Investigating the Causes of Bone Health
Benjamin Aaronson '22
“What I learned from my mentor is the importance of persistence and perseverance: Keep on keeping on.”
Ben Aaronson came to UMass Amherst from Dartmouth, Mass., ready to work hard. He chose to pursue a Spanish major in addition to his biology degree, work 24-hour shifts as an EMT on weekends, and join a research lab. In the lab of Professor of Biology Craig Albertson, which is on the forefront of expanding understanding of genes, development, and evolution, Aaronson stood out for his dedication and productivity.
“What sets Ben apart is that he is truly interested in the research experience as a way to enhance his development as a scholar,” says Albertson. “He works with independence and confidence. Over the years, he has assumed an increasing amount of responsibility, and has become, quite simply, an invaluable member of our team.”
I truly believe research fuels the medical innovations I hope to practice one day.
For his honors thesis, Aaronson is investigating the genetic basis of bone plasticity. Many bone disorders, such as fused or extra fingers and toes, can occur during human development while bones grow and change shape. Working with cichlids, a type of fish, Aaronson studies how the environment affects bone plasticity over time. “It’s not just what’s going on inside the body, there is some chemical interplay between the environment and the DNA,” he says.
Aaronson’s initial work in Albertson’s lab resulted in a published study as a co-author in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).
During the course of his research, as he came to know Albertson, Aaronson was inspired by his mentor’s leadership. “His sense of humanity, specifically kindness and grit, are qualities that I try to bring to my work as an EMT and as a peer advisor, as well as to my daily life, especially in these COVID times,” he says.
After his May 2022 commencement, Aaronson will study Spanish in Salamanca, Spain, to complete his dual degrees. He’s already using his language skills to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients in his work as an EMT in Springfield and Chicopee, Mass. Next, he’ll apply to medical school. “The thrill of being published in PNAS was indescribable, but it humbled me,” he says. “I know this is only the beginning. I truly believe research fuels the medical innovations I hope to practice one day.”