Four Brandeis Science Grads Receive 2016 NSF Graduate Fellowships

GRFP_logoA science education at Brandeis University can be a springboard to future science achievements. We would like to congratulate four of our science graduates who have received the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships for 2016.

Noam Saper

Noam was an outstanding student graduating summa cum laude with highest honors in Chemistry in 2015. At Brandeis, Noam worked in the labs of Prof. Barry Snider and Prof. Christine Thomas. He co-authored 3 publications with Snider and Thomas.

Noam received multiple awards including the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship (2014); the Elihu A. Silver Prize (2014); and the Doris Brewer Cohen Endowment Award (2015).

Following graduation and enthralled by the mysteries of the west coast, he decided to attend the University of California, Berkeley. Noam is working on mechanistic studies of Ni-catalyzed diaryl ether hydrogenolysis in Professor John Hartwig’s laboratory.

Alexandra Sun

Another outstanding Chemistry student, Alexandra Sun graduated magna cum laude with highest honors in 2015. Alexandra also worked in Christine Thomas’ lab where she carried out research on Transition Metal Complexes Featuring a Redox-Active Bidentate Amido-Phosphido Ligand. Alexandra received the Melvin M. Snider Prize in Chemistry in 2015.

She is currently a first-year student in the Chemistry Department at the University of Michigan working with Professor Corey Stephenson on developing new methods in photoredox catalysis.

Abigail Zadina

Abigail received her BS/MS in Neuroscience in 2013. Working in Michael Rosbash’s lab, she was a co-author on 2 publications and received numerous awards including the Doris Brewer Cohen award and the Elihu Silver Prize. In 2013, Abigail discussed her science experience in the Brandeis publication Imprint.

Following graduation, Abigail worked at Columbia in Richard Axel’s lab. She is currently a PhD student in Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia University.

Joseph Jacobowitz

Joseph Jacobowitz received his BS/MS in 2014, graduating summa cum laude with Highest Honors in Biochemistry. While a Brandeis undergraduate, Joseph co-authored a publication with his faculty mentor, Doug Theobald. In 2013, Joseph received the Division of Science Prize for Outstanding Research Accomplishment and the William P. Jencks  Award in Biochemistry in 2014.

Joseph is in the Biology PhD program at MIT, working for Jing-Ke Weng on the origins of chemodiversity in plants.

Summer Research at Brandeis

All four science graduates had the opportunity to jump start their careers by doing summer research at Brandeis. Noam, Alexandra and Joseph were Division of Science Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF). Abigail received a Computational Neuroscience Traineeship.

These undergraduate research programs enable students to spend their summers at Brandeis engaged in intensive undergraduate training and summer research. Both programs provide a stipend, faculty mentoring and full-time lab research. The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows work culminates in a poster presentation summarizing their work. The SURF program is funded by generous donations from alumni. The Computational Neuroscience Traineeship program begins in the summer and runs through the following academic year. It is funded through a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

Another way that flies sense temperature

If you remember your (bio-)physical chemistry, you’ll remember that most proteins are temperature sensitive. But which ones acts as the sensors that drive behavior in higher organisms? The Garrity Lab at Brandeis has been working on thermosensation in Drosophila, and previous work has implicated the channel protein TRPA1 as a key mediator of temperature preference and thermotaxis,  In a new paper in Nature, members of the Garrity lab working in collaboration with the Griffith and Theobald have have identified another protein, GR28B(D), a member of the family of gustatory receptor proteins, as another behaviorally important temperature sensor, involved in rapid avoidance of high temperatures. Authors on the paper include postdocs Lina Ni (lead author) and Peter Bronk, grad students April Lowell (Mol. Cell Biology) and Vincent Panzano (PhD ’13, Neuroscience), undergraduate Juliette Flam ’12, and technician Elaine Chang ’08.

  • Ni L, Bronk P, Chang EC, Lowell AM, Flam JO, Panzano VC, Theobald DL, Griffith LC, Garrity PA. A gustatory receptor paralogue controls rapid warmth avoidance in Drosophila. Nature. 2013.
  • story at BrandeisNOW


Quantitative Biology Bootcamp 2012

What do dinosaur DNA, calculating the global amount of carbon dioxide consumed in photosynthesis, and cooperation and cheating between yeast cells have in common?  They were all topics discussed at the sixth annual Quantitative Biology Bootcamp, held on the Brandeis campus January 12 and 13.

At the bootcamp, more than 40 Ph.D. students and faculty participated in lectures, discussions, and computational projects using both computers and pencil-on-paper approaches.  The Brandeis Quantitative Biology Program is a unique “add-on” graduate program open to students in all six of the natural sciences Ph.D. programs at Brandeis.  The main goal of the program is to train students to work effectively as a part of research teams that span the boundaries of traditional scientific disciplines.  To this end, Quantitative Biology students participate in both courses and out-of-classroom activities, like the Bootcamp, that highlight the diverse approaches to scientific problems taken by scientists from different disciplines.

A central feature of this year’s Bootcamp were the lectures and computer laboratory exercise presented by Jeffrey Boucher, a student in the Biochemistry Ph.D. program and the winner of Quantitative Biology Program’s 2012 HHMI Interfaces Scholar Award.  Boucher’s presentations described mathematical techniques and experimental methods that can be used to understand the processes of biological evolution by reconstructing genes and proteins present in the long-extinct progenitors of present animal, plant and microbial species. Prospective graduate students and others interested in learning more about Brandeis Quantitative Biology can consult the program’s web site at

Biochemistry Senior Research Talks on April 29

The Department of Biochemistry presents senior research talks by the 2010/2011 Biochemistry Honor and BS/MS Candidates on Friday, April 29, 11:30-1:30pm in Gerstenzang 121.

Benjamin D. Hornstein – BS/MS
Seq A: construction and analysis of mutants
Advisor: Sue Lovett

Marcus R. Kelly– BS/MS
Replacement Matrices for Transmembrane Proteins
Advisor: Douglas Theobald

Yuliya Y. Mints – BS/MS
Inosine Monophosphate Dehydrogenase and Transcription: a mechanism for retinitis pigmentosa?
Advisor: Liz Hedstrom

Sarah Naomi Olsen – BS/MS
Isolation, Purification, and Characterization of (+)-4R-limonene synthase
Advisor: Dan Oprian

Benjamin M. Whitlock – BS/MS
PABPN1 and SKIIP: A putative mechanism for the onset of Oculopharyngeal Muscular Dystrophy
Advisor: Dagmar Ringe

Philip D. Lessans – BS
Developing a Method of Extracting Native U snRNPs from eukaryotic cells using Snurportin 1 constructs
Advisor: Daniel Pomeranz Krummel

Jessica P. Liken – BS
Deletion Library Screen for Enhancers and Suppressors of ALS-associated FUS/TLS Toxicity in Yeast
Advisor: Greg Petsko

Everyone is welcome and encouraged to come. Pizza will be provided.

Strage Award Goes to Douglas Theobald

Prof. Gregory Petsko writes:

It is with great pleasure that I announce the recipient of the 12th Annual Alberta Gotthardt and Henry Strage Award for Aspiring Young Science Faculty, Dr. Douglas Theobald of the Biochemistry Department.

Doug is one of Brandeis’ most accomplished young faculty members. Since his arrival at Brandeis, he has consistently demonstrated the ability to think deeply about some of the most fundamental problems in biology. His work on the resurrection of ancient proteins is among the most exciting research in the field of molecular evolution. Using what he terms “paleocrystallography” — in reality, a sort of Jurassic Park from ancestral molecules — he is aiming to visualize the structural changes that occur during the evolution of enzymes and protein complexes. With the high-resolution structures of reconstructed ancestral molecules, correlated with functional data from biochemical analyses, Doug will be able to test experimentally specific evolutionary hypotheses about protein evolution and gain an understanding of what functions can be rationally engineered. […] A theoretician who also has both feet firmly grounded in experiments, Doug is also a gited teacher.

The award ceremony and lecture will take place on Monday, April 11 at 1:00 pm in Gerstenzang 121. The title of Prof. Theobald’s lecture will be “Evolution of structure and function in biological macromolecules”

Formal test of the theory of a Universal Common Ancestor

In letter to Nature, Doug Theobald, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, presents a formal test of the theory that evolution proceeds from a single common ancestor, using model selection theory.

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