Thomas named 2011 Sloan Research Fellow

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Christine Thomas has been named a 2011 Sloan Research Fellow. These two-year fellowships are awarded to early-career scientists in recognition of distinguished performance and a unique potential to make substantial contributions to their field. Research in the Thomas laboratory focuses on the design and synthesis of new transition metal complexes to examine the fundamental interactions between different components of bifunctional catalysts with the ultimate goal of uncovering new transition-metal catalyzed bond activation processes related to renewable energy. Since starting in the Chemistry department at Brandeis in 2008, Thomas and coworkers have developed a series of bimetallic catalysts that utilize metal-metal interactions to attenuate redox potentials and promote the activation of small molecules such as hydrogen, alkyl halides, and carbon dioxide.

The Thomas lab has an energetic and talented team of researchers

Arne Ekstrom ’96, PhD ’04 and Mikhail Ershov MA ’00 were also named as 2011 Sloan Research Fellows. Ekstrom received a B.A. in Biology and Psychology from Brandeis, and after getting an M.S. at U. Arizona, returned and completed a Ph.D. in Neuroscience here in 2004, working with Michael Kahana. After a postdoc at UCLA, Arne took a position as an Assistant Professor in the Center for Neuroscience at U. California, Davis. His lab studies spatial memory using EEG and fMRI techniques. Ershov came to Brandeis from Moscow State Univ. and received an MA in Math in 2000 bofore going on to Ph.D. work at Yale and a faculty position at U. Virginia. Ershov is being recognized for research contributions to various aspects of group theory.

How much torque is on my elbow?

A recent article in l. Biomech. Eng. by Davide Piovesan, a former post-doctoral fellow in Brandeis’ Ashton Graybiel Spatial Orientation Laboratory, with Alberto Pierobon, a staff engineer, and Paul DiZio and James Lackner, the laboratory’s directors has advanced the empirical and analytic tools used to quantify human arm segment inertias.  The new methodology enables studies of the neuromotor control of naturalistic reaching movements unfettered by heretofore necessary laboratory constraints, in healthy and clinical populations,

Arm segment inertias are key parameters of inverse dynamics equations which compute movement kinetics (joint torques and muscle forces) from measurements of movement kinematics.  Existing methods for estimating arm segment parameters did not provide sufficient resolution for calculation of a class of joint torques called interaction torques.  During natural reaching, interaction torques are generated by an arm segment’s motion relative to other moving segments, in addition to  normal inertial torques which are due to motion relative to fixed space.  The technical solution provided in this paper involves statistical techniques for partitioning variance in inertial estimates due to task-related (arm angular acceleration) and extraneous factors (different estimation techniques and subject body shape variations) and eliminating the extraneous sources.

The Graybiel Lab researchers have previously shown that current neuromotor models of muscle activation fail to account for movement errors that occur when large interaction torques are experimentally induced, and the new methods will enable development of better experiments and models.

Multi-body representation of the torso and arm during planar reaching.  Joint torques (τ) and forces (θ) of this multi-link sysytem can be computed knowing the motions and the inertial properties (mass, center of mass, and moment of inertia) of each segment.  The torso frame of reference is at the shoulder (S), and each other segment’s reference frame (x‑y) is fixed at its center of mass.  The environmental frame of reference (E) is shown at the upper left.

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”

3-D Turing pattern formation in a chemical reaction system

In a report in this week’s issue of Science, Brandeis professor Irving Epstein, senior research associate Vladimir Vanag and postdoc Tamas Bansagi use tomographic methods, like those employed in a medical CAT scan, but using visible light in this case, to obtain the first three-dimensional images of Turing patterns. These patterns have been proposed as a mechanism for morphogenesis in living systems, perhaps offering an explanation for phenomena like “how the leopard gets its spots” or skeletal structure in developing limbs. .

Commentary: Wired Science

Schiller to Receive Pepose Vision Sciences Award

Peter Schiller of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Science at MIT has been selected to receive the Jay Pepose ’75 Award in Vision Sciences for 2011 from Brandeis University. Schiller is being honored for work on visual perception and neural control of guided eye movements. Schiller will visit Brandeis on March 14, 2011 to receive the award and to lecture on “Parallel Information Processing Channels Created in the Retina”. The lecture will be held at 4:00 pm in Gerstenzang 121. For more information about Dr. Schiller and the Pepose Award, please the story on Brandeis NOW.

Lecture Series in Parallel Computing and CUDA-C

A new lecture series in practical aspects of Parallel Computing and CUDA-C will kick off on Tuesday, February 22nd. The series will run twice weekly, on Tuesdays and Fridays from 2:30-3:30 pm in Bassine 251, for a total of 12 lectures over six weeks. Lectures will be given by Gianluca Castellani, Ph.D. Research Computing Specialist and HPC Cluster Administrator (Volen Center, LTS, and Physics) and Francesco Pontiggia, Ph. D., Postdoctoral Fellow, (Volen Center and Biochemistry). The series is jointly sponsored by the Volen Center, MRSEC, Physics Dept., and Library and Technology Services.

Tentative Schdule

Lecture 1 :  Why Parallel Programming? Parallel Architectures and Programming Models.
Lecture 2 :  Parallelization Techniques
Lectures 3 – 4 : Programming in a Shared Memory Environment — Introduction to OpenMP
Lecture 5 : CUDA-C fundamentals. Compiler, kernels, host-device data transfer
Lecture 6 : Time execution tuning, catching error and hardware evaluation
Lectures 7 – 8 : GPU memory types
Lectures 9 – 11 : Distributed Memory — MPI Paradigm
Lecture 12 : Using High Performance Parallel Libraries : An Example — Parallel Matrix Inversion.

Notes and Examples will be posted on the HPCC Wiki

More “Noted in Press”

Brandeis authors noted in boldface.

New route to lycopodium alkaloids

The lycopodium alkaloids are a large and extensively studied alkaloid family. Huperzine A (1), the medicinally most significant lycopodine alkaloid as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, functions as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor but may have other roles as has been addressed in several recent reviews.  Sauroine (2, 7,8-dihydroxylycopodine), from Huperzia saururus, was reported in 2004 and shown in 2009 to improve memory retention in the step-down test in male Wistar rats, significantly increasing hippocampal plasticity. 7-Hydroxylycopodine (3), from Huperzia serrata, was also reported in 2004 and may have related biological activity.

In their recent Organic Letters paper entitled the Synthesis of (±)-7-Hydroxylycopodine, the Snider lab at Brandeis developed a new general route to these bridgehead hydroxylated lycopodines. They reported a practical six-step synthesis of 7-hydroxylycopodine which makes it readily available for further biological evaluation. The key step of the synthesis is the treatment of bicyclic enol ether 4 with 60% sulfuric acid that affords tricyclic amino alcohol 5, which is further elaborated to 7-hydroxylycopodine (3) in three steps. The application of this route to the synthesis of sauroine (2) is now under investigation.

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