Magazine Feature / People

Scholar travel fund takes undergrad to China

After finishing his first year at DU, international business major Carl Cabrera spent part of this summer in China for a conference. While this might not seem remarkable considering his major, Cabrera didn’t travel the globe to learn about marketing or finance. He attended an academic conference on plant genetics — specifically on Arabidopsis, the first plant to have its genome synthesized. 

Cabrera, who manages the DU greenhouse in Olin Hall, participated in the International Conference on Arabidopsis Research in Beijing. The trip was funded by the Student Scholar Travel Fund, which provides undergraduates with grants for academic-related travel to conferences, research or scholarly meetings. 

The scientific significance of Arabidopsis lies in its simplicity. Cabrera explains that it’s important to microbiologists because where humans have 46 chromosomes, Arabidopsis has only five. 

“This is like the genetic superstar. It’s used everywhere,” he says. 

In China, Cabrera said he was amazed to see thousands of scientists all working on such a specific aspect of plant biology. 

While business and microbiology isn’t a traditional academic pair, the circumstances that brought Cabrera to DU are equally nontraditional. Born in the Philippines, he attended a Catholic school run by the Chinese. His coursework, he explains, was split between Chinese and English. After high school, Cabrera began college in Germany where he studied bioinformatics and computational biology. There he was exposed to microbiology research at the Max Planck Institute. After three years in Germany, however, Cabrera returned to the Philippines. Then, he moved to Denver in 2005. 

Eventually, Cabrera hopes to work on the business side of science, managing research. He explains that a sophisticated knowledge of the field is essential to doing the business well. 

“If you’re going to manage a group of scientists, then you have to have credibility,” Cabrera says. 

Chemistry Professor Lawrence Berliner recommended that Cabrera use the Student Scholar Travel Fund to advance his interests. He describes Cabrera as “intelligent, astute, sensitive, organized and focused,” making him a good candidate for the fund. 

“Conferences are for networking and establishing future connections. It is therefore more important to start this process at the undergraduate level,” Berliner says.

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