Former Marder Student Receives Prestigious Award

Vatsala Thirumalai

Photo: NCBS

A former graduate student from Eve Marder’s lab has received the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize for 2020.  Vatsala Thirumalai was a graduate student in the Marder lab from 1996 to 2002. She received her PhD in Neuroscience from Brandeis University in 2002.

Thirumalai was one of twelve researchers to receive India’s highest science award. She is a faculty member in the Biochemistry, Biophysics and Bioinformatics department at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India. Her lab is focused on neural circuits that control movement during development and adulthood in animals.

The Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize is awarded by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to Indian scientists below the age of 45 for outstanding research in seven fields—Biology, Chemistry, Environment Science, Engineering, Mathematics, Medicine and Physics.

After receiving her degree from Brandeis, Vatsala did post-doctoral fellowships in Neuroscience at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, NY and the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD.

More info: CSIR Announces Awardees of Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize for 2020Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize 2020: 12 researchers receive India’s highest science award.

Alum, Past Postdoc Receive Awards from Breakthrough Prize Foundation

Netta Engelhardt

Netta Engelhardt. photo: MIT

Lisa Piccirillo

Lisa Piccirillo. photo: Quanta Magazine.

Lisa Piccirillo, a recent Brandeis postdoc and Netta Engelhardt, a Brandeis undergraduate alumni have received two awards from the Breakthrough Prize Foundation. While the Breakthrough Prizes are intended to help scientific leaders gain financial freedom, the New Horizons award and the Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize focus on young scientists early in their careers.

The Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize is awarded to early-career women mathematicians. Lisa Piccirillo received this prize for her work in resolving the Conway Knot problem. Piccirillo was a postdoc working with Daniel Ruberman, Professor of Mathematics, from 2019 until her recent appointment as Assistant Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Netta Engelhardt, is part of a group that received the 2021 New Horizons in Physics Prize. Netta and three other scientists were awarded for their research in calculating the quantum information content of a black hole and its radiation. Engelhardt is currently an Assistant Professor of Physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was a 2011 graduate who majored in Physics. She received a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship prior to graduating from Brandeis.

 

Andrea Guerrero and Gina Turrigiano Receive 2020 Gilliam Fellowship

Gina Turrigiano & Andrea Guerrero

Andrea Guerrero (left) and Gina Turrigiano (right)

Andrea Guerrero, a Neuroscience PhD student working in the Turrigiano lab, a 2020 Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study recipient. The Gilliam Fellowship is awarded to the student and dissertation adviser, therefore Gina Turrigiano will also participate in this fellowship. Turrigiano said, “I am really pleased that Andrea was awarded this fellowship, which recognizes her potential to become a scientific leader.  I am also really excited at the opportunity to improve my mentoring skills that this terrific program provides to me as her PhD advisor.”

The purpose of the Gilliam Fellowship is to increase diversity among scientists who are preparing for leadership roles, particularly as college and university faculty members.  Fellows receive up to three years of support for dissertation research, typically in years three, four, and five of their PhD study. The Gilliam Fellowship is part of HHMI.

In response to receiving the award Guerrero said, “I am honored and excited to be selected as a 2020 HHMI Gilliam Fellowship recipient as it will aid my own advancement in an academic-track career and will importantly promote diversity and inclusion within the Brandeis science community.”

Andrea describes her research as follows:

“The human Shank3 gene is strongly associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Shank3 protein functions as a scaffold that plays a crucial role in synapse formation and maintenance. Prior work in our lab supports the idea that differential Shank3 phosphorylation alters its activity. Phosphomimetic and phosphodeficient mutants show dysfunction in the mechanisms that normally maintain brain circuitry homeostasis. In order to understand how Shank3 is able to do this, I will investigate how the phosphorylation state of Shank3 changes its synaptic localization, protein binding interactions, and cellular signaling pathways in vitro. Additionally, I will assess the effects of overexpression of Shank3 phosphorylation mutants on synaptic plasticity within the rodent primary visual cortex. My research project has the potential to uncover novel cellular pathways that can be targeted for ASD therapeutic development.”

 

 

Susan Lovett elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Susan LovettSusan Lovett, the Abraham S. and Gertrude Burg Professor of Microbiology, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was among the 276 outstanding individuals that were elected to the Academy in 2020 and announced on April 23. Brandeis University Professor, Anita Hill, joins Professor Lovett as a 2020 member of AAAS.

The Lovett lab studies the fundamental mechanisms by which cells preserve genetic information by the study of DNA damage repair and mutation avoidance in the model organism Escherichia coli. Additionally, they research how cell cycle events including DNA replication and chromosome segregation are coupled to cellular physiology and to the status of the chromosome.

Lovett joins other Brandeis science faculty members: Jeff Gelles, Gina Turrigiano, James Haber, Michael Rosbash, Eve Marder, David Derosier, Gregory Petsko, Stanley Deser, and Edgar Brown, Jr.

Founded in 1780, the Academy recognizes the outstanding achievements of individuals in academia, the arts, business, government, and public affairs.

Read more: BrandeisNow

Shinji Rho named 2020 Goldwater Scholar

Shinji Rho, Brandeis UndergraduateCongratulations to Shinji Rho who has been named a 2020 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.

Shinji is currently a junior. Her project at Brandeis is on a transcriptional activator Gal4, which binds to upstream activating sequence (UAS) sites in the yeast genome to promote transcription. Previous studies have shown that dwell time of Gal4 on the UAS is significantly longer in purified systems than in cells. She is interested in finding the reason for this dwell time difference using single-molecule light microscopy. The findings of her project will provide a more realistic view of how transcription activation system behaves when nuclear proteins are present. 

Shinji plans to obtain a PhD degree in cancer biology, ultimately conducting research on developing more accurate and easily accessible breast cancer diagnosis methods.

Her mentor is Jeff Gelles, Aron and Imre Tauber Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology.

 

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.

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