HMS Professor Steven Harrison to Receive 48th Rosenstiel Award

Prof. Stephen C. Harrison will receive the 48th Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research on March 25, 2019. He is being honored for his studies of protein structure using X-ray crystallography.  His work has ranged from the landmark elucidation of the structure of viruses, to understanding the recognition of DNA sequences by transcription factors, to the regulation of protein kinases implicated in cancer.

Harrison is the Giovanni Armenise-Harvard Professor of Basic Medical Sciences and Director of the Center for Molecular and Cellular Dynamics at the Harvard Medical School.  He is also Head of the Laboratory of Molecular Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.   He has been elected a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,  the American Philosophical Society; he is a foreign member of the Royal Society and the European Molecular Biology Organization.

Dr. Harrison’s initial studies of virus structure provided an understanding of how viruses invade cells and how virus particles are assembled.  He has extended his work to reveal the structures of many viruses, including influenza, HIV, ebola and dengue.  Knowledge of these structures is guiding the development of new vaccines against these viruses.  Moreover, the methodology that he and his colleagues developed to visualize virus structure has made it possible to learn about the molecular architecture of other very large assemblies of proteins.

Harrison’s lab has also revealed the ways that proteins recognize specific DNA sequences to regulate gene expression.  More recently his lab has been exploring the complex structure of the many proteins that are assembled in the kinetochore, which anchors the centromeres of chromosomes to microtubules, to permit their proper segregation in mitosis.

“Steve Harrison has done much more than giving us astonishing pictures of proteins at the atomic level; he has used this structural information to show us how these proteins perform their precise functions,” said James E. Haber, Director of the Rosenstiel Center for Basic Medical Sciences.

The Rosenstiel Award has had a distinguished record of identifying and honoring pioneering scientists who subsequently have been honored with the Lasker and Nobel Prizes. Awards are given to scientists for recent discoveries of particular originality and importance to basic medical research.

View full list of awardees.

 

 

New Computational Neuroscience Textbook

Paul Miller bookComputational Neuroscience is an exciting branch of science, which is helping us understand how simple biophysical processes within cells such as neurons lead to complex and sometimes surprising neural responses, and how these neurons, when connected in circuits can give rise to the wide range of activity patterns underlying human thinking and behavior. To bridge the scales from molecules to mental activity, computer simulations of mathematical models are essential, as it is all too easy for us otherwise to produce descriptions of these complex interacting systems that are internally inconsistent. Simulations allow us to ask “given these ingredients, what is possible?”

Simulation showing how weaker input that is localized can produce spiking when stronger dispersed input does not.

The best way to study computational neuroscience is to write the computer codes that model a particular biological phenomenon, then see what the simulation does when you vary a parameter in the model. Therefore, the course I teach at Brandeis (NBIO 136B) is based around a large number of computer tutorials, in which students, some of whom have no computer-coding background, begin with codes of 5-10 lines that simulate charging of a capacitor, and end up completing codes that simulate the neural underpinnings of learning, pattern recognition, memory, and decision-making. It turns out that very few computational principles are needed to build such codes, making these simulation methods far more easily understood and completed than any mathematical analysis of the systems. However, in the absence of a suitable introductory textbook—most computational neuroscience textbooks are designed by Ph.D. physicists and mathematicians for Ph.D. physicists and mathematicians—it proved difficult for me to use the flipped classroom approach (see below). Therefore, my goal was to create a text that students could read and understand on their own.

Different behaviors of a three-unit circuit as connection-strengths are changed. (Multistable constant activity states, multiple oscillating states, chaotic activity, heteroclinic state sequence). Each color represents firing rate of a unit as a function of time.

In keeping with the goal of the course—to help students gain coding expertise and understand biological systems through manipulations of computer codes—I produced over 100 computer codes (in Matlab) for the book, the vast majority of which are freely available online. (All codes used to produce figures and some tutorial solutions are accessible, but I retained over half of the tutorial solutions in case instructors wish to assign tutorials without students being able to seek a solution elsewhere.)

Learn more at MIT Press.

From the Preface of the book:

I designed this book to help beginning students access the exciting and blossoming field of computational neuroscience and lead them to the point where they can understand, simulate, and analyze the quite complex behaviors of individual neurons and brain circuits. I was motivated to write the book when progressing to the “flipped” or “inverted” classroom approach to teaching, in which much of the time in the classroom is spent assisting students with the computer tutorials while the majority of information-delivery is via students reading the material outside of class. To facilitate this process, I assume less mathematical background of the reader than is required for many similar texts (I confine calculus-based proofs to appendices) and intersperse the text with computer tutorials that can be used in (or outside of) class. Many of the topics are discussed in more depth in the book “Theoretical Neuroscience” by Peter Dayan and Larry Abbott, the book I used to learn theoretical neuroscience and which I recommend for students with a strong mathematical background.

The majority of figures, as well as the tutorials, have associated computer codes available online, at github.com/primon23/Intro-Comp-Neuro, and at my website. I hope these codes may be a useful resource for anyone teaching or wishing to further their understanding of neural systems.

 

Spencer Bloch to speak at 2018 Eisenbud Lectures

Eisenbud 2018 Poster

The 2018 Eisenbud Lectures in Mathematics and Physics will be held from November 13-15 at Brandeis University. This years speaker is Spencer Bloch, Professor of Mathematics at the Yau Mathematical Sciences Center at Tsinghua University, and Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Chicago.

Professor Bloch is a mathematician whose work has influenced many subjects including number theory, algebraic geometry and mathematical physics. The following lectures will be informative and entertaining:

  • Tuesday, November 13 at 4pm: “Multiple Zeta Values and Mixed Tate Motives over ℤ”  (intended for a general audience) Location: Abelson 131.
  • Wednesday, November 14 at 4pm: “Motivic Γ-functions” (colloquium style lecture). Location: Brown 316.
  • Thursday, November 15 at 4pm, “Relative Completions,” Location: Goldsmith 317.

Refreshments will be served 15 minutes before each talk. There will be a reception in Abelson 333 following Tuesday’s talk.

The Eisenbud Lectures are the result of a generous donation by Leonard and Ruth-Jean Eisenbud intended for a yearly set of lectures by an eminent physicist or mathematician working close to the interface of the two subjects.

Lorenz Studer to receive the 2018 Gabbay Award on October 9

Lorenz Studer, Director for the Center for Stem Cell Biology and a member of the Developmental Biology Program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center will receive the 2018 Gabbay Award on October 9, 2018 at 4:00 PM at the Shapiro Campus Center Theater. At that time, Studer will deliver a talk titled “Building and Repairing the Human Brain: from Pluripotency to Cell Therapy.”

Lorenz Studer is receiving the award “in recognition of his innovative and transformative contributions to the fields of stem cell biology and patient-specific, cell-based therapy”.

The Gabbay Award was created in 1998 by the Jacob and Louise Gabbay Foundation in order to recognize scientists working in academia, medicine or industry for their outstanding achievements developing scientific content and significant results in the biomedical sciences.

Computer Science, Biology & Chemistry have opened faculty searches

Brandeis has open searches for tenure-track faculty in three departments within the Division of Science for this fall.  We are looking forward to a busy season of intriguing seminars from candidates this winter.

  1. Assistant Professor of Computational Linguistics. Computer Science invites applications for a full-time, tenure-track assistant professor, beginning Fall 2019, in the area of Computational Linguistics including, but not limited to Statistical and Neural Machine Translation, Question Answering, Information Extraction, Text Summarization, Syntactic and Semantic Parsing, Dialogue Systems, etc.
  2. Assistant Professor(s) of Biology Biology invites applications for up to two full-time tenure-track positions at the level of Assistant Professor, beginning Fall 2019. Ideal candidates will be conducting innovative research in the broad area of cell biology using any organismal, cellular or in vitro system. Areas of emphasis include, but are not limited to, cell architecture, cell motility, cell division and morphogenesis, organelle function, intracellular trafficking, and compartmentalization.
  3. Assistant Professor of ChemistryChemistry is seeking a creative individual at the assistant professor level for a tenure-track faculty position in organic chemistry or chemical biology.  Exceptional senior candidates in all areas of chemistry will also be considered at the appropriate rank.

Brandeis University is an equal opportunity employer, committed to building a culturally diverse intellectual community, and strongly encourages applications from women and minorities.  Diversity in its student body, staff and faculty is important to Brandeis’ primary mission of providing a quality education.  The search committees are therefore particularly interested in candidates who, through their creative endeavors, teaching and/or service experiences, will increase Brandeis’ reputation for academic excellence and better prepare its students for a pluralistic society.

SciFest VIII wrap-up

SciFest 2018SciFest 2018SciFest 2018SciFest 2018SciFest 18SciFest 18

The Brandeis University Division of Science held its annual undergraduate research poster session SciFest VIII on August 2, 2018, as more than one hundred student researchers presented summer’s (or last year’s) worth of independent research. We had a great audience of grad students and postdocs (many of whom were mentors), faculty, proud parents, friends, and senior administrators.

SciFest VIII by numbers

  • 105 posters
  • 105 student presenters out of approx. 175 summer student researchers
    • 84 Brandeis students
    • 2 international students (from India)
    • 19 visiting domestic students
  • 41 Brandeis faculty advisors from 7 departments
    • Biochemistry (7)
    • Biology (17)
    • Chemistry (5)
    • Computer Science (1)
    • Mathematics (1)
    • Physics (7)
    • Psychology (4)
  • 12 different Brandeis undergraduate majors represented

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