Destin Heilman sitting at his desk in his office.

Faculty Snapshot: Destin Heilman

Associate Teaching Professor, Chemistry and Biochemistry Director, UMass Medical School Project Center
December 16, 2019

In My Office


1. Insight: I’ve been an Insight advisor for 14 years (in 2013 I was honored with the Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Academic Advising). When NSO rolls around, this swag serves as a reminder of what an amazing program it is.

2. Artwork: My son’s early rendition of the starship Enterprise, and his rendition of a Star Wars battle scene—I hung these in my office several years ago and can’t bring myself to change them out. 

3. Handmade wooden clock: Not long after I started at WPI a student suggested that I read Longitude by Dava Sobel. The book inspired me to take a stab at wooden clock making. I built this one as a prototype for one that I made for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Since then I’ve built a variety of clocks of different designs.

4. Astrophotography: A few years ago I built a custom imaging observatory at my home. This photo of the Heart Nebula in the constellation of Cassiopeia represents more than 24 hours of exposure time. I remotely control the observatory for WPI programs, especially for Insight and the WPI Astronomy Club (which I serve as faculty advisor).

5. Grab and go telescope: Astronomers like to say that “the best telescope you own is the one you use.” I use this one throughout the year for pop-up astronomy sessions across campus. In 2017 we used it to watch the solar eclipse from the Fountain during NSO.

6. My toys: I keep a lot of toys in my office as a reminder to keep things fun and lighthearted. They serve as a great conversation starter for new students who visit my office. After all, I’m an awesome nerd, too!

7. 3D printed proteins: The structure of the virus proteins I study in my lab cannot be determined by traditional methods. A few years ago, one of my MQP teams decided to computer-model the structures and 3D print parts of them to see if they might bind to components of the cell. It was an amazing project! Now they double as super-fancy expensive paperweights!

8. Nature, Genome Issue: What was projected to take 50 years to complete took only 11 years: In February 2001 the first draft DNA sequence of the human genome was published—90 percent of the 3.2 billion base pair code. I’ve kept this issue of Nature on my desk since that day, as a reminder of human accomplishment and a placemat for the molecular modeling kits that students fiddle with while we’re talking.

This article was originally published in the WPI Journal. For the current issue, please visit the WPI Journal website.