Ivanovic Receives 2017 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award

photo: Mike Lovett

Assistant Professor of Biochemistry Tijana Ivanovic has received a 2017 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. This award is part of the NIH’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, designed to fund early career investigators who propose innovative and potentially transformative projects. Ivanovic will receive $1,500,000 in direct costs over five years to spearhead a research program aimed at comprehensively characterizing molecular changes in the viral cell-entry protein hemagglutinin (HA) that define pandemic influenza viruses. With the generated insights, Ivanovic hopes to ultimately be in a position to predict the pandemic potential of influenza viruses circulating in nature.

HA densely covers the influenza virion surface, where it allows the virus to both recognize and penetrate (fuse with) the cells of its host. HA is also a key target of neutralizing antibodies that protect us from influenza infection. An influenza pandemic is characterized by the adaptation of a new HA subtype to cell entry into human cells (of what was originally an avian virus). Without the pre-existing immunity to protect us, the virus quickly spreads around the globe. During pandemic adaptation, both HA functions in target-cell recognition and membrane fusion undergo key molecular changes. Ivanovic will use a custom-built Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence Microscope (TIRFM) to visualize, in real time, individual virus particles as they engage and fuse with target cell membranes. This system will allow her to obtain large-scale quantitative information about distinct HA functions at an unprecedented level of detail. She will compare avian viruses with their evolutionary offspring that infected humans, including past pandemic strains. She hopes to develop models for predicting which viruses will lead to a major flu outbreak.

Ivanovic obtained a PhD in virology from Harvard University and carried out postdoctoral research with Stephen Harrison in molecular biophysics. She integrates these diverse backgrounds in her laboratory, where members are trained across these two and other synergistic areas (such as laser microscope optics, and analytical and computational modeling). The funds from the New Innovator award have created new opportunities for hiring, and the lab is actively recruiting postdocs, PhD students (from the Biochemistry and Biophysics, Molecular and Cell Biology, and Physics graduate programs) and undergraduate researchers to undertake this ambitious program.

Stanley Deser’s Influence on the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics

Written by Albion Lawrence

Deser, Arnowitt, & Miser

Bornholm 1959
From the left, Richard Arnowitt, Charles Misner and Stanley Deser

Today’s Physics Nobel Prize to Rai Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Barry Barish for the detection by the LIGO experiment of gravitational waves is a well-deserved recognition of a remarkable achievement through perseverance. However, it is the nature of prizes such as the Nobel that they obscure the important efforts and insights of many scientists across space and time that lead to the result in question.

Stanley DeserThe extraction of a gravitational wave signal from the output of the LIGO detector requires understanding in advance what signals can be produced; these are based on numerical simulations of astrophysical events which provide templates that a signal must match.

This is possible due to the seminal work of Brandeis emeritus faculty Stanley Deser, with his colleagues Richard Arnowitt and Charles Misner, who developed the mathematical framework known as the ADM formalism, to treat general relativity as a Hamiltonian system; with this, the evolution in time of the gravitational field can be computed from initial conditions.

In addition, Stanley was instrumental in the LIGO experiment being funded in the first place. The story is best told by him in his inimitable style (here quoted from an email, and lightly expurgated):

“Marcel Bardon, then [director] of NSF physics, made me an offer I’d better not refuse. I was nominated to some advisory committee in order to plead for LIGO in front of my betters, who would then go to Congress, if convinced. Those were dark days for waves, experimentally; we (ADM) of course knew the Lord was not evil, but 3 suns’ worth we did not expect!….It worked quite well, and was duly made a line item.”

Additional information:

Gregory Widberg named State Command Sergeant Major for the Massachusetts National Guard

Greg Widberg, Senior Mechanical Engineer in Physics, has been selected to be the 8th State Command Sergeant Major for the Massachusetts National Guard. Greg, who also performs repair work in the Division of Science, will be the senior enlisted advisor to Gary W. Keefe, Major General and The Adjutant General for the Massachusetts National Guard.

Roland Maher, Operations Manager for the Physics Department, said, As Gregory Widberg’s supervisor, I want to congratulate Greg on this opportunity with the Massachusetts National Guard.  All of us who know and respect Greg are proud of his accomplishments and wish him the all best with this wonderful opportunity. I am very sorry that we will be without Greg’s services and look forward to his return upon completion of his service to the Massachusetts National Guard.

Congratulations to Greg on his achievement!

Bjoern Penning is New Assistant Professor of Physics

Bjoern PenningBjoern Penning has joined the Physics department as a new Assistant Professor. He researches dark matter (DM) and has performed direct DM searches at the LUX-Zeplin (LZ) experiment and collider DM searches with CMS and ATLAS.

At Brandeis, he is a member of the High-Energy Physics Group. He will focus on direct dark matter searches with LZ and phenomenological dark matter research.

Penning received his Ph.D. from the University of Freiburg. Previous to his arrival at Brandeis, Penning was a Lecturer in Experimental Particle Physics at the University of Bristol.

Penning will teach Particle Physics (PHYS 107b) during the Fall 2017 semester.

Marcelle Soares-Santos Joins the Physics Department

Marcelle Soares-Santos

Marcelle Soares-Santos is joining Brandeis as an Assistant Professor in the Physics department starting in September 2017. Soares-Santos will continue her research into the nature of the accelerated expansion of the Universe.  She is also a member of the Dark Energy Survey (DES) Collaboration and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Dark Energy Science Collaboration (LSST/DESC).

Nature recently profiled Marcelle in “Turning point: Galactic groundbreaker. In the article, she discusses her research, career trajectory and future plans.

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

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