North America formed roughly one million years ago.

There, he will sample the lake’s depths for microbes thriving in the unusual ecosystem, two and a half times saltier than the ocean, perhaps leading to additional discoveries of how life forms can survive in extreme environments.

Abin said he soon became interested in scientific research after enrolling at FIU in 2006 following graduation from G. Holmes Braddock Senior High School.

“It was during my undergraduate years that I began to learn more and more about the inner workings of the natural and physical worlds, and it opened my eyes to the central role that research plays in answering some of our most basic questions,” Albin said.

During his biology courses in the School of Integrated Science and Humanities, he was exposed to research applications in varied scientific disciplines and then attended a summer 2010 research program in microbiology at the University of Oregon before becoming a PhD student in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Georgia in August 2011.

Upon enrollment, he was awarded a graduate school assistantship at UGA along with a $21,000 scholarship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

His significant academic achievements began during his first year at FIU when he was named “Student of the Year” in general chemistry by the American Chemical Society, later leading to a graduation with FIU’s prestigious “Outstanding Academic Achievement Award” and induction into Phi Beta Kappa.

Even before Albin graduated from FIU summa cum laude in 2011 with a BS in Biological Sciences, Professor DeEtta K. Mills said she could “see in him the combination of intelligence and tenacity that makes a true research scientist.”

Abin today credits Dr. Mills as “the person who inspired my study of microbiology and taught me how think critically as a scientist.”

A native Miamian, Abin is the son of Juan Carlos and Yospa Abin, residents of the Lakes of the Meadow who fled Cuba to raise a family in the US.

Her son’s academics were encouraged by Yospa Abin’s, 27 years as an elementary school teacher in the Miami-Dade Public Schools system, including the last 17 at Tropical Elementary in Westchester.

“Naturally, we’re all very proud of Chris,” she said. “And we have another reason for celebration.”

That will occur when Chris’ brother, Kevin, graduates from John A. Ferguson Senior High School in June after posting a similar outstanding scholastic record that may lead to even more academic laurels for the Abin family.

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