2018 Prizes and Awards Announced

Congratulations to all recipients of the 2018 prizes and awards for the Division of Science and the departments and programs within the Division.

Division of Science Prizes and Awards

  • Doris Brewer Cohen Award: Richard Haburcak (Math, Chemistry)
  • Rishon M. BIaler ’64 Memorial Prize: Abraham Cheloff (Biology, Neuroscience, Chemistry)
  • Schiff Memorial Award in Science: Meisui Liu (Biology) and Kathryn Shangraw (Biology)
  • Division of Science Prize for Outstanding Research Accomplishment: Heather Schiller (Biology, Neuroscience) and Jordan Saadon (Biology, Neuroscience)
  • Dr. Ralph Berenberg ’65 Prize (dentistry): Brandon Tran
  • Elihu A. Silver Prize (junior research): Julia Tartaglia (Biochemistry)
  • Steinberg Prize (Physical Science with interest in History): Mihir Khanna (Physics, Art History minor)

Biochemistry Prizes and Awards

  • Nathan O. Kaplan Prize in Biochemistry: Jessie Moore (Senior)
  • Professor Dagmar Ringe Biochemistry Award: Miriam Hood (Senior)
  • William P. Jencks Award in Biochemistry: Senmiao Sun (Senior)

Biology Prizes and Awards

  • Biology Department Award For Excellence in Research: Jason Xin
  • Chandler Fulton Prize for Undergraduate Research: Theresa Weis

Chemistry Prizes and Awards

  • Anatol Zhabotinsky Memorial Prize: Sumner Alperin-Lea
  • American Chemical Society Division of Physical Chemistry 2018 Undergraduate Award: Sumner Alperin-Lea
  • Chemistry Department Excellence Award: Samantha Shepherd
  • Melvin M. Snider Prize in Chemistry: Jamie Soohoo
  • American Chemical Society Division of Inorganic Chemistry 2018 Undergraduate Award: Elishua D. Litle
  • American Chemical Society Division of Organic Chemistry 2018 Undergraduate Award: Elishua D. Litle
  • Emily Dudek Undergraduate Teaching Assistant Award: Miriam Hood; Steven Wilhelm

Mathematics Prizes and Awards

  • Jerome Levine Thesis Prize (given annually to a graduate student in mathematics finishing with an outstanding PhD thesis): Yan Zhuang
  • Arnold Shapiro Prize in Mathematics (to a senior who has shown unusual talent and accomplishments in mathematical studies): Richard Haburcak

Neuroscience Prizes and Awards

  • Reis and Sowul Family Prize in Neuroscience: Amanda Shilton
  • John Lisman ’66 Memorial Award for Excellence in Neuroscience Research: Megan Leubner and Casey Lamar

Physics Prizes and Awards

  • Stephan Berko Memorial Prize (This endowed prize was established in 1991 by the family of the late Dr. Berko to annually recognize an outstanding student in Physics): Ali Aghvami (graduate); Carl Merrigan (graduate); Zachary Sustiel (undergraduate)
  • David L. Falkoff Prize (The Falkoff  Prize annually recognizes a graduate student in Physics who demonstrates excellence in teaching): Daichi Hayakawa
  • Physics Faculty Prize (Awarded to a graduating senior for excellence in Physics): Guillermo Narvaez Paliza; Liana Simpson



Grant funding for undergraduates doing Computational Neuroscience

The Division of Science is pleased once again to announce the availability of Traineeships for Undergraduates in Computational Neuroscience through a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Traineeships will commence in summer 2018 and run through the academic year 2018-19.

Please apply to the program by March 1, 2018 at 6 pm to be considered.

Computational Neuroscience undergraduate trainees were first authors on 2 papers in 2017; figure above from Christie et al., J. Neurophysiol., 2017

Traineeships in Computational Neuroscience are intended to provide intensive undergraduate training in computational neuroscience for students interested in eventually pursuing graduate research. The traineeships will provide approximately $5000 in stipend to support research in the summer, and $3000 each for fall and spring semesters during the academic year. Current Brandeis sophomores and juniors (classes of ’19, ’20) may apply. To be eligible to compete for this program, you must

  • have a GPA > 3.0 in Div. of Science courses
  • have a commitment from a professor to advise you on a research project related to computational neuroscience
  • have a course work plan to complete requirements for a major in the Division of Science
  • complete some additional requirements
  • intend to apply to grad school in a related field.

Interested students should apply online (Brandeis login required). Questions that are not answered in the online FAQ may be addressed to Steven Karel <divsci at brandeis.edu> or to Prof. Paul Miller.

Rodal lab find surprising new link between inflammation and Lowe Syndrome

Could a disease with symptoms in the brain, eyes, and kidneys actually be caused by problems with immune cells? A team of scientists from the Rodal Lab, co-first authored by Steven Del Signore and Sarah Biber and including three Brandeis undergraduates (Katy Lehmann ‘16, Stephanie Heimler ‘17, and Ben Rosenfeld ’18), think this just might be the case with Lowe Syndrome, in a new paper published Oct 13th in PLOS Genetics.

Patients with Lowe Syndrome suffer from kidney failure, congenital cataracts, and several neurological problems including intellectual disability and seizures. Scientists have known for some time that the disease is caused by mutations in a gene called OCRL, but remain unsure how its loss causes such a diverse array of symptoms. A big problem has been that OCRL appears to do many different jobs inside cells, including controlling how they divide, how they sense their surroundings, and how they store and transport materials inside small packages called endosomes.

Fly immune cells showing the tracks of moving endosomes. Single tracks represent the path of individual endosomes over time.

To try to solve this mystery, a team of researchers from the Rodal lab used the fruit fly, which has its own version of the OCRL gene and allowed the investigators to perform powerful genetic experiments to figure out precisely what OCRL is doing, and where. To do this, the group created a fly missing its OCRL gene. They were surprised to find that, rather than eye or neurological defects, loss of OCRL hyper-activated cells of the innate immune system. The innate immune system is the first line of defense against infection in humans (and the only defense in fruit flies), when cells release inflammatory signals that mobilize specialized cells to attack invading pathogens.

The team determined that OCRL is required in one of these specialized immune cells in the fly, and that the immune-cell activation was caused by problems in a particular step of intracellular transport. Every cell of the body has its own postal service, which is used to pack and ship signals that tell the cell or its neighbors to grow, divide, or jump into action (see movie here to watch endosomes moving inside living fly immune cells). The OCRL mutant immune cells had a problem in a key step that controls whether signals get thrown in the trash or shipped outside the cell, and this caused the immune activation.

How do these findings relate to Lowe Syndrome? The authors think these results suggest a possible cause for the seizures that patients experience. When similar immune-like cells in the brain release excessive inflammatory signals, it can cause several forms of epilepsy. Further, OCRL has been linked to at least one mouse model of epilepsy. Going forward, the researchers will try to identify which immune signals are responsible, and how these findings translate to human cells.

Del Signore SJ (*), Biber SA (*), Lehmann KS, Heimler SR, Rosenfeld BH, Eskin TL, Sweeney ST, Rodal AA. dOCRL maintains immune cell quiescence by regulating endosomal traffic. Plos Genet. 2017;13(10):e1007052.



SciFest VII Wraps Up Summer 2017 Undergraduate Research Session

The Brandeis University Division of Science held its annual undergraduate research poster session SciFest VII on August 3, 2017, as more than one hundred student researchers presented summer’s (or last year’s) worth of independent research. We had a great audience of grad students and postdocs (many of whom were mentors), faculty, proud parents, friends, and senior administrators.

More pictures and abstract books are available at the SciFest site.

SciFest VII by numbers

Summer SciFest 2017 to Showcase Undergrad Research on August 3

SciFest 2016Brandeis Summer Scifest, an Undergraduate Research Poster Session, will be held on Thursday, August 3. The poster session will be 1:00 to 3:00 pm in the Shapiro Science Center atrium.

SciFest is an annual poster session for undergraduates who have spent their summers working in both on-campus and off-campus labs doing scientific research, usually alongside grad students, postdocs and faculty members. It an opportunity for undergraduates from across the Division of Science, including summer visitors and Brandeis students, to present posters summarizing their research.

There were 106 posters presented last year. Prospective presenters for this year should note that the deadline to register for this event is July 25. Early registrants will get the prime locations for their posters!

The public is invited to attend and to discuss research with the students. As always, refreshments will be served.

Learning to see

How do we learn to see? Proper visual experience during the first weeks and months of life is critical for the proper development of the visual system. But how does experience modify neural circuits so that they exhibit the proper responses to visual stimuli? Knowledge of the mechanisms by which the brain is constructed early in development should inspire new therapies for repairing the brain if it develops improperly or is damaged by disease or injury.

At the present time, it is not possible to directly view all or even most connections within a living neural circuit. Therefore, neuroscientists often build computational models to study how these circuits may be constructed and how they may change with experience. A good model allows scientists to understand how these circuits may work in principle, and offers testable predictions that can be examined in the living animal to either support or refute the model.

Undergraduate Ian Christie ’16 was interested in understanding how neural circuits in the ferret visual system become selective to visual motion. At the time of eye opening, neurons in ferret visual cortex respond to an object moving in either of two opposite directions. With about a week of visual experience, each neuron develops a preference for only one of these directions, and greatly reduces its responses to the opposite direction.

Previous models of this process posited that the primary source of the change was in the organization and pattern of inputs to the cortex. But, recent experiments from the Van Hooser lab (Roy/Osik/Ritter et al., 2016) showed that stimulating the cortex by itself was sufficient to cause the development of motion selectivity, which suggests that some changes within the cortex itself must be underlying the increase in selectivity, at least in part. Further, other experiments in the lab of former Brandeis postdoc Arianna Maffei (Griffen et al., 2012) have shown that the cortex becomes less excitable to focal stimulation over the first weeks after eye opening.

Ian constructed families of computational models that could account for both of these observations. In the model, columns of neurons in the cortex already receive input that is slightly selective for motion in one of two opposite directions, but the connections between these cortical columns are so strong that both columns respond to both directions. However, the activity that is caused by simulated visual experience activates synaptic plasticity mechanisms in the model, that served to greatly reduce the strength of these connections between the columns, allowing motion selectivity to emerge in the cortical columns. The project was supervised by faculty members Paul Miller and Stephen Van Hooser, and the results were published in Journal of Neurophysiology (Christie et al., 2017).

Future experiments will now look for evidence of weaker connectivity between cortical neurons with visual experience.

This work was supported by the “Undergraduate and Graduate Training in Computational Neuroscience” grant to Brandeis University from NIH, and by the National Eye Institute grant EY022122. It also used the Brandeis University High Performance Computing Cluster.

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