Nikolaus Loening

One of the things I enjoy most about working with L&C students is that they are inquisitive, reliable, and motivated by a desire to learn more about the underlying science.

Professor of Chemistry Nikolaus Loening


Professor of Chemistry, Director of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Program


Chemistry, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

What three words would you use to describe Lewis & Clark?

Ambitious, Determined, Progressive

Tell us about your summer research.

This summer my students are working on projects related to the dynein motor protein complex. Dynein is one of the proteins involved in moving cargo inside of our cells and also plays a key role in cell division. One big question about dynein is what processes are involved in regulating its activity; that is, what activates it, determines which cargo it moves, and controls how it behaves at different points in the life cycle of a cell. Our research focuses on studying the interactions between dynein and other proteins involved in its regulation using a number of different biophysical techniques.

How did you become interested in your research topic? What sort of real-world implications does your research have?

I’ve always been interested in using biophysical methods, such as nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, to study proteins. I started studying dynein during my last research sabbatical, when I worked with Elisar Barbar’s group at Oregon State University. It was a very productive year and I’ve been collaborating with her and her research group ever since.

How are students involved?

A big hurdle in studying proteins is getting a large enough sample (and in a pure enough state) to carry out biophysical characterization. Although my students are also involved in carrying out biophysical measurements using techniques such as nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, isothermal titration calorimetry, and circular dichroism spectroscopy, the bulk of our time is spent generating our proteins using a technology called recombinant protein.

What would prospective students find most interesting about this research?

Dynein plays an essential role in every one of our cells, yet there are still a large number of unanswered questions about how this protein is regulated. Although structural details about parts of dynein are starting to emerge, there are still many things that we don’t know about how the actions of this motor protein are governed and this work will hopefully address at least a few of those questions.

What do you enjoy most about collaborating with Lewis & Clark students?

One of the things I enjoy most about working with L&C students is that they are inquisitive, reliable, and motivated by a desire to learn more about the underlying science.

How does Lewis & Clark/this summer research experience prepare your students for a career and/or advanced studies after graduation?

Summer research is a good experience for students interested in scientific research, whether that means working in a research or industrial lab or going on to graduate school. Working in a lab full time during the summer is very different than taking a lab course for 2–3 hours per week during the semester … in summer research you’re much more involved with every step of the process, work much more independently, and have the time to really focus on a research question.

What brought you to L&C?

Between undergrad (in the Los Angeles area) and grad school (in Cambridge, United Kingdom) I worked for a summer at the University of Washington. After that summer in Seattle, I always wanted to return to the Pacific Northwest so when I saw there was an opening at L&C, I jumped to apply for the position.

What’s your favorite spot on campus?

I always liked the “secret” rose garden below the outdoor swimming pool, although sadly it hasn’t been tended in the last few years.

What’s your most cherished L&C memory?

I led the 2015 Berlin overseas program, and on our excursion to the Baltic Coast of Germany, we took a little boat trip to look at the chalk cliffs of Rugen. Nothing dramatic happened … it was just a beautiful September day and a bonding experience for the students on the program. Plus, one of the students (Riley Zickel) pulled out a ukulele and played a couple of songs for us as we lounged in the sun looking at the sea and the cliffs.

Share something you think your students would be surprised to learn about you.

I’ve got a twin brother and we officiated each other’s weddings.

Chemistry Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Rogers Summer Science Research