Grace Han Receives Young Investigator Award

Grace HanGrace Han, Landsman Assistant Professor of Chemistry, has received a Young Investigator Research Program award from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR). The award will support her research on the optically-controlled catalyst recycling for 3 years.

Catalysis is one of the core processes in chemical industry and essential for achieving many products critical to the Department of Defense’s mission – from medicines to counter threats, to radiation-resistant polymeric coatings, and advanced fuels for aircraft. Catalysts are the key components that serve to improve reaction rates and product yields, and these costly compounds are generally disposed after one use. Various concepts for catalyst recycling, particularly using fluorous biphasic systems, have been developed to achieve cost-effective and sustainable synthetic procedures. However, the heating and cooling steps employed in the recycling process are only compatible with a limited scope of reactions and solvents.

To address this challenge, the Han group is developing a new class of biphasic catalysts that are optically activated, or precipitated, at a constant temperature by the incorporation of a photoswitch unit in the catalyst structure. Photoswitches are novel organic molecules that respond to light by changing their shape and physical properties including polarity. The significant shape and polarity change of the photoswitch unit will drastically change the solubility of catalysts in an organic solvent, which regulates the activity and recovery of catalysts. This new method of catalyst recycling is anticipated to reduce the costs as well as environmental impact of the conventional use of catalysts in various industries.

Chemistry alum receives the Volvo Environmental Prize 2021

Photo: Yale School of Public Health

Paul Anastas, MA’87, PhD’90, aka the “Father of Green Chemistry,” has received the Volvo Environmental Prize for 2021. This award is given annually to those who have made “outstanding innovations or scientific discoveries, which in broad terms fall within the environmental field.” In Volvo’s press release, the prize jury stated that the research of Paul Anastas “is revolutionizing the chemical industry, a key contribution to meeting the sustainability challenge”.

Over the course of his career, Anastas has worked as a staff chemist at the Environmental Protection Agency, served as an advisor in the Obama White House and co-authored the book 12 Principles of Green Chemistry This book is used by high school, college and graduate students around the world. He is currently the director of Yale University’s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering.

He received the 2012 Alumni Achievement Award from Brandeis.

Anastas did his graduate work in synthetic organic chemistry in the lab of the late Robert Stevenson, Professor Emeritus. He earned his B.S. in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts Boston and his M.A. and Ph.D. in chemistry from Brandeis University.

Brandeis Alumnus Receives Breakthrough Prize

Drew WeissmanBrandeis alumnus, Drew Weissman, ’81, MA ’81, P’15 along with Katalin Karikó have been awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.  Weissman and Karikó received the Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research from Brandeis earlier this year.

While the Breakthrough Prize is considered the world’s largest science prize at $3 million, it is one of the many awards that Weissman and Kariko have been receiving as a result of their decades of research into mRNA therapies. It is this research that has led to the innovative COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

After earning his BA and MA degrees from Brandeis, Weissman went on to receive his PhD in Immunology from Boston University in 1987. He did a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health under Anthony Fauci. He is now a professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

Additional information:

Tijana Ivanovic selected to speak at 2021 Future of Biophysics Burroughs Wellcome Fund Symposium

Tijana IvanovicTijana Ivanovic, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, has been selected as one of four young scientists to speak at the 2021 Future of Biophysics Burroughs Wellcome Fund Symposium on February 23, 2021. This symposium is part of the 65th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society and due to COVID concerns, will be held virtually.

The purpose of this symposium is to highlight the work of young researchers who are currently conducting research at the intersection of the physical and life sciences. Research in the Ivanovic Laboratory uses biophysical methods to uncover fundamental molecular mechanisms of virus translocation across biological membranes.

The other speakers selected for the 2021 Symposium are Elisabeth Fischer-Friedrich, TU Dresden, Germany; Abhishek Singharoy, Arizona State University, USA; and Chen Song, Peking University, China.

First Rosbash-Abovich Award Recipients Announced

Michael Rosbash, the Peter Gruber Endowed Chair in Neuroscience and Professor of Biology and his wife, Nadja Abovich, established the Rosbash-Abovich Award as a way to inspire and acknowledge excellence in research by post-doctoral fellows and graduate students in the Brandeis life sciences. The Rosbash-Abovich award will be awarded annually.

The award honors the most outstanding papers published the previous year that have been authored by a Brandeis postdoctoral fellow and a Brandeis PhD student. In addition to the honor being selected, each winner is presented with a monetary award.

Future winners will present their talks at upcoming Volen Scientific Retreats, but due to COVID restrictions, the 2020 winners will be presenting their talks during the Molecular Genetics Journal Club meetings.

Most outstanding paper by a post-doctoral fellow

Michael O'Donnell

Michael O’Donnell, PhD

The 2020 winner for the most outstanding post-doctoral paper is Michael O’Donnell for the publication titled “A neurotransmitter produced by gut bacteria modulates host sensory behavior“. O’Donnell, is a former postdoc in the Piali Sengupta Lab. Sengupta said

Mike is a remarkable scientist and mentor. He single-handedly and independently established a new research direction in my lab. He also served as an informal mentor to many graduate students and has continued to do so even after he left my lab. I greatly appreciated our long discussions and arguments, and he is very much missed.

Sengupta also noted that O’Donnell was chosen to receive this award

on the basis of the creativity and novelty of his work that was published in Nature. The committee was particularly interested in nominating a researcher who was a driving force behind the work and Mike certainly fulfilled this criteria.

O’Donnell is now an assistant professor at Yale and recently formed the O’Donnell lab. He presented his talk to the Molecular Genetics Journal Club on December 2, 2020. He spoke about his work on neuromodulators produced by different bacteria.

Most outstanding paper by a PhD student

James Haber & Gonen Memisoglu

Professor James Haber & Gonen Memisoglu, PhD

The recipient of the 2020 award for the most outstanding PhD student paper is Gonen Memisoglu for the publication “Mec1 ATR Autophosphorylation and Ddc2 ATRIP Phosphorylation Regulates DNA Damage Checkpoint Signaling.“ She was a PhD student in James Haber’s lab. She received her PhD in 2018 and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago. She will be presenting her talk at the Molecular Genetics Journal Club on February 2, 2021.

When asked about his former PhD student, Haber said

I was delighted to learn that Gonen was the recipient of the Rosbash/Abovich award for the best publication by a graduate student last year; but I had to ask “which paper” because Gonen made two important discoveries last year about the way cells respond to DNA damage. Gonen helped develop a highly efficient way to edit the yeast genome and to create dozens of very precise mutations in the Mec1 gene that is the master regulator of the DNA damage response.  When there is a chromosome break, the Mec1 protein phosphorylates a number of proteins that creates a cascade of signaling to prevent cells from progressing through mitosis until damage is repaired. Gonen discovered that the extinction of the this signal depended on Mec1’s autophosphorylation of one specific target and that changing that specific amino acid to one that could not be phosphorylated was enough to cause cells to remain arrested. She also identified several alterations of the Ddc2 protein that associates with Mec1 that were also critical for its normal activation.

During her time in my lab Gonen was a super hard-working and exceptionally insightful grad student, but also incredibly generous with her time, helping others in the lab

Bulbul Chakraborty Elected AAAS Fellow

Bulbul ChakrabortyBulbul Chakraborty, the Enid and Nate Ancell Professor of Physics and head of the Division of Science, has been named a Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This honor is in recognition of Professor Chakraborty’s important theoretical contributions in the area of condensed matter physics, particularly disordered systems including frustrated magnets and granular materials.

Chakraborty has been a Brandeis faculty member since 1989. She is a condensed matter theorist who is currently focused on understanding the emergence of rigidity in solids that emerge in strongly nonequilibrium processes such as jamming or gelation.

A virtual induction ceremony for the newly elected Fellows will be held in February 2021.

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