Thomas Bernhardt grew up in Upper Darby, a suburb of West Philadelphia, where he enjoyed skateboarding and playing billiards with his friends. In the evenings, he clocked in at the local supermarket, where he cleaned in the meat department.
It was a tough and dirty job, “but the work paid well, let me earn some money for college, and motivated me to get an education,” Bernhardt says.
That education took a winding path – from chemistry class to a bronze sculpture studio – but, ultimately, Bernhardt built a name for himself in microbiology by working to combat the threat of antibiotic resistance. His focus is understanding how bacteria build their rigid cell walls, which are important antibiotic targets.
As an undergraduate, Bernhardt didn’t have access to state-of-the-art research facilities on his campus, so he spent two summers interning in a lab at Massachusetts General Hospital. He also picked up the foundations for scientific problem-solving in a different way: while taking courses in bronze sculpting. “The studio was my surrogate lab,” he says. “My sculpture professor taught me as much about individual work, observation, and problem-solving as I learned in any of my science classes.”