Liam Yourston, a UNO alumnus, credits the UNO Physics Department with helping him discover his love for biomedical physics. He graduated in December 2020 with a double major in mathematics and physics and stayed at the UN for a few months after graduation to continue developing and publishing new research in physics while building connections in his field.
Born and raised in Bolivia, Yourston moved to Nebraska with his brother as a teenager to join his father, who lived in Omaha. They initially decided to study at the UN, but Yourston found an excellent program that suited his interests.
His family ignited an initial love of science, and Yourston says, “My grandfather, he told me all the facts about the solar system and the planets.” His interest in physics began in middle school when the internet, just a touch away, surfaced Yourston has contributed to the many science videos online, including Minute Physics and PBS Space Time.
“I really got into it,” says Yourston. A lot of these channels talked about crazy stuff that you don’t learn in high school.”
Within the UNO Department of Physics he was able to delve deeper into these interests and forge relationships with inspiring faculty. Eventually he met Alexey Krasnoslobodtsev, Ph.D., and Yourston described meeting him as the turning point that introduced him to biomedical physics.
“Biomedical physics was kind of like this new in-between field, and you could use some of the tools and physics to model things in biology,” says Yourston. “I decided to switch majors and became a physics major with a focus on biomedical physics. I loved it so I decided to do the Ph.D. program I applied to.”
He began his research with Professor Krasnoslobodtsev in 2018, focusing on silver nanoclusters and investigating how they could be used to detect RNA from a small sample in a fraction of the time a PCR test would normally take. PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are used to detect and diagnose infectious diseases and genetic changes by finding the DNA or RNA of a pathogen or abnormal cell sample. This method had the potential to reduce the time of a PCR test from 73 hours to a few minutes.
Yourston has published five articles with Professor Krasnoslobodtsev so far and has another one in the pipeline for submission to the prestigious Nanoscale journal.
“I want to discover something new, something that no one has thought of before,” says Yourston. “In physics this turns out to be a very, very difficult task, but in biophysics – like in my lab with Dr. K. – I do that and publish articles on topics that no one has published before.”
Now he wants to do his doctorate and continue his research.
Yourston began a Ph.D. program at the University of Michigan, where he plans to continue his research on nanoparticles.
His advice to current physics students: “Study hard and try to figure out what the symbols mean. It’s a lot of symbols,” says Yourston. “You work and cooperate with people who are just as fascinated by these topics as you are. And that’s just a relief because I’ve gone from being a weird kid in high school to being a normal kid.”