Grace Han named Landsman Career Development Chair in the Sciences

Grace Han, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, has been appointed the Landsman Career Development Chair in the Sciences. Lisa Lynch, Provost and Dorothy Hodgson, Dean of Arts and Sciences, noted that Han’s work as a “scholar, a teacher, and an advisor, makes [her] highly deserving of the Landsman Chair.”

Grace directs the Han Group at Brandeis. This lab, whose scientific inquiry focuses on light-matter interaction in various material systems that range from photo-switching molecules to inorganic 2D crystals.  Her team seeks to develop optically-controlled molecular switches for energy conversation and storage and optoelectronic applications.

Grace’s research has resulted in a project, “Optically-Controlled Functional Heat Storage Materials,” which was featured in Chemical and Engineering News upon being granted Brandeis SPROUT Awards in 2019 and again in 2020.  In this work, the Han Group developed materials that recycle waste heat from a running engine and warm up frozen oil upon triggering to facilitate car startups in northern climes.  The Han Group is currently developing the initial prototype for the device containing the functional energy material.

At Brandeis, Grace teaches “Inorganic Chemistry,” “Polymer and Inorganic Materials Chemistry,” and “Chemistry Colloquium.”  She is co-chair of the Graduate Student Admissions Committee and of the Departmental Colloquium Committee and is also a member of the Graduate Studies Committee. Grace has most recently co-authored articles for the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Chemistry of Materials, and ACS Nano.

The Landsman Chair was established in 2015 through a gift from Dr. Emanuel Landsman. The Landsman Chair reflects his deep commitment to nurturing rising young scientists.

Longtime supporters of the University, Manny and his wife, Sheila Landsman, also gifted the funds used to build the Landsman Research Facility. This is the structure that houses an 800 MHz magnetic resonance spectrometer. The 15,000-pound superconducting magnet is used by scientists to search for solutions to neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.  Dr. Landsman co-founded the American Power Conversion Corporation, served on the Brandeis University Science Advisory Council for many years, and was named a Brandeis Fellow in 2008.  The Landsmans’ grandson, Wiley Krishnaswamy, is a member of the Class of 2020.

Hunting Novel Viruses in a Lab Course

Last Fall the Biology department mounted a new course (BIOL 152B),  the Virus Hunter Lab. This course combines practical experience in the lab with computer based approaches in bioinformatics. Students in the class isolated a type of virus that infects bacteria called a bacteriophage. In the wet lab, they learned basic microbiology techniques for isolating the viruses and basic molecular biology techniques for extracting the DNA of the viral genomes. With the biological material in hand the class prepared next generation sequencing libraries. The students assembled and annotated the complete genome of two previously unknown bacteriophage using next generation sequencing data from the samples they prepared. To find out more about it you can read their paper. Grad students Meghan Harris (MCB), their TA, and Tereasa Ho (Biotechnology) along with the inaugural group of undergraduate students are all authors on a paper recently published in the journal Microbiology Resource Announcements (MRA).

Harris MT, Ho TC, Fruchtman H, Garin ME, Kubatin V, Lu T, Xue L, Marr MT. Complete Genome Sequences of Two Vibrio natriegens Bacteriophages. Microbiology Resource Announcements. 2020;9(45).

Electron microscope image of the novel bacteriophage (VH2), photo by Jesse Cochrane

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.

 

New Major in Applied Mathematics Available Fall 2018

Starting in the fall of 2018, Brandeis students will have a new option for their major: a Bachelor of Science in applied mathematics. This new major is part of a broader expansion of the mathematics department into applied areas, with a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary research and training of undergraduate and graduate students.

Course description and other information about this new major can be found in the Brandeis Provisional Bulletin.

Thomas FaiThis transformation of the mathematics department, and the creation of the applied mathematics major, aim at addressing long term changes at Brandeis and in the world. The last ten years at Brandeis have seen a dramatic rise in interest in applied mathematics courses, motivated by the increasing use of mathematical ideas throughout society. The world has become more quantitative with the advent of the ability of computers to collect and process enormous amounts of data. This has led to a true revolution in such diverse areas as medical and pharmaceutical industries (algorithmic analysis of the genome), weather and climate prediction (numerical approximation of intractable systems), insurance and risk management, investment, marketing strategies (statistical analysis), and beyond.

Jonathan TouboulThis shift toward quantitative reasoning is hardly new, but it now feels more acute than ever. There are excellent job opportunities for well-trained applied mathematicians in the private sector, as well as in academia. This has, in turn, affected education strategies at all levels. The evolution of Brandeis’ student body is in line with this current shift. The aim of the new program is to offer Brandeis students the possibility to acquire the general toolkit used by applied mathematicians to solve problems in various scientific and engineering fields, and to allow them to harness the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” evoked by Eugene Wigner.

John WilmesThe applied major introduces a series of new core courses entitled, Applied Mathematics, Mathematics for the Natural Sciences, Scientific Computing and Simulations, and Mathematical Modeling. These will be coupled with advanced topics courses to be developed by the new faculty joining the department. Students will supplement courses in the mathematics department with classes throughout the university with strong mathematical content. In this way, students will have a strong foundation and a thorough exposure to the way that mathematics can be used in diverse fields.

Central to this effort is the hiring of three new faculty members, Jonathan Touboul, Thomas Fai, and John Wilmes, who will expand the mathematical horizons of undergraduate and graduate students, and establish new research connections across the sciences at Brandeis. The initial focus of the new major will be on the applications of mathematics to natural sciences. In the future, additional tracks could be added to the major, with applications to computer science and operation research, and to social science and economics.

Maria de Boef Miara Promoted to Assistant Professor

Maria MiaraMaria de Boef Miara was recently promoted to Assistant Professor of Biology. Since joining Brandeis five years ago as an adjunct instructor, she has particularly enjoyed teaching the Human Physiology course and is excited to be developing an accompanying lab course for Fall 2018. This course will give students the opportunity to learn about human physiology experientially, using the most up-to-date technology. It will also allow students interested in health careers an opportunity to complete an important prerequisite.

By studying how their physiology changes under a variety of conditions, students will get a hands-on feel for the subject. For instance, they will observe how cardiovascular and respiratory systems change when they exercise. They will witness how muscle activation differs between different body positions, such as the difference between winning and losing an arm wrestling match. They will determine whether they are able to respond more quickly to visual or auditory stimuli. And, by the end of the semester, they will be able to design and conduct their own experiments to study a physiological phenomena of their choosing.

Maria is excited for the opportunity to work more closely with her students in these smaller lab sections. She feels very fortunate to be able to work with the motivated, curious, and collaborative undergraduates found at Brandeis and she looks forward to giving them the space and support to explore their interests in human physiology.

Congratulations to Maria!

 

Waltham Teachers Meet with Brandeis Scientists

Brandeis scientists & Waltham teachers

On Tuesday, November 7th, 32 science teachers from Waltham Public Middle and High Schools visited the Brandeis science labs as part of the Third Annual Brandeis Scientists in the Classroom Workshop. The workshop is designed to be an opportunity to connect middle and high school science teachers with Brandeis scientists. The teachers were grouped and matched with 14 Brandeis graduate students, postdocs and faculty who shared their Brandeis science research directly with the teachers to help them understand what we do, so they can better integrate science into their classroom lessons.

This event was an extension of an ongoing partnership between Brandeis and Waltham High School and was sponsored by the Brandeis MRSEC. The Waltham school district has a high percentage of students from backgrounds underrepresented in the sciences. Brandeis offers several on-going programs with Waltham teachers and students in an effort to broaden their participation in STEM.

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