Thomas, Epstein to Collaborate with Discovery Museums on Dreyfus Foundation Grant

The Discovery Museums (Acton, MA), in collaboration with Professors Christine Thomas and Irv Epstein (Brandeis chemistry department) and Brandeis’s American Chemical Society Student Affiliates Chapter have received funding from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation to develop and implement a project called Reaction Station: Adventures for Young Chemists.

Pilot tests of a prototype Reaction Box with students

The project aims to enhance and promote hands-on chemistry experiences for youth in schools and museums. Implementation of the project involves first designing “Reaction Stations,” comprised of large plastic boxes with holes cut out for gloved hand access, and then carrying out educational and experiential programming for children using these Reaction Stations. As children are often enticed by messy, smelly, or otherwise highly-reactive experiments, these portable Reaction Stations (similar in concept to gloveboxes used by members of Professor Thomas’s Lab) will provide a safe way for children to engage in experiments that are often avoided in school or museum settings due to their messy nature.

Denise LeBlanc, Director of Learning Experiences at The Discovery Museums (and also a former research scientist in the Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center on campus), anticipates much success from the Reaction Stations. LeBlanc and Thomas will devise various experiments for children to carry out. Possibilities include: identifying a mystery substance as part of a “crime scene,” testing the pH of common household items, exploring reactivity of everyday chemicals that, at first glance, seem inert, and other experiments that introduce children to topics of polymers, chromatography, phase changes, etc.

Undergraduate students in the American Chemical Society Student Affiliate Chapter will work with the children as model scientists and helpers. Throughout the duration of the year, undergrads from the chemistry department will partake in demonstrations and lessons at the museum in Acton, MA, as well as offsite through various after-school programs. Beyond conducting demonstrations in a museum or school setting only, the Reaction Station will be a teaching tool that educators can bring to their own classrooms or other venues to perpetuate their students’ engagement in chemistry and hands-on research. Says Thomas, “Making research understandable and accessible to children at a young age is pivotal in the development of new generations of chemists.”

The Reaction Station: Adventures for Young Chemists proposal was one of 19 grants awarded this year. Other recipients include universities and museum/science outreach organizations who intend to advance the chemical sciences through innovative projects.

Undergraduate research fellowship opportunities

Meredith Monaghan, Director of Academic Fellowships, writes:

I am happy to announce the latest competition for two sources of funding designed to support undergraduate research at Brandeis University. Applications for both the Schiff Undergraduate Fellows Program and the Undergraduate Research Program are due in March; specific details for each are below. For your reference, I have also attached to this email the info sheets/applications for each.

Schiff Fellows work closely with a Faculty Mentor on a year-long research or pedagogical project; Fellows earn $2000 and their Faculty Mentors receive $500. Current and past Schiff Fellows describe this as an excellent opportunity to pursue independent research in collaboration with a caring and knowledgeable expert in their field. In past years, faculty members have been particularly helpful in identifying excellent candidates for the Schiff Fellowship, and have often approached a student directly with an idea for a project. Applications for academic year 2011-2012 are available in Academic Services (Usdan 130) or by emailing Meredith Monaghan. The submission deadline is 5pm on Monday, March 7, 2011.

This cycle of the Undergraduate Research Program competition is for summer 2011 grants. This award is open to students in all disciplines, and funds can be used to pay for research materials, travel to conferences, and other research-related expenses. Students need a recommendation from a faculty mentor, but the role of the faculty member is less hands-on for the URP than for the Schiff Fellowship Program. Applications are available in Academic Services (Usdan 130) or by emailing Meredith Monaghan. The submission deadline is 5pm on Wednesday, March 16, 2011.

For information about other fellowship opportunities, see the Academic Services website.

Last year’s winners, the 2010-2011 Schiff Fellows, are:

  • BENJAMIN G. COOPER ’11, Chemistry & Biology (with Prof. Christine Thomas) — “Catalyst Design for Environmentally-Friendly Production of Fuels”
  • USMAN HAMEEDI ’12, Biology & HSSP (with Prof. Bruce Foxman) — “Temperature Sensitive Ferrocene Complexes”
  • JUNE ALLISON HE ’11, Psychology (with Prof. Nicolas Rohleder) — “Investigating the Link Between Subjective Conceptions of Stress and Health and Age-Related Declines in Cognitive Functioning”
  • MAYA KOENIG ’11, IIM Medical Anthropology (with Prof. Sarah Lamb) — “Bringing Medical Anthropology to Brandeis / Using CAM to Conceptualize Health”
  • ALEXANDRA KRISS ’11, HSSP (with Prof. Sara Shostak) — “College-Aged Women & Contraceptives: What Does Advertising Have To Do With It?”
  • ALEXANDRU PAPIU ’12, Mathematics (with Prof. Bong Lian) — “Structural Properties of a Certain Kind of Semigroup”
  • Géraldine Rothschild ’12, Economics & French (with Prof. Edward Kaplan) — “Jewish Identities in France During 1945”
  • MARTHA SOLOMON ’11, Biology (with Prof. Lawrence Wangh) — “Barrett’s Adenocarcinoma and its Effects on Mitochondrial DNA”
  • ILANA SPECTOR ’11, Economics & Philosophy (with Prof. Marion Smiley) — “The Meaning of Life: Revealing Individual Perspectives Behind Broader Philosophical Notions”
  • JOSEPH POLEX WOLF ’11, Neuroscience & HSSP (with Prof. Angela Gutchess) — “Cognition at the Cross-Roads: Bicultural Cognitive Processing in Turkish Individuals”

The Eccentricities of Darwin

From time to time we will present samples of student writing, in this first case from Professor James Morris‘s first-year seminar on The Origin of Species. Gabriella Feingold, a first-year student intending to major in Theater, kept track of her thoughts on the book over the semester in free flowing form of a blog, entitled The Eccentricities of Darwin. She hopes the blog will both educate readers on intricacies of Darwin’s writing, and allow for humorous discussion of this dense but readable text.

Here’s a sample from Gabriella’s blog:

On to Chapter 1 – Variation Under Domestication! In Chapter 1, Darwin makes an effective comparison between domestic variation and natural variation. In order for Darwin’s theory to work, variations must naturally occur and then certain ones must be naturally selected, causing evolution of species. Here, Darwin argues that people witness variation among their domestic animals, so why can’t variations occur in nature? Sure, domestic animals are actively bred, and there is a “selector” deciding which variations stay and which go, but Darwin is always a proponent of the power of nature. Humans are nothing compared to its forces. (That’s a slight paraphrase.)

My favorite part of Chapter 1 is the pigeons! Yes, Darwin goes on and on about pigeons. He has good reason though – everybody loves pigeons. In Victorian England, pigeons were bred by commoners. The idea of breeding pigeons was a familiar one and a hobby to many. Darwin also appeals to the lower class, and thereby a broad audience, by mentioning the significance of pigeons. Now all of the pigeon breeders feel important and start listening to Darwin’s ideas. At least, that’s one way to look at it.

Darwin is kind to all fellow men as he writes, but he is not afraid to put down the classic Greek philosophers. Part of Aristotle’s view on nature was that every creation has a final cause, or a purpose. Darwin, however, disagrees. On page 37, still comparing natural selection to domestic selection, Darwin writes that gardeners never plan for the final plant they end up with. Along the way, they choose variations that they like, and continually improve the plant. Natural selection works the same way. The creation does not have a final purpose, as the great Aristotle might say, rather, according to Darwin, each variation is selected by nature because it is beneficial to the organism (not because the organism is striving for a goal).

New for Spring 2011: BCHM 155 Biochemistry Laboratory

This Spring, the Biochemistry Department is offering a new course, BCHM 155 Biochemistry Laboratory to be taught by Prof. Emily Westover.  This lab will meet 6 hours per week and will focus on protein biochemistry.  Students will gain skills to biochemically characterize proteins, including protein purification, enzyme kinetics, and ligand binding.  For part of each module, students will design their own experiments. Students will report their work in written and oral formats.

Something to look forward to

Brandeis undergraduates can take a peek at what the future might hold for them. Polina Ogas ’07 (BS/MS, Biochem), now in the MD/PhD program at Harvard Med, discusses the details on the Harvard Med Girl blog.

XX Scientists at Brandeis

Alex Dainis, a Brandeis senior double majoring in Biology and in Film, Television, and Interactive Media, discusses how gender biases affect performance and interest in the sciences in a piece titled XX Scientists at Brandeis on the Life @ Deis blog.

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