Randall Schirra, PhD 

Pornillos Lab | U. of Utah

Home | Pornillos Lab (utah)↗️

Structural Biology of HIV and host interactions.

I use cryoEM to study the HIV capsid and how the capsid responds to different binding events. My PhD thesis will be focused on the HIV Capsid pentamer which is a crucial part of capsid architecture, and its structure has evaded high resolution for 20 years.  Using single particle cryoEM, I have solved the structure to <4Å resolution and determined how the backbone of the capsid protein (CA) differs structurally between the pentamer and the hexamer and determined that we can manipulated this feature to drive pentamer formation.

The HIV Capsid

I started working on the HIV Capsid in 2013 in the Zhang Lab of Structural Biology at the University of Pittburgh.  I completed my undergraduate work in 2014 and continued to work in the lab through 2015.

I learned data processing in this lab and some basics of cryoEM sample prep.

The Capsid Pentamer

The structure of the pentamer was under debate when I left Pittsburgh in 2015 and it was still up for discussion when I returned to the Pornillos Lab in 2020.

In the Pornillos lab I got a lot more experience in sample prep and single particle structure determination. I built on what I had learned previously (and the advantage of 5 years of software development while I took a break) to solve the structure of the pentamer.

Balancing Life

During my thesis work, I do what I can to make the most out of my time with family.  I still enjoy conferences and peer outings, but if my sidekick can come with me, she's coming!

I am a home owner, a horse owner, dog owner, and a father.  I work hard in and out of the lab and I make time for my family and friends.

Useful Links and Resources 

NIH Loan Repayment Program  -  Eligibility & Programs | National Institutes of Health | Division of Loan Repayment (nih.gov) 


The NIH will payback up to 50K a year in student loans from your undergraduate and graduate expenses.

This can be done in combination with Public Service Loan Forgiveness


Zotero Citation Manager - Zotero | Your personal research assistant 


In my experience, more stable than Mendeley.

Can export library and share citation editing across multiple users, and platforms



Graduate and Postdoctoral Fellowship and Funding List by Johns Hopkins Univeristy

Graduate Student Funding Opportunities | VPR at JHU 

Nearly all are not JHU specific and there are many that are available to international students (some are globally competative)

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