Peter Randolph, Ph.D. – Florida State University

We are delighted to interview Dr. Peter Randolph, the Director of the Physical Biochemistry Facility (PBF) at Florida State University. Dr. Randolph is an expert in biophysical characterization techniques and plays a vital role in providing solutions to analytical challenges at the university. We were intrigued to learn about his contributions to the scientific community and how his work intersects with Wyatt Technology.

Please tell us about your background: where you grew up, studied, and why you chose the field you did.

I am currently the Director of the Physical Biochemistry Facility (PBF) in the Institute of Molecular Biophysics Department at Florida State University. I am originally from Blacksburg, VA, and my passion for science was heavily influenced by my parents, who fostered an interest in scientific inquiry, and my grandfather, Dr. Robert Terhune, who was a very successful optical physicist. My academic journey started at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where I received my BS in chemistry and BA in biology in 2005. I then went on to pursue my Ph.D. in chemistry under the supervision of Dr. Cameron Mura at the same university. My research was focused on studying ancient Sm proteins using various biophysical techniques, including light scattering, with a particular focus on crystallography—which led me to solve the structures of multiple Sm proteins, including Hfq’s and SmAPs.

I graduated in 2016 and accepted a post-doctoral position at Florida State University in the laboratory of Dr. Scott Stagg. Here I shifted my focus to studying coat protein complex II (COPII) proteins by electron microscopy. During this time, Dr. Stagg and I conceived the Reconstruction of Average Subtracted Tubular Regions (RASTR) technique to characterize tubules without assuming symmetry. The RASTR method collects EM data of the particle of interest deposited on a tubular membrane, and the software parses the tubes and classifies the sections with particles. Stagg Laboratory continues to use this technique to date.

What does your current position entail? How does it tie into your previous experience, and where is it going?

The PBF core specializes in biophysical characterization of samples using various techniques, including—but not limited to—multi-angle light scattering (MALS) and dynamic light scattering (DLS), circular dichroism, analytical ultracentrifugation, isothermal titration calorimetry, and microscale thermophoresis. PBF is a full-service core facility that provides guidance, training, and data processing assistance. As director of the facility, I manage new instrument purchases, instrument access, training, and data processing. I became interested in this position and type of work because of previous experience analyzing my samples during graduate and post-doctoral studies. I became more interested in the techniques and the instruments than the actual samples… though some were more interesting than others.

We constantly work on upgrading and introducing equipment to our facility as needed for our users.

In what context did you first learn about light scattering and Wyatt Technology's instruments?

I first learned about light scattering and Wyatt instruments as a graduate student. I had a particularly intriguing sample that did not seem to have the same oligomeric state as its homologs. The crystal structure was complicated, and other techniques did not provide the resolution we needed to resolve the oligomeric state. SEC-MALS provided evidence of a unique oligomeric state which greatly assisted in solving the crystal structure.

How has your Wyatt instrumentation contributed to your research and development studies?

As mentioned previously, SEC-MALS was influential in determining the crystal structure of the subject of my main project as a graduate student. In my current role, Wyatt DLS and MALS instruments are in high-demand in our facility, and have assisted numerous faculty members in their research and careers. In addition, I always direct our researchers first to the Wyatt instruments for a preliminary experiment which is fast, accurate, and can often answer their questions without the need for complicated experiments, buffer compatibility, or large sample volume. DLS and MALS are always our initial recommendations for biophysical characterization.