Six scientists secure fellowships

One current undergraduate, and five alumni, from the Brandeis Sciences were honored with offers of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships in 2012. The fellowships, which are awarded based on a national competition, provide three full years of support for Ph.D. research and are highly valued by students and institutions. These students are:

  • Samuel McCandlish ’12 (Physics) , a current student who did research with Michael Hagan and Aparna Baskaran, resulting in a paper “Spontaneous segregation of self-propelled particles with different motilities” in Soft Matter (as a junior). He then switched to work with Albion Lawrence for his senior thesis research. Sam will speak about “Bending and Breaking Time Contours: a World Line Approach to Quantum Field Theory” at the Berko Symposium on May 14.  Sam has been offered a couple of other fellowships as well, so he’ll have a nice choice to make. Sam will be heading to Stanford in the fall to continue his studies in theoretical physics.
  • Briana Abrahms ’08 (Physics). After graduating from Brandeis, Briana followed her interests in ecological and conversation issues, and  in Africa as a research assistant with the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, Briana previously described some of her experiences here in “Three Leopards and a Shower“. Briana plans to pursue as Ph.D. in Ecology at UC Davis.
  • Sarah Robinson ’07 (Chemistry). Sarah did undergraduate research with Irving Epstein on “Pattern formation in a coupled layer reaction-diffusion system”. After graduating, Sarah spent time with the Peace Corps in Tanzania, returning to study Neurosciene at UCSF.
  • Si Hui Pan ’10 (Physics) participated in a summer REU program at Harvard, and continued doing her honors thesis in collaboration with the labs at Harvard. Her award is to study condensed matter physics at MIT.
  • Elizabeth Setren ’10 was a Mathematics and Economics double major who worked together with Donald Shepard (Heller School) on the cost of hunger in the US. She has worked as an Assistant Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and her award is to study Economics at Harvard.
  • Michael Ari Cohen ’01 (Psychology) worked as a technology specialist for several years before returning to academia as  PhD student in the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Making Freshman Chemistry Relevant

Professor Irving Epstein was recently interviewed about teaching introductory chemistry by the HHMI Bulletin in a story titled Better Living Through Chemistry (Class):

I remember the first time I went to my doctor and mentioned that I teach college chemistry. He cringed a little and said, “Oh, that almost kept me out of medical school.” Like my doctor, many students take their two years of required chemistry, breathe a sigh of relief, and then go on with their lives and don’t look back.

Students today also have many distractions to draw them off course—Facebook, Twitter, blogs. I suspect they tend to have less time to devote to their studies in high school, and when they get to college they don’t know how hard they’re going to have to work.

We need to reach out more to these students. We can’t expect them all to love the beauty of the subject for its own sake. We can, however, lure them in by showing them that chemistry is relevant to the things they’re really interested in—like life sciences, medicine, or environmental issues. Once we’ve gotten their attention and they recognize that it’s useful to understand how chemistry works, we can also convince them that it’s fun and interesting—maybe even worth tweeting about […]

You can read more at the HHMI Bulletin.

Epstein to be Senior Advisor to the Provost for Research

Irving R. Epstein, Henry F. Fischbach Professor of Chemistry, was today named Senior Advisor to the Provost for Research. In this new role, according to Provost Steve A. N. Goldstein, Epstein will work with faculty, center directors, and campus academic and administrative leaders to enhance the University’s research enterprise. Epstein will lead the implementation of improvements for research support and coordination, including identifying and obtaining new research funding, and provide guidance for effective research administration services and research funding.

Daniel Graham ’10, and Aaron Gell ’10, and Jeffrey Dobereiner ’09 awarded 2011 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Former chemistry majors Daniel Graham ’10, Aaron Gell ’10, and Jeffrey Dobereiner ’09 have been awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. These Fellowships, geared towards ensuring the vitality of the country’s scientific workforce, support the graduate education of individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant achievements in scientific research.  Dan and Aaron are currently first year graduate students at MIT, pursuing Ph.D.s in inorganic chemistry.  Dan received highest honors in chemistry for thesis research conducted in the lab of Professor Christine M. Thomas, and is currently continuing to investigate chemical approaches to renewable energy strategies in the lab of Professor Daniel Nocera at MIT.  Aaron, also an inorganic chemist, conducted undergraduate research in the Brandeis chemistry department under the supervision of Professor Bruce Foxman. Jeff was a double major in anthropology and chemistry at Brandeis and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Archaeology at Harvard University, where he is applying his chemistry knowledge to the analysis of ancient artifacts. In addition, Delora Gaskins, a 2011 incoming graduate student in the area of physical chemistry, was awarded an NSF Fellowship.  Delora is completing her undergraduate degree at Cal. State. – Long Beach and hopes to join the lab of Professor Irving Epstein in the fall of 2011.

Thomas, Epstein to Collaborate with Discovery Museums on Dreyfus Foundation Grant

The Discovery Museums (Acton, MA), in collaboration with Professors Christine Thomas and Irv Epstein (Brandeis chemistry department) and Brandeis’s American Chemical Society Student Affiliates Chapter have received funding from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation to develop and implement a project called Reaction Station: Adventures for Young Chemists.

Pilot tests of a prototype Reaction Box with students

The project aims to enhance and promote hands-on chemistry experiences for youth in schools and museums. Implementation of the project involves first designing “Reaction Stations,” comprised of large plastic boxes with holes cut out for gloved hand access, and then carrying out educational and experiential programming for children using these Reaction Stations. As children are often enticed by messy, smelly, or otherwise highly-reactive experiments, these portable Reaction Stations (similar in concept to gloveboxes used by members of Professor Thomas’s Lab) will provide a safe way for children to engage in experiments that are often avoided in school or museum settings due to their messy nature.

Denise LeBlanc, Director of Learning Experiences at The Discovery Museums (and also a former research scientist in the Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center on campus), anticipates much success from the Reaction Stations. LeBlanc and Thomas will devise various experiments for children to carry out. Possibilities include: identifying a mystery substance as part of a “crime scene,” testing the pH of common household items, exploring reactivity of everyday chemicals that, at first glance, seem inert, and other experiments that introduce children to topics of polymers, chromatography, phase changes, etc.

Undergraduate students in the American Chemical Society Student Affiliate Chapter will work with the children as model scientists and helpers. Throughout the duration of the year, undergrads from the chemistry department will partake in demonstrations and lessons at the museum in Acton, MA, as well as offsite through various after-school programs. Beyond conducting demonstrations in a museum or school setting only, the Reaction Station will be a teaching tool that educators can bring to their own classrooms or other venues to perpetuate their students’ engagement in chemistry and hands-on research. Says Thomas, “Making research understandable and accessible to children at a young age is pivotal in the development of new generations of chemists.”

The Reaction Station: Adventures for Young Chemists proposal was one of 19 grants awarded this year. Other recipients include universities and museum/science outreach organizations who intend to advance the chemical sciences through innovative projects.

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

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