Tag Archives: chemistry

Faculty Spotlight: Jason Pontrello

Jason K. Pontrello
Jason K. Pontrello, Associate Professor of Chemistry, will be teaching Organic Chemisty this summer at Brandeis.

Brandeis Summer School interviewed Jason Pontrello, Ph.D, an assistant professor in Chemistry at Brandeis University.  Jason has been teaching at Brandeis since the Fall of 2008 and will be teaching two courses this summer.  Check out the great interview below:

 

Brandeis University Summer School: How are your lab classes different than most?

Jason Pontrello: My lab courses focus on hypothesis development and interpretation of data rather than reproduction of expected or anticipated results from prior work. Half the lab experiments in the Fall semester incorporate the synthesis of a small molecule designed to inhibit the Tat protein/TAR-RNA interaction necessary for HIV replication. The experiments in the Spring semester incorporate the synthesis of metalloprotease inhibitors as well as compounds designed to affect protein aggregation in Huntington’s Disease. Students find, follow, and adapt procedures recently published in scientific literature, rather than relying on standardized textbook experiments. To carry out the reactions, students must learn how to use equipment that is commonly used in synthetic chemistry research labs. In addition, the Huntington’s Disease project represents a collaboration between introductory organic and biology teaching labs. The compounds organic chemistry students synthesize are tested in both in vitro and in vivo assays in the biology lab.

BUSS: What courses will you be teaching this summer?

JP: Organic Chemistry Lectures (Chemistry 25a/b) and Organic Chemistry Laboratories (Chemistry 29a/b)

BUSS: What do you think are the benefits of Brandeis Summer School for students?

JP: While the pace of a summer course is challenging to adapt to and required commitment to the enrolled course, the structure of the program and small size of the class (about 40 students) compared with the Fall/Spring semesters carry substantial benefits. Students are immersed in the subject of organic chemistry during 2 hour lecture, 4 days a week. This makes it possible to begin talking about a topic, and to finish during the same lecture or the next day. During the Fall/Spring semesters, with 3 lectures a week, topics often become fragmented and relevance can be lost as students are focusing on many other course requirements as well. I also noticed a strong group dynamic created among students in the summer classes. This same dynamic is experienced during Fall/Spring semesters, but it is more focused around the smaller recitations rather than the larger lecture course as a whole.

Biology Curriculum Change

Attention Prospective Biology majors:

As many of you know, Biology is of one of the largest majors that is offered at Brandeis University.  The graduate school acceptance rates are so incredible that they attract “biophiliacs” from all over the world, literally.  Upon your arrival at Brandeis, you can immediately spot all of the Bio majors, usually by their heavy textbooks, 100 Carbonless Duplicate Paged Laboratory notebooks, and TI-80+ calculators.  These students came here for an understanding of fundamental and current biological knowledge in various areas, and nothing will stand in their way.

Some of you might be s little intimidated by the General Chemistry prerequisite, but fear not, Brandeis has adapted to the needs of its students and has provided alternatives!  Let’s just to take a few steps backwards, Biology is broken up into two sub sections, a bachelor’s degree of Arts and a bachelor’s degree of Science.  Both appear to require a year of General Chemistry before students decide to enroll in basic Biology courses.  Chemistry provides the foundation of Biology; however, if you have found that Chemistry is really not your forté, then read the following to learn how you can still get that degree in Biology:

1. Before you make any rash decisions, be sure to give Chemistry a chance during the shopping period.  It will definitely be helpful to sit in a Brandeis science class before embarking on more advanced courses.  If you seem to be leaning more towards dropping the course at the end of the shopping period, perhaps shop BIOL 15B Human Implications as well.

2.  If after the shopping period you feel that Chemistry is not for you, then talk to the professor and advisor to a second and third opinion.  The BIOL 15B course that was just mentioned is just one alternative for students that still want to pursue the Biology major.  It still satisfies the BIOL 22A/B prerequisite and you learn a lot on an introductory level.

3.  Perhaps you have taken AP Chemistry and/or AP Biology in high school, or a similar course, and you feel very confident in your science skills, then you should meet with your advisor and see what he or she thinks is the next best move for you.  Although the majority of students that enroll in BIOL 22A/B are sophomores, the course is open to exceptionally well-prepared first-year students.

After one has satisfied the core requirements for this major, students have the opportunity to pursue a specific field of interest or can continue to learn about the different biological courses and concepts that Brandeis has to offer.  In addition to the exceptional courses, these students also reserve the opportunity to participate in laboratory research and attend departmental colloquia.

Upon graduation, these Brandeis biology majors have many doors that open for them.  Depending on the courses that were taken and the individual’s interests, the student could pursue his or her graduate level education in dentistry, medicine, veterinary medicine, and allied health professions.  The student can also elect to join the work force as a biological researcher.   Others may choose to combine their other majors and/or minors to go in a completely different direction post-undergrad like law school, business, or education.  The possibilities are endless.  For more information, please visit the Biology University Bulletin.

IMPORTANT NOTE: For those interested in furthering their education in graduate studies of medicine, dentistry, and/or veterinary medicine, be sure to research their requirements or recommended requirements before you decide to not take General Chemistry.  Many of these schools strongly recommend some sort of chemistry background as it will be helpful in your future studies.

If you want to get a jumpstart on your Biology major requirements, be sure to keep an eye out for Summer 2012 Courses!