Alumni and Student Researchers Wow Crowd at 2019 SciFest

With a new alumni symposium in the morning and a poster session filling three floors of the Science Center atrium in the afternoon, this year’s SciFest IX set a new standard for Brandeis Science’s annual celebration of undergraduate research.


Photos: Heratch Ekmekjian

Since 2011, a poster session featuring the results from ongoing projects belonging to undergraduates doing science research has been the high point of summer in the Division of Science at Brandeis. This year, for the first time, we invited Brandeis alumni scientists to speak in a morning symposium entitled “A Celebration of Brandeis’ Undergraduate Science Education”, including:

Students and faculty in the audience were treated to a history of Brandeis and reflections on many of the Brandeis professors and courses that set them on their career path and whose influence persists to the present in how they approach their science, and on lessons they learned that continue to guide their work.

After lunch in the campus center, the crowd climbed up to the Shapiro Science Center for the poster session. 123 students presented 117 posters on topics from high-energy physics to biomaterials and from quantum chemistry to fruit fly behavior. As President Ron Liebowitz noted in an email to the Science community after the event:

The energy in Shapiro during the poster session was electric.  The students’ confidence and excitement over sharing their research can only give us great optimism about the future: they are “all in” when it comes to doing basic research, but also seeing how such research can be applied in the name of helping others.

Many of the posters can be found in the hallway in Gerstenzang – look for them when classes start again in a few weeks!

SciFest IX by the numbers

  • 117 posters
  • 123 student presenters (out of approx. 210 summer student researchers)
    • 105 Brandeis students
      • 99 presenting research done on campus
      • 6 presenting work done over the summer off-campus
    • 18 visiting students
  • 45 Brandeis faculty advisors from 7 departments
    • Biochemistry (7)
    • Biology (18)
    • Chemistry (8)
    • Computer Science (1)
    • Physics (6)
    • Psychology (5)
    • Sociology (1)

Even Dankowicz is named 2019 Goldwater Scholar

Even Dankowicz, fly image

photo: Even Dankowicz

Even Dankowicz, a rising senior majoring in Biology, has been named a 2019 Goldwater Scholar. The Goldwater Scholarship is a national scholarship designed to encourage outstanding students in their sophomore and junior year to pursue research careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering.

He has always been particularly interested in animals (including insects), but it was a high school biology teacher that inspired Even to think more seriously about working with insects. “Insects and other arthropods seemed especially worth studying because they are disproportionately diverse and abundant, making up ~95% of the species I found in my yard. Up close, they are also often exceptionally beautiful.” The image above is one of his favorites – it is a wasp-like flower fly from his yard in Illinois.

After his freshman year at Brandeis, Even spent the summer at the Smithsonian revising the taxonomy of a tropical Asian Mydas-fly genus, discovering six new species. Last summer he worked at Harvard on a gene-sequence-based evolutionary tree of a tropical Asian butterfly genus. He has continued to be involved with both of these projects/research groups, and is currently back at the Smithsonian looking at the comparative morphology of fly pupae.

Along with Colleen Hitchcock, Assistant Professor of Ecology, Even worked on local biodiversity-focused citizen science, which has shown him the potential value of this data and motivated him to curate insect observations on iNaturalist and BugGuide, two citizen science websites. Even (with Chris Cohen from East Carolina University) recently contributed an article to Fly Times titled “Diptera and iNaturalist: A case study from Asiloidea”. The article provides a detailed description of iNaturalist. Dankowicz and Cohen used this platform extensively for their studies in Diptera.

In the future, Even says that he thinks he’d like to keep working with insects, “either to understand their evolution or another aspect of their biology.” This spring, Even took an class on evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) with Assistant Professor Maria de Boef Miara, which has been useful in his current project at the Smithsonian. Additionally, he is starting to work on applications for graduate school next year.

Sadelain and Campana to receive the 2019 Gabbay Award

2019 Gabbay Award winners

Michel Sadelain, the director of the Center for Cell Engineering at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), and Dario Campana, a professor of pediatrics at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS) will receive the 2019 Jacob and Louise Gabbay Award in Biotechnology and Medicine on October 2, 2019 at 4:00 PM. Michel Sadelin and Dario Campana will deliver a talk at that time.

Both scientists received the Gabbay award this year for their research into CAR T-cell therapy that has resulted in breakthrough cancer treatments.

The Gabbay Award was created in 1998 by the Jacob and Louise Gabbay Foundation in order to recognize scientists working in academia, medicine or industry for their outstanding achievements developing scientific content and significant results in the biomedical sciences.

Read more at BrandeisNow.

The Third Annual Scientific Video Contest is being offered by MRSEC

MRSEC logoThe Third Annual Scientific Video Contest has arrived! Use your videography skills to share MRSEC-related findings with the world and possibly win a great prize. Create a 90-second video that showcases MRSEC-related research — you can make animations, narrate slides, or even act out your research.

Winning videos will be:

  • under 90 seconds;
  • accessible to non-specialists; and
  • convey the significance of Brandeis-MRSEC research

Displaying the Brandeis MRSEC logo and describing how a specific research project or question is improved by being included in a center grant will make for a truly great video.

All videos will be linked to/associated with the BrandeisMRSEC YouTube account (playlist!). If you include images/songs/videos developed by someone else, please make sure that is permissible. Some helpful tips: www.theedublogger.com

Here are the details:

Online Application: http://bit.ly/2pDZKbr
Deadline: Submissions will be accepted until Monday, July 8th, 2019. Winners will be announced mid July.

Who can enter?

Any Brandeis-affliated undergraduate, graduate student, post-doc, staff or faculty person is eligible to enter and make a video about Brandeis-MRSEC research. You do not need to be a MRSEC member to win.

Prizes?

The top three videographers will receive prizes:

  • 1st place: a MacBook Air (or PC equivalent)
  • 2nd place: an iPad (or PC equivalent)
  • 3rd place: a Wacom graphics tablet

Need inspiration?

Tutorials:

Eve Marder and Irving Epstein named University Professors

 

Eve Marder & Irving Epstein

Congratulations to Eve Marder, Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfield Professor of Neuroscience and Irving Epstein, Henry F. Fischbach Professor of Chemistry, for being named University Professors. This is one of the most prestigious academic honors at Brandeis University. This honor is bestowed on faculty members whose renown crosses disciplinary boundaries; who have achieved exceptional scholarly or professional distinction within the academic community; and whose appointment will enhance the university’s reputation. Read more at BrandeisNow

NeuroSeq and cell diversity in the nervous system

The central nervous system has the most cellular diversity of any organ in the body, but how does this diversity arise?

While the presumption is that genetic programs specify each neuron type, our understanding of these programs is in its infancy. To begin uncovering the underlying design principles of neuronal architecture in the brain, scientists from the Nelson Lab at Brandeis University and the HHMI Janelia Research Campus jointly formed the NeuroSeq project to profile genetic programs in a monumental number of neurons throughout the nervous system. Selected neurons were from transgenic animals to facilitate access among the scientific community for future functional studies. While single cell sequencing is the most popular method for transcriptome profiling, its technical limitations only provide a shallow view of molecular profiles. To go deeper, the NeuroSeq program assessed transcription in pools of nearly 200 genetically identified mouse cell types. NeuroSeq captured 80% of single gene copies and could even assess splice isoforms.

What did the NeuroSeq effort find?

Interestingly, two unique classes of genes lie at the heart of adult neuronal identity. Homeobox transcription factors and long genes explain a great deal of the neuronal diversity in the central nervous system. This extends the role of homeobox genes well beyond development and into neuronal identity maintenance. It also highlights long genes as an important class of neuronal identity effectors. Long genes are long due to insertion of foreign elements, and they come with costs, namely increased energy consumption and risk of mutations. These costs seem to be overcome by the benefits of neuronal diversification. We are excited to spotlight the NeuroSeq project in providing a unique resource for future discoveries concerning neuronal diversity and function.

The data resource is available at neuroseq.janelia.org, and the findings are described in a recent paper in eLife. Brandeis-affiliated authors on the paper include Professor Sacha Nelson, former postdoc Ken Sugino PhD ’05 (now at HHMI Janelia), current postdoc Erin Clark, and former research scientist Yasuyuki Shima.

Genome illustration

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