Jonathan Touboul is new Associate Professor in Mathematics

Jonathan Touboul is a new associate professor in the Department of Mathematics. He is also associated to the Neuroscience program, and member of the Volen National Center for Complex Systems. His research deals with mathematical equations modeling the behavior of neurons and networks of the brain. He is also interested in understanding how the brain is interconnected and if or how these interconnection patterns play a role information processing, learning and memory.

Prior to joining Brandeis, Jonathan Touboul led for a research team at Collège de France in Paris, within the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Biology. He received his PhD in Mathematics from École Polytechnique (Paris) and spent some time as a postdoc at Pittsburgh University with Bard Ermentrout and at the Rockefeller University with Marcelo Magnasco.

At Brandeis, he intends to pursue his researches in models of large-scale neural networks, learning, memory and synchronized oscillations in Parkinson’s disease.

Introduction to Microfluidics Technology Course Offered June 25-28

Microfluidics courseThe Brandeis Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) has announced that the annual Introduction to Microfluidics Technology summer course will take place at Brandeis University from June 25th-29th 2018. This is a week-long course that runs from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm each day. Graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and industrial scientists and engineers are invited to apply. Registration closes March 31, 2018.

The hands-on course was developed for scientists and engineers interested in utilizing microfluidic technology in the physical and life sciences. Students enrolled will have the opportunity to learn different microfluidic fabrication techniques and create custom-made microfluidics devices relevant to their research or work.

Course details and application instructions can be found on the MRSEC site.

Brandeis Alum, Tepring Piquado, Running for California State Assembly

Tepring Piquado CampaignThe career track for Brandeis alumni can lead them in interesting directions. Brandeis Alumna Tepring Piquado is running to represent California’s 54th Assembly District. The seat’s former occupant, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, resigned in December. She is one of the candidates vying for the open seat in a special election, to be held April 3rd. Among the candidates are experienced political directors and activists. Dr. Piquado, a political newcomer, is the only neuroscientist.

While at Brandeis, Tepring was a part of Arthur Wingfield’s Memory and Cognition Lab, defending in 2010. Her research at Brandeis focused on the effects of aging and its impact upon the cognitive abilities of the elderly. While at Brandeis, Tepring was active in the Brandeis chapter of SACNAS. She currently serves as co-chair for the SACNAS Diversity and Inclusion Forum.

She now is a Research and Policy Scientist at the RAND Corporation. In speaking with us, Tepring said, “I love my job as a policy researcher at RAND Corporation where I provide policymakers with the best available information to help make decisions; but I’m ready to stand up and take part in state government.  My experience and expertise, coupled with my ability to think critically and act compassionately, make me the best person to address issues affecting our community.”

While speaking at the March for Science LA on April 22, 2017, Tepring said “Evidence matters! Research and analysis are only the means, not the End. Science gives us a process to find the best available data to help us get closer to the truth. The sooner we understand the facts; the sooner politicians can discuss policy solutions.”

You can join #TeamTepring or visit www.voteTepring.com to subscribe to her newsletter.

Ben Rogers Receives Smith Family Award for Excellence in Biomedical Research

Ben Rogers

photo: Mike Lovett

Assistant Professor of Physics, Ben Rogers, was chosen to receive the Smith Family Award for Excellence in Biomedical Research. This award, which is designed to launch the careers of newly independent biomedical researchers, is one of six given this year by the Smith Family Foundation. It will provide the Rogers Lab with $300,000 over three years to initiate a new direction in RNA structure and interactions.

RNA molecules are vital regulators of cell biology and their three-dimensional structures are essential to how they work. Thus having the ability to intentionally interfere with the structure of RNAs could hold immense potential for the study of their function, as well as the development of molecular medicine and other biotechnological applications. One way to do this is to bind short sequences of synthetic nucleic acids, called oligonucleotides, to specific sites on the RNA molecule. But designing oligonucleotides that bind rapidly and with high affinity to a RNA target remains a challenge. The Rogers Lab will use a combination of in vitro experiments and statistical mechanics to understand and design synthetic oligonucleotides that bind to RNA molecules in a prescriptive fashion. This work will complement existing research within the Rogers Lab, which explores the use of RNA’s chemical cousin, DNA, as a tool to study and build new kinds of materials.

Ben joined the Martin A. Fisher School of Physics at Brandeis University as an Assistant Professor in January 2016. Before coming to Brandeis, Ben was a postdoctoral fellow in the Manoharan Lab within the Department of Physics at Harvard University, where he studied assembly and optical properties of colloidal suspensions. He received his Ph.D. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 2012. At Penn, Ben used optical tweezers to study single-molecule binding. His research program combines expertise in biomolecular engineering, applied optics, and condensed matter physics to study interactions and self-organization at the molecular and mesoscales.

The Amygdala, Fraud and Older Adults

Figure from Zebrowitz-Gutchess paper

Figure 1. Peak amygdala activation as a function of face trustworthiness for older adult participants. Error bars represent standard errors. COPE is the contrast of parameter estimates [high or medium, or low trustworthy faces minus baseline fixation] from which peak values were extracted at the subject-level using FSL featquery. * p < .05.

There is a widespread belief that older adults are more vulnerable to consumer fraud than younger adults. Behavioral evidence supporting this belief is mixed, although there is a reliable tendency for older adults to view faces as more trustworthy than do younger adults.  One study provided supporting neural evidence by demonstrating that older adults failed to show greater amygdala activation to low than high trustworthy faces, in contrast to considerable evidence that younger adults do show this effect. This result is consistent with the argument for greater vulnerability to fraud in older adults, since the amygdala responds to threatening stimuli. More generally, however, the amygdala responds to biologically salient stimuli, and many previous studies of younger adults have shown that this includes not only threatening, low trustworthy faces, but also high trustworthy faces. The Zebrowitz Face Perception Lab therefore included medium trustworthy faces in order to detect separate effects of high trustworthiness and low trustworthiness on amygdala activation in older adults, something that the one previous study of older adults did not do. Consistent with that study we found that older adults did not show stronger amygdala activation to low than high trustworthy faces.  However, they did show stronger amygdala activation to high than to medium trustworthy faces, with a similar trend for low vs medium, although that difference was not strong enough to be confident that it would replicate (See Figure 1).

The fact that older adults did not show greater amygdala activation to low than medium or high trustworthy faces is consistent with the suggestion that older adults may be more vulnerable to fraud. However, an important question is whether vigilant responding to untrustworthy-looking faces could actually protect one from fraud.  Arguing against this possibility is the finding that although younger adults have consistently shown greater amygdala activation to people who look untrustworthy, they do not show greater activation to those who actually cheat.  On the other hand, some evidence indicates that facial appearance does provide valid cues to threat. Face shape not only influenced younger adults’ trust of potential exploiters, but it also proved to be a valid indicator of economic exploitation.  Furthermore, this face shape cue influenced both younger and older adults’ accurate impressions of aggressiveness. To shed further light on neural mechanisms for any age differences in vulnerability to fraud that may exist requires investigating: 1) the sensitivity of neural responses to actual differences in trustworthiness in the domain of economic exploitation, and 2) whether any age differences in those neural responses are related to differential vulnerability to economic exploitation.

Zebrowitz, L.A., Ward, N., Boshyan, J., Gutchess, A., & Hadjikhani, N. (2017).  Older adults’ neural activation in the reward circuit is sensitive to face trustworthiness.  Cognitve, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience.

 

 

Olga Papaemmanouil Promoted to Associate Professor

During the November Board of Trustees meeting, Olga Papaemmanouil (Computer Science) was promoted to associate professor with tenure. She joined Brandeis in 2009 after receiving her Ph.D. in Computer Science from Brown University. Her work revolves around data management systems and distributed systems.

Her research aims to  offer insight on the complexity of the data sets and operations involved in data management systems and use this insight to produce solutions and optimizations that improve these systems’ effectiveness and efficiency. Her research is motivated by practical applications and offers real-world tools and services that assist application developers in tacking the challenges of building, managing and optimizing data-driven applications.

Her work covers a broad range of data-driven challenges, including big data exploration and analytics, workload and resource management for cloud databases, query optimization and query performance prediction.

Olga won an NSF Career Award for her work on performance tuning of cloud databases and her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, Hewlett Packard, Amazon, Google and Huawei Technologies.

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