From photography to formaldehyde. Ken Ku is set to graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree (bio-honours, chem minor) but that’s not where university started for him. While Ken had a strong focus on science in high school, he was recruited to a US art school where he earned a degree in photography and print making. “It was the right decision for me at the time and it allowed me to be a better writer.”
Recognizing that his real passion was in science, Ken returned home to Coquitlam and began his UFV journey into the sciences.
At the end of Ken’s first semester, Chemistry professor, Dr. Golfam Ghafourifar, reached out for students interested in working in research.
“In my previous degree, I also focused on the research aspect of how art impacted people, how they appreciate it, or how they connect with artwork. It got to the point where I wanted to focus more on the research aspect and less on the art, which is when I decided to come back to school and register for sciences,” Ken recalls of his decision to pursue a second degree .
“The way (Golfam) guides the research is really helpful for me. In the beginning, I thought, ‘this is an opportunity. I’m going to take it and see if I’m any good at it.’” Laughing, Ken adds, “I discovered that I was actually quite good at it, so I continued.”
“The first project I looked at was cross-linking reaction of an enzyme using formaldehyde and comparing it to a more industry-standard processing molecule, glutaraldehyde. Golfam’s work used glutaraldehyde, but the reaction was very fast. We wanted to slow down the cross-linking so it wouldn’t clog as easily when we automated the method with instruments.”
Elaborating on his findings, Ken further describes, “our process worked. This meant we were able to do some optimization and statistical analysis to optimize our online method using the capillary electrophoresis instrument to fabricate an enzyme reactor. We want the enzyme to still cross-link so it forms a mass inside the capillary but without clogging the tiny opening. Then we could use statistical modeling to estimate how much of the enzyme was immobilized within the capillary.”
While this project is far from complete, working in this capacity has validated Ken’s decision to go back to school. “I really wanted to move towards the research field. (This experience) has really assured me that I’m where I belong.”
“I have had the opportunity to follow Ken’s progress closely since 2019,” supervisor, Dr. Golfam Ghafourifar, reflects. “Ken has superb research skills, participating in numerous projects during his time in my research group. This is evidenced by his impressive presentations in several conferences, and his several well-deserved awards during his time at UFV.”
Now in his 4th year, Ken still works with Dr. Ghafourifar. “I really enjoy the research I’m working on with her, so I feel really fortunate to be involved. I had no idea before but now that I’ve started (in research), I want to continue. The work fits with what I’m interested in, specifically applications in cancer research, cancer diagnostics, and other diseases.”
“Being engaged, I can put the knowledge I’ve learned in lecture into practice. Research has allowed me to think outside the box and come up with my own answers. I know one of my strengths is to think on a problem and solve it. I’m not a good exam-taker so research has let me flex those muscles and not just be memorizing things,” Ken notes.
As Ken submits grad school applications, he is confident his work as a research assistant will increase his chance of admission. “Being an RA will be beneficial, especially with my grades, grants I’ve won, presenting at conferences, and a journal article on the way. Had I not done research but still had the same GPA, I don’t think I would be as appealing as another applicant who does have research experience.”
Ken’s final words to students contemplating research – “You would never know if you’re suited for research unless you tried it out. All of the professor at UFV are very approachable so if you wanted to know more about their projects, just talk to them!”