Quinton Dowling spends most of his day in a world one billion times too small to be seen by the naked eye. As a process specialist at Seattle’s Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI), he witnesses tiny chemical miracles that promise to change the trajectories of diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and HIV.
“At IDRI, we focus on global diseases of poverty,” Dowling said. “So we have to make vaccines that are not only effective, they’re also affordable.”
To do this, Quinton and his fellow researchers use bio-, organic, and physical chemistry to develop vaccines with three key ingredients that teach the body to recognize diseases (antigens), enhance a patient’s immune response (adjuvants), and stabilize the vaccine to increase its shelf life (excipients).
Adjuvants allows researchers to create less costly formulations because less antigen is needed—and antigens are the most expensive component.
Quinton, a double-major in biology and chemistry from College of Idaho, whose passion for science was nurtured at SAAS. He notes that his high school science experience gave him a leg up to start independent research right away when he went to college.
“In science, you can do amazing work but because the ideas are complex, if you can’t get up in front of a room and explain them to somebody else accessibly, it’s very difficult to get the support you need to keep moving with your research,” Quinton said.
As he demonstrated at SAAS Ignite 2011, Quinton can illustrate and present his work with finesse—two skills he credits largely to years being encouraged to try new skills and challenged to get up in front of his peers and demonstrate concepts at SAAS.
This is one of the reasons he chose to come back and get involved on the SAAS Alumni Board in 2011—and served as president from 2012-2014.
“I felt like it would be interesting to get a different perspective on a major part of my life, and it’s turned out to be a fantastic experience,” he said. “And this school has the most amazing Board of Trustees. It’s been really great to see all that.”
Though SAAS has grown and changed since he was a student, Quinton says the school’s focus on performance, creativity and innovation hasn’t—and it’s a great way to prepare students to engage with the science of the future, whether they’re professional researchers or curious lifelong learners.
“I think science in the near future will become a question of how creative and innovative you can be, and SAAS provides students with opportunities to flex those skills,” he said. “We often talk about those as if they’re innate, but I’m not sure that’s really true. I think that if you don’t practice being creative or doing things in a different way, then you won’t have the skills that allow you to do that.”
The new STREAM building will make more room for cultivating these concepts, tripling the school’s lab space and adding a common area for students to co-create and expand on their ideas together.
“I think the added space will allow for even more of what SAAS does best: giving students a place to learn and grow,” he said. “In the current space, the faculty have done amazing things using the available resources, and I’m excited to see what they and the students will do next. It’s probably going to be something that no one’s thought of yet and is going to be very cool.”
“The SAAS community is always thinking about what resources we have, what resources we can get, and how we can create something amazing out of it.” he said. “I remember my chemistry teacher (Canuche Terrenella) brought in salmon fish heads that he got from the supermarket and we were isolating DNA from them and looking at genetic variants between different populations of fish. It was awesome! SAAS has always done a really good job of finding amazing faculty and it’s nice to have an opportunity to contribute to something that’s going to have a huge impact on their ability to do their work. It feels cool to have come from an organization that’s still doing good things—it’s nice to see it keep growing and moving in a good direction.”