Jadhav receives NARSAD Young Investigator Grant

Assistant Professor of Psychology Shantanu Jadhav has recently been named to receive a 2015 NARSAD Young Invesigator Grant from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. The $70,000 award will help allow the Jadhav lab to

investigate the physiological interactions between the brain’s hippocampal and prefrontal cortex regions that support learning and memory-guided behavior. The two structures are important for different aspects of memory formation, storage, and retrieval, and impaired hippocampal-prefrontal interactions have been implicated in neurological disorders related to cognition, including memory disorders and schizophrenia.

Pairs of Supermassive Black Holes May Be Rarer Than Earlier Thought

Image by David Roberts

Image by David Roberts

Recent research by David H. Roberts, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Astrophysics at Brandeis, has shown that pairs of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies are less common than previously thought. This suggests that the level of gravitational radiation from such systems is lower than earlier predicted. This work was in collaboration with Lakshmi Saripalli and Ravi Subrahmanyan of the Raman Research Institute in Bangalore, and much of the work was done by Brandeis undergraduate students Jake Cohen and Jing Liu. It has recently been published in a pair of papers in the Astrophysical Journal Supplements and Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Gravitational waves are ripples in space-time predicted by Einstein’s 1915 General Theory of Relativity. Propagating at the speed of light, they are produced in astrophysical events such as supernovae and close binary stars.

No direct experimental evidence of the existence of gravitational waves has been found to date. We know that they exist because they sap energy from the orbits of binary systems, and using ultra-precise radio astronomy it has been shown that the changes in binary orbits of pairs of pulsars (magnetized neutron stars) are precisely as predicted by General Relativity. Hulse and Taylor were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their contributions to this work.

The largest source of gravitational waves is expected to be the coalescence of pairs of supermassive black holes in the centers of large galaxies. We know today that galaxies grow by mergers, and that every galaxy harbors a massive black hole at its center, with mass roughly proportional to the galaxy’s mass. When two massive galaxies merge to form a larger galaxy, it will contain a pair of black holes instead of a single one. Through a process involving the gravitational scattering of ordinary stars the two black holes migrate toward each other and eventually coalesce into a single even more massive black hole. The process of coalescence involves “strong gravity,” that is, it occurs when the separation of the two merging black holes becomes comparable to their Schwarzschild radii. Recent developments in numerical relativity have made it possible to study the coalescence process in the computer, and predictions may be made about the details of the gravitational waves that emerge. Thus direct detection of gravitational waves will enable tests of General Relativity not achievable any other way.

In order to predict the amount of gravitational radiation present in the Universe it is necessary to estimate by other methods the rate at which massive galaxies are colliding and their black holes coalescing. One way to do this is to examine the small number of radio galaxies that have unusual morphologies that suggest that they were created by the process of a spin-flip of a supermassive black hole due to its interaction with a second supermassive black hole. These are the so-called “X-shaped radio galaxies” (“XRGs”), and a naive counting of their numbers suggests that they are about 6% of all radio galaxies. Using this and knowing the lifetime of such an odd radio structure it is possible to determine the rate at which massive galaxies are merging and their black holes coalescing.

Roberts et al. re-examined this idea, and made a critical assessment of the mechanism of formation of XRGs. It turns out that other mechanisms can easily create such odd structures, and according to their work the large majority of XRGs are not the result of black hole-black hole mergers at all. They suggest as a result that the rate of supermassive black hole mergers may have been overestimated by a factor of three to five, with the consequence that the Universe contains that much less gravitational radiation than previously believed. In fact, recent results from searches for such gravitational waves have set upper limits below previous predictions, as might expect from this work.

For more information:


Tenure-track positions in Biology (application deadline Oct 15)

The Biology Department at Brandeis University invites applications for up to two full-time, tenure-track appointments, beginning Fall 2016, from individuals who are conducting innovative research in the broad areas of molecular and cellular biology. Junior and more senior investigators will be considered, but preference will be given to hiring at the Assistant Professor level. Areas of interest range across molecular genetics, genomics and cell biology, including topics such as RNA biology, cytoskeleton, intracellular transport, development, signal transduction, transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation, membrane biology, and epigenetics.

The research environment at Brandeis is highly collaborative, and we seek colleagues who will complement and extend existing strengths. Brandeis offers world-class research in the setting of a small liberal-arts university. Brandeis is located 7 miles from Boston, and is part of the vibrant research community of the greater Boston area.

Brandeis recognizes that diversity in its student body, staff and faculty is important to its primary mission of providing a quality education. The search committee is therefore particularly interested in candidates who, through their research, teaching and/or service experiences, will increase Brandeis’ reputation for academic excellence and better prepare its students for a pluralistic society.

To apply, please provide the following: a cover letter, a curriculum vitae, a summary of your research accomplishments to date, including a statement of your goals for future independent research (3-page limit), up to three publications, and at least three letters of reference. Applications will be accepted only through AcademicJobsOnline at https://academicjobsonline.org/ajo/jobs/6064.

First consideration will be given to applications received by October 15, 2015. Following an initial evaluation by the search committee, finalists will be invited to visit the campus to discuss their research and to meet with faculty and students/postdocs. Additional inquiries may be directed to Leslie Griffith or to Paul Garrity.

Brandeis University is an equal opportunity employer, committed to supporting a culturally diverse intellectual community. Applications are particularly encouraged from applicants of groups underrepresented in the sciences.

Greater Boston Area Statistical Mechanics Meeting on Oct 24

Brandeis will host the 17th annual Greater Boston Area Statistical Mechanics Meeting (GBASM) on Saturday, October 24, 2015, from 9:30-3:00. GBASM brings together researchers interested in statistical mechanics, nonlinear dynamics, condensed matter physics, biophysics, and related topics for a day-long workshop.  The meeting consists of four invited talks (30 min.), and a larger number of contributed “table talks”. The invited speakers for 2015 are:

Contributed talks will follow the format adopted the last two years. Contributors will give a brief announcement of their work in the lecture hall. We will then move to the adjacent room where each contributor will sit at a table with their laptop or tablet and discuss their research with interested participants. This format eliminates the expense associated with posters and provides greater feedback to contributors. The time preparing for a “table talk” should be similar to preparing for a short talk.

GBASM Sponsors for 2015 include the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, Brandeis University; the Department of Physics, Boston University; the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, Harvard University; the Department of Physics, UMASS Amherst; and the Department of Chemistry, MIT. Thanks to these subsidies, bagels, coffee, tea, and lunch will be provided at no cost if you register for GBASM by the deadline of Saturday, Oct 17.

TIDAL-Fly: a new database resource of Transposon Landscapes for understanding animal genome dynamics.

We tend to think of our genomes as nicely-ordered encyclopedias,  curated with only useful information that makes up our genes.  In actuality, nature and evolution is extremely sloppy.  All animal genomes, from us humans to the simple fruit fly, are littered with genetic baggage.  This baggage is sizeable, making up at least 11% of the fly genome and more than 45% of our genome.  The scientific term for this baggage is transposable elements (TEs) or transposons, which are mobile entities that must copy themselves to other places of the genome to ensure their survival during animal evolution.

Because there are so many copies of transposons, they can be difficult to analyze by most standard genetic methods. Brandeis postdoctoral fellow Reazur Rahman and a team in Nelson Lau’s lab have formulated a new tool called the Transposon Insertion and Depletion AnaLyzer (TIDAL). TIDAL aims to provide an accurate and user-friendly program to reveal how frequently transposons can move around in animal genomes.  Currently, the TIDAL tool has been applied to over 360 fruit fly genomes that have been sequenced and deposited in the NIH NCBI Sequencing Read Archive.  The outputs from this program are available to the whole genetics community through the TIDAL-FLY database.

tidal fly banner

The TIDAL-Fly database will allow geneticists to pick their favorite fly strain and see if a transposon has landed near to their gene and perhaps affect gene expression. Fruit flies are key model organisms utilized by many researchers, including here at Brandeis, to study human diseases, from infertility to insulin signaling to aging to sleep disorders.  Since these new transposon insertions are not available in the standard genome databases, this tool and website may provide answers to previously puzzling genetic effects not revealed by typical DNA sequencing studies.  It is Reazur’s and the Lau lab’s goal to continue updating the TIDAL-Fly database with more genomes as fly genome re-sequencing becomes easier and easier to perform.

Casey Wade Receives Grant from ACS Petroleum Research Fund

prf_figure_CWadeAssistant Professor of Chemistry Casey Wade has been selected to receive a Doctoral New Investigator grant from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund for his proposal, “Metal-organic Framework Supported Pincer Complexes: Investigation of the Effects of Site Isolation and Secondary Environment.” The two year grant will support the development of improved heterogeneous catalysts for the production of petroleum-derived commodity and fine chemicals.   Wade and coworkers plan to incorporate reactive transition metal catalyst sites into the well-defined 3-dimensional porous structure of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). While the porous MOF support can be used to tune and promote reactivity, the immobilization of catalytically active sites prevents undesired bimolecular decomposition pathways and facilitates catalyst separation, leading to greener and more sustainable catalytic processes.

Post written by Christine Thomas

SciFest V is in the books

The Brandeis University Division of Science held its annual undergraduate research poster session SciFest V on July 30, 2015. Despite the 90 degree heat (and the steam leak) outside, the student presenters in the Shapiro Science atrium admirably kept their cool and showed off the results of their summer’s (or last year’s) worth of independent research. We had a great audience of grad students, postdocs, faculty, proud parents, members of the Brandeis senior administration, visiting neuroscientists at Brandeis helping evaluate our Computational Neuroscience training program, and physicists at Brandeis attending the IGERT Summer Institute.


If you’re a student who didn’t get to present, or you’re a community member who just wanted a chance to talk about science with our energized undergrads, we’re planning another session for Fall Fest 2015. Stay tuned for details.

For a few more impressions of the event, see the story at Brandeis NOW. More pictures and abstract books are available at the SciFest site.

SciFest V by numbers


Putting “umpolung” to work in synthesis of nitrogen-bearing stereocenters

Professor Li Deng‘s lab in the Brandeis Chemistry Department has recently published a high-profile paper in Nature, disclosing an important advance in the chemical synthesis of organic molecules containing nitrogen. Li Deng writeup 1

A great number of important drugs contain at least one nitrogen atom connected to a “stereogenic” carbon atom. Stereogenic carbons are connected to four different groups, making possible two different configurations called “R-” or “S-”. In synthesizing a drug, it can be disastrous if the product does not have the correct R/S configuration.  For instance, the morning-sickness drug Thalidomide caused birth defects in ~10,000 children because it was a mixture of R and S molecules.Li Deng writeup 2

Selective preparation of only R or only S molecules containing nitrogen is a major challenge in organic chemistry. Many recent approaches have formed such stereocenters by use of an electron rich “nucleophile” to attack an electron poor “imine”. Deng is now the first to report an unconventional strategy in which the polarity of the reaction partners is reversed. In the presence of base and a creatively designed catalyst, the imine is converted into an electron rich nucleophile, and can attack a variety of electrophiles. Deng’s catalysts are effective in minute quantities (as low as 0.01 % of the reaction mixture), and yield products with R- or S- purities of 95-98 %.

In addition to Professor Deng, authors on the paper included former graduate student Yongwei Wu PhD ’14, current Chemistry PhD student Zhe Li, and Chemistry postdoctoral associate Lin Hu.

Wu Y, Hu L, Li Z, Deng L. Catalytic asymmetric umpolung reactions of imines. Nature. 2015;523(7561):445-50. (commentary)

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