Brandeis receives $1 million HHMI Inclusive Excellence Initiative grant

HHMI logoBrandeis is one of 57 schools to receive a $1 million 5-year grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI’s) Inclusive Excellence Initiative, the aim of which is “to create a community of scientists and science educators engaged in 57 experiments, each experiment aimed at understanding how institutional change with respect to inclusion can be achieved.” Under the direction of Henry F. Fischbach Professor of Chemistry and HHMI Professor Irving Epstein, Professor of Biology Melissa Kosinski-Collins and Associate Provost Kim Godsoe, the program has four major thrusts: a) Galaxy, a cohort based program, modeled on Brandeis’s highly successful Science Posse, to provide peer and near-peer support and mentorship for prospective science majors; b) workshops, incorporated into introductory laboratory courses, that address issues such as imposter syndrome, implicit bias and stereotype threat and encourage students to reflect upon the learning environment that they wish to create for themselves and their classmates; c) low-enrollment practicum courses designed to strengthen students’ quantitative skills through project-based research studies; and d) a faculty learning community that will bring together instructors in key courses to grapple with issues that may hamper student performance and retention.  The discussions in b) and d) will be informed by written and oral presentations from students and alumni, who will be asked to reflect on how their preparation and their reception by faculty and other students affected their experience in STEM.  These initiatives will help Brandeis change the culture and climate of how the community perceives all students studying STEM.

A major impetus for this undertaking is the recognition that students in the sciences begin with a wide range of preparation and experience, and that currently retention in science majors is heavily correlated with level of preparation and initial success in introductory courses.  Nationally, only 48% if students entering college with the intention of majoring in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) actually complete a STEM major.  At Brandeis the record is somewhat better, but there is still much room for improvement.  The programs in this initiative are designed to overcome the “sink or swim” mentality that affects many students (and faculty) by making them aware that, with appropriate support and perseverance, all students can succeed in the sciences no matter where they start from, even if the road is rocky at the start.

Food innovations at Brandeis: Carrot fiber proves more effective in control of blood glucose levels

This is the second in a series of posts highlighting food science discoveries at Brandeis. These functional innovations help lower cholesterol, find novel uses for antioxidants and healthy fats and develop process improvements.

Carrot pomace - Adobe Stock imageCarrot pomace powder (CPP) is currently a dried “waste” material generated during the production of carrot juice, but Brandeis inventors Daniel Perlman and K.C. Hayes have discovered that CPP may represent a dietary breakthrough. When carrot pomace powder is isolated using the proprietary process developed by Perlman and Hayes, it becomes highly enriched in both soluble and insoluble fibers while maintaining a low sugar-to-fiber ratio. This means that carrot pomace powder is an excellent new fiber product that can be adapted for commercial food production. Food manufacturers can use it to reduce blood glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while having a major positive impact on the gut bacterial flora.

This patent pending process is significant given that the market for dietary fibers in foods and beverages is expected to reach $6.5 billion by 2022.

Read more about carrot fiber, the Brandeis Office of Technology and Licensing and the research behind this discovery.

Amy Lee Named a 2018 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

Congratulations to Amy Lee, Assistant Professor of Biology, as she has been named one of the 2018 Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Amy, along with another 21 recently appointed assistant professors, will receive a $300,000 grant over four years to further their research into biomedical science. The Lee Lab studies how mRNA translation regulation contributes to cell diversity.

Lee joined Brandeis during the summer of 2016. Shortly after arriving on-campus, she was named a 2017 Searle Scholar. At that time, she received $300,000 in flexible funding spread over three years.

More information is available at BrandeisNow.

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.

John Wilmes Joins Math Department as Assistant Professor

John Wilmes, Assistant Professor of MathJohn Wilmes starts as an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics in Fall 2018. Along with two other new faculty members, Jonathan Toubol and Thomas Fai, he will contribute to the new Applied Mathematics major. His research is in discrete mathematics and the theory of computing, particularly focusing on structure and symmetry in networks. John’s research is motivated by the analysis of algorithms on discrete structures and machine learning theory.

Before joining Brandeis, John spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow and research scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he received the Outstanding Postdoctoral Research award from the College of Computing. He completed his PhD as an NSF Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Chicago under the supervision of László Babai.

At Brandeis, John plans to continue studying the symmetries of discrete structures and developing rigorous analyses of machine learning algorithms. He is particularly interested in using insights from neuroscience as inspiration for new algorithms.

Thomas Fai is new Assistant Professor in Department of Mathematics

Thomas Fai, Assistant Professor of MathThomas Fai is a new assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics. His research deals with the scientific computing and mathematical modeling of complex biological fluids, including the fluids inside of blood vessels and cells. He is interested in developing highly resolved, three-dimensional simulations that can help answer fundamental questions in biomechanics and physiology.

Prior to joining Brandeis, Thomas Fai was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard with adviser Chris Rycroft. He received his PhD in mathematics from the Courant Institute (NYU) with adviser Charles Peskin.

At Brandeis, he intends to pursue research into numerical methods to accelerate simulations of complex fluids. He is interested in continuing his work on the interaction between fluid flow, geometry, and molecular motors inside neuronal dendrites, and how this interaction breaks down in neurodegenerative disorders such as ALS and Huntington’s disease.

Simulations of growing fatty-acid vesicles in fluid

Final vesicle configurations and cross sections after a 5-fold increase in surface area using different nondimensional permeabilities π1 and growth rates π2

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