Meet a Scientist: Dr. Welkin Pope and Diana Zhang
Apr 17

Meet a Scientist: Dr. Welkin Pope and Diana Zhang

By Dr. Maria Wheeler-Dubas, Research and Science Education Outreach Manager

All of the researchers featured on Phipps' Meet a Scientist Saturdays have been trained through our science communication workshops. If you are graduate student, faculty, or professional in any field of STEM and you are interested in the workshop or participating in a Meet a Scientist Saturday, check out our website or contact Phipps’ Science Education Outreach Manager Dr. Maria Wheeler-Dubas at

What are your plans for this Saturday afternoon? Come meet Dr. Welkin Pope and Diana Zhang this Saturday, April 20, in the Tropical Forest from 1:30-3:30 for this month’s Meet a Scientist! Our two scientists for April are a biologist who studies phages (the viruses that target bacteria) and scientist who studies wireless communications. Read a bit more about them below, and come say hi on Saturday!

Introduce yourself in 5 sentences or less

Welkin: My name is Welkin Pope, and I am a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, and the Science Coordinator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s SEA-PHAGES program. The Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science program is a ten-year old initiative jointly lead by HHMI and Pitt Professor Graham Hatfull, designed to bring authentic research into undergraduate lab courses; more than 100 institutions from across the globe are members. We study bacteriophages—the viruses that infect bacteria---in order to gain insights into their diversity and evolution; and to develop uses for phages in health, agriculture, education, and scientific research.

Diana: Hello, my name is Diana, and I'm a Ph.D. Candidate in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon. I grew up in Lancaster, PA before going to college at Penn State. I work in wireless communications and mobile systems -- a field investigating ways to improve technologies including WiFi and cell phones. Stop by my table and learn about how, though it can feel like it sometimes, none of this is magic!

Why did you become a scientist?

Welkin: I grew up on Cape Cod, and used to help my mother with her work for the US Geological Survey and for the Cape Cod National Seashore. I’ve always loved solving difficult problems and learning and discovering new things; I also like sharing my discoveries.

Diana: When I was in high school, my chemistry teacher taught us about the discovery of the electron by J.J. Thomson in 1897. I realized that humanity had gone from the discovery of the electron to the invention of the first iPhone in 110 short years (his grandson is still alive). That made me realize that the frontier of electrical and computer engineering is one of the rapidly advancing fields. I wanted to be on that rocket of computer engineering innovation, wherever it was going, and be a part of the progress. Becoming a scientist and learning to do research in this area, I thought, would be the first step to contributing.

What is the most exciting thing you’ve ever done at work?

Welkin: In graduate school, I went to sea on a research vessel to collect samples in the Bermuda Triangle.

Diana: I was able to program a $3000 drone and learn how to fly it! It was sure an adrenaline-filled moment, and I'm glad I left with all my limbs intact.

What skills do you use in your job?

Welkin: I spend a large amount of my days looking at pictures trying to find the differences between phages—just like those puzzles in the Sunday paper where you try to spot the differences. Other basic skills I use regularly include reading, writing, and math--- more advanced skills include using an electron microscope, working with large datasets in a computer, and basic molecular biology techniques to study DNA and proteins.

Diana: Computer programming, wiring up radios, reading (a lot!) of specification and technical documents, writing

What is your favorite part of your job?

Welkin: Talking to other scientists about their work and telling them about mine; together, we always learn more than we would alone.

Diana: I love lab meetings and conferences -- when I get to be social and talk to other scientists about their ideas. It helps us both to refine our ideas and create better science!

What do you like to do outside of science?

Welkin: I love spending time with my husband, daughter, and son; my favorite hobby is tap-dancing, which I only started two years ago. Tap is great; it is good exercise and really fun.

Diana: I like hiking, singing, listening to podcasts, and playing Dungeons and Dragons.

Why is science education important?

Welkin: The world is a messy and complicated place—studying science gives you the tools you need to understand what you see and experience around you. Science education is about more than remembering scientific facts--- the best science education teaches you how to observe the world around you, how to think critically, how to ask good questions, how to solve problems, and how to communicate and share your answers.

Diana: I believe every child is born a scientist – always observing, asking why, and creating a mess to better understand the world around them. Science education allows us to nourish that to create an inquisitive population that thinks critically about the world around them.