Keith Cheveralls ’09, Daniel Beller ’10, and Netta Engelhardt ’11 awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Former physics majors Keith Cheveralls ’09 and Daniel Beller ’10 and current physics major Netta Engelhardt ’11 have been awarded the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. The fellowship recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in the US who have demonstrated exceptional promise in science research. Keith is currently a first year graduate student at UC Berkeley; while at Brandeis he did his senior thesis with Professor Jane Kondev and was a co-author on a paper that appeared last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Dan, a first year graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, completed his senior thesis at Brandeis with Professor Zvonimir Dogic and Professor Robert Meyer.  Currently, Dan is conducting research on liquid crystals in the group of Professor Randall Kamien at UPenn. Netta is currently doing her senior thesis with Professor Matthew Headrick, and is planning to attend graduate school in physics next year.

NSF CAREER Award for Headrick

Assistant Professor of Physics Matthew Headrick has received a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation. Headrick’s project “CAREER: Holography, Quantum Information, and Elliptic Relativity” will fund his research exploring issues in string theory and classical and quantum gravity. The two projects address 1) study of the thermal and statistical physics of holographic systems, and quantum gravity more generally, through the lens of quantum information theory, and 2) continuing the development of practical, general methods for numerically solving the elliptic Einstein equation to find static, stationary, and Euclidean metrics for higher-dimensional black holes and compactification spaces. NSF grants require broader impact activites. Headrick will participate in TheoryNet, an NSF-funded program in which high-energy physicists visit high-school science classrooms, and will also work with the Brandeis Science Posse program.

Associate Professor Zvonimir Dogic, also in the Physics department, was a 2010 recipient of an NSF CAREER award.

Helfgott ’98 wins Adams Prize in mathematics

Harald Helfgott ’98 has been awarded the Adams Prize by the University of Cambridge (UK), one of its oldest and most prestigious prizes. The prize, awarded jointly to Helfgott and to Dr. Tom Sanders (University of Cambridge), honors young UK-based mathematicians  doing “first class international research in mathematical sciences”. Helfgott, currently a Reader at Univ. of Bristol and researcher at the CNRS/ENS (Paris), has been the recipient of additional prestigious prizes. In 2010 he was awarded the Whitehead Prize by the London Mathematical Society for his contributions to number theory and in 2008 he was awarded the Leverhulme Mathematics Prize for his work on number theory, diophantine geometry, and group theory.

Helfgott was a double major in Mathematics and Computer Science while at Brandeis, graduating summa cum laude with highest honors in both disciplines. Professors from both departments recall Harald as a top student, extremely well prepared, outspoken, and as one who truly loves to learn and  exchange ideas. He took full advantage of the opportunities for independent research in both departments, resulting in several conference papers and publications. In Computer Science, working with James Storer completed significant research projects on genetic algorithms for lossless image compression, Lempel-Ziv methods for two dimensional lossless compression, predictive coding, and maximal parsings. He formulated an approach to two dimensional coding that equaled one of the best methods in the literature at the time and had a number of computational advantages. According to Storer “He had an impact on nearly every research group in the Computer Science Department at that time.”

Regarding Helfgott’s work in the Math department, Ira Gessel remembers:

Although I never had him for a course, I did write a paper with him when he was an undergraduate here (the only paper I’ve ever written with an undergraduate).  Harald was involved in an undergraduate  research program with Jim Propp on tilings, and he had made some progress on solving some open problems on counting certain types of tilings. He was having trouble evaluating some determinants, and I helped him with that technical aspect of his work. But the main ideas of the paper were all Harald’s.

On graduation, Helfgott chose to focus on mathematics, doing his Ph.D. at Princeton and post-doctoral stints at Yale and at Concordia University before moving to his current position at Bristol. In addition to his current active research career, Helfgott also has been “strongly committed to the free sharing of information in all areas of intellectual activity“, giving lecture series to students and young researchers in the Third World, including lecture series in India, Cuba, Bolivia, and his native Peru.

According to Gessel:

It’s difficult to give a nontechnical account of most of Harald’s work, but here’s one of his results that’s not too hard to state.  He proved a difficult conjecture of Paul Erdős that if f(x) is a cubic polynomial with integer coefficients (satisfying some additional obvious necessary conditions that I’ll omit) then there are infinitely many primes p such that f(p) is not divisible by a square.

Barry and Dogic receive 2010 Cozzarelli Prize

Physics graduate student Edward Barry and Professor Zvonimir Dogic have been selected to receive the 2010 Cozzarelli Prize in Engineering and Applied Sciences from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) for their work entitled “Entropy driven self-assembly of non-amphiphilic colloidal membranes.”

The work of Barry and Dogic was selected for exploring a novel pathway for the self-assembly of 2D fluid-like surfaces or monolayer membranes from non-amphiphilic molecules. Amphiphilic molecules consist of immiscible components, such as a hydrophobic tail and a hydrophilic head, which are irreversibly linked to each other, thus frustrating their bulk separation. When added to water, these molecules self-assemble into a variety of structures in order to satisfy competing affinities for the solvent. One particular structure, a bilayer membrane, which is a thin flexible sheet with remarkable mechanical and chemical properties, plays an essential role in biology, physics, and material science. Over the past decade the paramount example of conventional amphiphilic self-assembly has inspired the synthesis of numerous amphiphilic-type building blocks for studies of membrane self-assembly including various block-copolymers, heterogeneous nanorods, and hybrid protein-polymer complexes. Underlying all of these studies is the belief that amphiphilic molecules are an essential requirement for membrane assembly.

Barry and Dogic, using a combination of theory and experiments, describe for the first time a set of design principles required for the assembly of non-amphiphilic membranes in which the constituent rod-like molecules are chemically homogeneous.  Using a simple mixture of filamentous bacteriophages and non-adsorbing polymer, they were able to assemble macroscopic membranes roughly 4-5 orders of magnitude larger than the constituent molecules themselves. Due to unique properties of their system, Barry and Dogic were able to characterize the physical behavior of the resulting non-amphiphilic membranes at all relevant length scales and provide an entropic mechanism that explains their stability. The importance of these results lies in their potential to establish a fundamentally different route toward solution based self-assembly of 2D materials.

Papers selected for the Cozzarelli Prize were chosen from more than 3,700 research articles published by PNAS in 2010 and represent the six broadly defined classes under which the National Academy of Sciences is organized. The award was established in 2005 and named the Cozzarelli Prize in 2007 to honor late PNAS Editor-in-Chief Nicholas R. Cozzarelli. The annual award acknowledges recently published papers that reflect scientific excellence and originality. The 2010 awards will be presented at the PNAS Editorial Board Meeting, and awardees are recognized at the awards ceremony, during the National Academy of Sciences Annual Meeting on May 1, 2011, in National Harbor, Maryland.

Susan Band Horwitz (PhD ’63) receives AACR Lifetime Achievement Award

Susan Band Horwitz, Ph.D., will receive the Eighth AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research. Horwitz is being recognized for pioneering research in the mechanism of the anticancer drug Taxol and for contributions to the understanding of how this microtubule-stabilizing drug arrests cell division, which eventually leads to cell death, especially of cancer cells.

Horwitz received a bachelor’s from Bryn Mawr, then came to Brandeis to do her graduate studies. According to a profile in PNAS by Tinsley H. Davis,

“At that time, there were few graduate schools that were very receptive to women,” [Horowitz] recalls. “Women were not very prominent on the faculty or in the student body.” One university stood out from the others, however. Brandeis University (Waltham, MA) had just started its graduate program in biochemistry. “Brandeis was a new and exciting place, and the people there wanted it to succeed,” says Horwitz, “yet it also had a relaxed atmosphere that was really perfect for me.”

Once at Brandeis, Horwitz worked with Nathan Kaplan, chairman of the newly formed Biochemistry Department. Her Ph.D. dissertation (1963) involved bacterial metabolism of sugar alcohols.

While juggling raising children and doing part-time postdoctoral research (some things haven’t changed so much over the years!), Horwitz became interested in pharmacology and anticancer agents. She joined the faculty at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1970, where she has remained since, currently serving as the Rose C. Falkenstein Professor of Cancer Research and co-chair of the department of molecular pharmacology.

Horwitz’s academic career has been vastly productive, in terms of research, publications and awards, but perhaps more significantly in terms of her research’s impact on millions of cancer patients worldwide. Her current research focuses on new natural products with similar mechanism to Taxol, looking for ways to enhance therapeutic value and to avoid drug resistance.

The AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research was established in 2004 to honor an individual who has made significant fundamental contributions to cancer research, either through a single scientific discovery or a body of work. These contributions, whether they have been in research, leadership or mentorship, must have had a lasting impact on the cancer field and must have demonstrated a lifetime commitment to progress against cancer. Horwitz will receive the award at the Opening Ceremony of the AACR 102nd Annual Meeting.

Hedstrom named AAAS Fellow

Professor of Biology Liz Hedstrom has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of  Science (story on Brandeis NOW).

BrandeisNOW ran a follow-up profile on Liz. Moral: always ask your undergraduates whether they’ve thought about  going to grad school.

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