Teaching awards for Hickey & Thomas

Professor of Computer Science Tim Hickey and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Christine Thomas are among the 2012 winners of major Brandeis teaching awards.  Hickey won the Lerman-Neubauer ’69 Prize for Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring. Thomas received the Michael L. Walzer ’56 Award for Teaching.

Among the comments from student nominators:

When I first met Professor Hickey in the fall of my first year during my COSI 2A class, he was incredibly knowledgeable, patient, encouraging and caring about our progress in his class…

Professor Christine Thomas might be the most dedicated, passionate teacher I have ever had…

See the full story at Brandeis NOW.

American Academy of Arts & Sciences elects Turrigiano, Luo and Berger.

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences recently announced its 2012 class of Fellows, including 3 current and former Brandeis scientists.

Professor of Biology Gina Turrigiano and graduate alumnus Liqun Luo (PhD ’92, Biology) were elected in the Neurosciences, Cognitive Sciences, and Behavioral Biology section. Undergraduate alumna Bonnie Berger ’83 was elected in the Mathematics section.

Turrigiano’s lab works on the plasticity of synaptic and intrinsic properties of cortical neurons and circuits. Turrigiano has been previously honored with a MacArthur Fellowship and with the Human Frontier Science Program Nakasone Award for “frontier-moving research in biology“. Luo, who did his graduate research with Kalpana White at Brandies,  is now Professor of Biology at Stanford University and an HHMI Investigator. His lab studies how neural circuits are organized and assembled during development. Berger discovered her interest and talent for math as an undergraduate at Brandeis, graduating with a degree in computer science. She obtained her PhD at MiT, where she is now Professor of Applied Mathematics and head of the Computation and Biology group at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Berger has continued to support Brandeis through her active membership in the Brandeis University Science Advisory Council.

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences elects leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs. Among the others elected this year are Mel Brooks, Clint Eastwood, Frederica von Stade, Melinda Gates and Hilary Clinton.

See also Brandeis NOW.

UPDATE (5/1/2012): Liqun Luo was elected to the National Academy of Sciences this year.

Sprout Grants Awarded to Seven Groups

Another Brandeis NOW story covers the results of the 2012 Sprout Grant competition. Of 20 applications received, half were software related, half life sciences and physical science-related, so the groups were judged separately. Thirteen groups were asked to return for a second round of interviews, coaching and presentations to outside panels of industry judges.  Seven groups were awarded grants:

2012 Sprout Grant winners, life and physical sciences:

  • 
Radiation detector, Wellenstein, PI $20,000
  • Tuberculosis treatment, therapeutic, Hedstrom, PI $17,000
  • Cold Stage for Light Microscopy, microscope tools, Turrigiano, PI $16,000
  • Conditional gene silencing, research tool, Lau PI, $6,000

2012 Sprout Grant winners, software:

  • Innermost Labs, social network. Sahar Massachi and Adam Hughes, $7,500
  • Digital Learning Analytics, learning analytics, Larusson PI  $6,000
  • Campus Bash, social network, Y. Sebag, and M. Jafferji $6,500

For more information about the projects and the judging process, read the story at Brandeis NOW.

In local news: translating Chinese, pre-meds at Brandeis, experiential learning

While the editor of this blog has been busy with other tasks, several new stories about Science at Brandeis have appeared at Brandeis NOW, the main campus news site:

What’s behind the curtain

Thanks to a gift from Vertica, an HP company, the Department of Computer Science is doing some remodeling in the Volen Center, creating a modern computer laboratory lounge for our students. Classroom 105 is being moved to Volen 119, formerly known as the Berry Patch; Rooms 104 and 105 are being combined and fit with soft furniture, workstations, and group work tables as a comfortable place to sit and work individually and on group projects. We are also upgrading the furniture in the Volen lobby itself.

 

 

 

The CS Systems Operations page says:

2011-06-15: The Berry Patch […] will be closing for renovations on 6/17/2011. The workstations in room 118 next door will remain available, as will the remote shell servers (coeus and themis); several other workstations will also be accessible for remote-only use.

Light buffers the wake‐promoting effect of dopamine

Sleep is driven and regulated by the integration of diverse internal and external (environmental) cues. Light is known to be a potent inhibitor of sleep in diurnal animals (awake during daylight hours and sleep at night), including both humans and fruit flies. Yet wakefulness does not scale linearly with light intensity and a lack of light does not automatically result in sleep. (Evolution seems unlikely to favor animals who become hyperactive in dangerously hot midday sunlight and fall asleep in an uncontrollable narcoleptic fashion when the sun goes down, unable to wake until the next morning.) The sleep regulatory system must be plastic — capable of weighing the relative importance of incoming sleep and wake‐promoting cues, and buffering the effects of those cues on sleep drive accordingly. In a recent Nature Neuroscience paper from a team led by postdoc Yuhua Shang (Rosbash lab), with collaborators from the Griffth, Pollack, and Hong labs at Brandeis, we determined at the cell and molecular level how the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, is able to buffer the wake‐promoting effects of the neurotransmitters dopamine and octopamine in the presence of light in order to maintain a proper sleep:wake balance.

It is known that dopamine and octopamine both promote wakefulness in flies. Previous work in the Rosbash and Griffith labs has shown that 10 neurons in the Drosophila brain that release the neuropeptide pigment‐dispersing factor (PDF), known as the l‐LNvs, are critical for transducing the wake‐promoting effects of light. Quantifying mRNAs from all 18 PDF-expressing neurons revealed an enrichment of octopamine and dopamine receptors specifically in the ten wake‐promoting l‐LNvs. We wondered if the l‐LNvs were also able to respond to and transduce the wake‐promoting effects of dopamine and octopamine, and if so, how these effects were integrated with the wake‐promoting effects of light by these cells.

Figure: The l-LNvs use two parallel intracellular pathways to regulate the stimulating effects of DA and OA. Both DA and OA increase the cAMP levels in the l-LNvs. Light in the housing environment suppresses the effects of both DA and OA, but in different ways. In the case of dopamine, light induces increased expression of an inhibitory D2R receptor and in the case of octopamine, the effect is dependent on the circadian clock (Per.)

Using a fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET)‐based cyclic AMP reporter expressed in all 18 Pdf neurons, we were able to see robust responses to both octopamine and dopamine in only the t0 l‐LNvs, confirming the mRNA result. To verify that the l‐LNvs are in fact in close apposition to presynaptic octopaminergic and dopaminergic neurons, we looked for reconstitution of a split GFP protein between pre- and post‐synaptic cells. With different GFP fragments expressed at the membrane of the l‐LNvs and presynaptic dopaminergic or octopaminergic neurons, reconstituted GFP would only be visible if these cell populations were in close contact. Reconstituted GFP was seen in both cases around l‐LNv cell bodies and dendritic areas.

To determine the behavioral effect of increased dopaminergic neuron activity on sleep, we transiently hyper‐excited the dopaminergic neurons in flies using the Garrity lab’s heat‐activated dTrpA1 channel. When the housing temperature of flies expressing dTrpA1 in dopaminergic neurons was increased, activating dTrpA1 activity, flies exhibited increased wakefulness. Interestingly, this increased wakefulness was much greater in flies housed in constant darkness as compared to those housed in light:dark cycling conditions. This suggested that the l‐LNvs are a convergence point for the wakepromoting effects of dopamine and light. FRET analysis confirmed this, showing that the l‐LNv response to both dopamine and octopamine is much weaker in flies kept in light:dark conditions as compared to those kept in constant darkness. We then determined that light causes increased expression of an inhibitory dopamine receptor, resulting in a weaker excitatory response to dopamine by the l‐LNvs. In the case of octopamine, the circadian clock was found to regulate the effects of light. Such plasticity allows flies to maintain similar amounts of total sleep in varying environmental conditions, decreasing the relevance of internally generated wake‐promoting cues, in the presence of stronger environmental cues (light). It will be interesting to see how these results generalize to mammals, since light and dopamine also both promote wakefulness in mammals.

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