Tag Archive for graduate students

Herman Receives Dropkin Postdoctoral Fellowship to Study Evolution of Plant-Pathogen Interactions

Jacob Herman

Jacob Herman

PhD candidate in biology Jacob Herman received a V. Dropkin Postdoctoral Fellowship to research the epigenetics of plant response to pathogen infection at the University of Chicago’s Department of Ecology and Evolution.

The V. Dropkin fellowship funds a postdoctoral researcher for up to four years to study the ecology and evolution of plant-pathogen interactions.

Herman will begin the post-doctoral position after completing his dissertation defense this April. His advisor at Wesleyan is Sonia Sultan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies.

Wesleyan Hosts Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics

More than 200 women undergraduates from the North East who are majoring in physics attended the American Physical Society Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP)

Attendees from the American Physical Society Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics gathered for a group photo. Wesleyan is the first liberal arts college to host a CUWiP.  Pictured in red at far left, assistant professor Chris Othon, and pictured at far right, assistant professor Meredith Hughes co-organized the conference at Wesleyan.

More than 200 women undergraduates from the Northeast attended the American Physical Society Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) Jan. 15-17 at Wesleyan. Wesleyan was one of nine institutions from around the country to host a conference. (View an extensive recap of the conference starting on Page 8 of this APS newsletter.)

The APS CUWiP provides female physics majors with the opportunity to experience a professional conference, information about graduate school and professions in physics, and access to other women in physics with whom they can share experiences, advice and ideas.

The program included panel discussions about graduate school and careers in physics, presentations and discussions about women in physics, laboratory tours, student research talks, a student poster session, banquet and career fair.

Biology PhD Student Bernardo Finds Parasitoids Alter Diets of Hosts

Parasitoid wasp larvae emerging from the carcass of a caterpillar host. (Photo by Melissa Bernardo)

Parasitoid wasp larvae emerging from the carcass of a caterpillar host. (Photo by Melissa Bernardo)

“As far as relationships go, parasitism may seem particularly selfish: one partner benefits at the expense of another. Many parasites even alter the behavior of their hosts to get what they need. Parasitoids are similar, but they usually spend a significant portion of their lives living inside or on their hosts’ bodies and controlling them from the inside-out, before ultimately killing and often consuming them.”

So begins an article in Science Daily featuring research by Melissa Bernardo, a PhD student in biology working with Michael Singer, associate professor of biology, associate professor of environmental studies. Bernardo has been studying how parasites and parasitoids influence feeding behavior of their hosts. Many scientists believe diet manipulation “could be reasonable because the parasite might need different types of nutrients than the host,” according to the article. But this phenomenon has been studied little in the past, and hasn’t been shown conclusively.

In a series of experiments, Bernardo found that when wooly bear caterpillars were allowed to choose between a protein- or carbohydrate-rich diet, those who were unparasitized chose a protein diet, while those parasitized by a type of wasp preferred a carbohydrate diet. In effect, Bernardo said, “The wasps are making their hosts carb-load.”

The article continues

PhD Candidate Colwell Speaks on Throat Singing as Part of Graduate Student Speaker Series

Andrew Colwell, PhD candidate in ethnomusicology, presented “The Conditions of Audibility: Cultural Heritage, Pastoral Sensibility and Global Ambition in Mongol Xöömeí (Throat-singing),” a lecture based on his dissertational research, on Dec. 2 in Exley Science Center.

Andrew Colwell, PhD candidate in ethnomusicology, presented “The Conditions of Audibility: Cultural Heritage, Pastoral Sensibility and Global Ambition in Mongol Xöömeí (Throat-singing),” a lecture based on his dissertational research, on Dec. 2 in Exley Science Center.

In his lecture, Colwell focused on the performance of xöömeí, its conditions of audibility, and the critical questions it poses to ethnomusicology and Mongolian studies’ treatment of places, circulation and belonging.

In his lecture, Colwell focused on the performance of xöömeí, its conditions of audibility, and the critical questions it poses to ethnomusicology and Mongolian studies’ treatment of places, circulation and belonging.

In western Mongolia a project is underway to rehabilitate a once-sacred place into a “natural theater” for the promotion of xöömeí (throat-singing). According to elder generations, a nearby crevice called xavchig was once a venerated site for the pastoral community, due to a sonorous rivulet of mountain water that flows through it. But sometime during the socialist collectivization of herders’ pastoral encampments, the nationalization of their expressive practices, and the censorship of animist or Buddhist spiritual practices in the 20th century, the crevice fell into neglect.

In western Mongolia a project is underway to rehabilitate a once-sacred place into a “natural theater” for the promotion of xöömeí. According to elder generations, a nearby crevice called xavchig was once a venerated site for the pastoral community, due to a sonorous rivulet of mountain water that flows through it. But sometime during the socialist collectivization of herders’ pastoral encampments, the nationalization of their expressive practices, and the censorship of animist or Buddhist spiritual practices in the 20th century, the crevice fell into neglect.

Varekamp, Gilmore Co-Author Articles on Argentina’s Copahue Volcano

Joop Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, professor of earth and environmental sciences, and Marty Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor and chair of professor of earth and environmental sciences, are the co-authors of two book chapters published in Copahue Volcano (Springer Publishers, September 2015)

Copahue Volcano is part of Springer Publishers’ “Active Volcanos of the World” series. Varekamp is the lead author on a chapter with Jim Zareski MA‘14 and Lauren Camfield MA’15. Gilmore and Tristan Kading MA’11 are co-authors with Varekamp on another chapter dealing with terrestrial environments as analogs for Mars. A third chapter, on acid fluids, was written by Varekamp with an Argentinian collaborator. 

Since 1997, Varekamp has worked with Wesleyan undergraduate and graduate students almost every year at Copahue Volcano in Argentina. This project is reaching its closing stages, and has led to 10 peer reviewed published articles, most co-authored with students, four book chapters, six MA theses, and eight senior theses. All these students have subsequently obtained higher degrees in E&ES fields and are currently employed in the broad field of geochemistry and/or volcanology. Varekamp is now focussing his studies on the Newberry volcano in Oregon.

Graduate Students Learn about Wesleyan, Mingle at Picnic Lunch

Wesleyan’s graduate students participated in New Graduate Orientation Sept. 1-2 in Woodhead Lounge. The orientation included a meet and greet with each other and faculty members, tours of campus and

Wesleyan’s graduate students gathered for a picnic lunch Sept. 1 behind Exley Science Center.

Wesleyan’s graduate students participated in New Graduate Orientation Sept. 1-2 in Woodhead Lounge. The orientation included a meet and greet with each other and faculty members, tours of campus and the Office of Graduate Student Services, a session on graduate pedagogy, a chemical hygiene/lab safety training for science students, and a picnic lunch.

Wesleyan has 11 PhD candidates in the Departments of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and Physics; 13 MA students in Astronomy, E&ES and Music; and 18 BA/MAs who received a Wesleyan BA in May 2015 and are staying for one additional year to earn an MA. The graduate students come from the U.S., Iran, Poland, Mexico, Thailand, Africa and Hong Kong.

An additional nine foreign language teaching assistants come from Italy, Spain, France, Japan, China, South Korea and Lebanon. Wesleyan also has one German exchange student and two writing fellows with Wesleyan BA degrees.

Graduate Student Factor Studies Planet Formation Around a Young Star

Sam Factor, a graduate student in astronomy, at the Submillimeter Array, located on Mauna Kea in Hawai'i in March 2015.

Sam Factor, a graduate student in astronomy, at the Submillimeter Array, located on Mauna Kea in Hawai’i in March 2015.

#THISISWHY
In this News @ Wesleyan story, we speak with Sam Factor ’14, a graduate student in astronomy.

Q: Sam, congratulations on completing your master’s thesis in astronomy! We understand you took your first astronomy class in the fall of your senior year at Wesleyan. What was your undergraduate major and how did your late-developing interest in astronomy come about?

A: Thank you very much! As an undergrad, I majored in physics and computer science. During the fall of my senior year I took Introductory Astronomy (ASTR 155). I signed up for the course mainly because I wanted an interesting and relatively easy course to fill out my schedule. I had been interested in astronomy since I was very young, but had never taken a formal class. I absolutely loved the class and decided to apply to the BA/MA program.

Q: How and when did you decide to stay on at Wesleyan to pursue a master’s degree in astronomy?

A: I actually decided to apply to the BA/MA program only a few weeks before the application was due!

Taylor’s Papers Published in Molecular Biosciences, Biochemistry Journals

Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, has co-authored a paper published in FEBS Letters, an international journal established for the rapid publication of final short reports in the fields of molecular biosciences.

The paper, which is an expansion of her lab’s work on the enzyme Heptosyltransferase I, is titled “Cloning and Characterization of the Escherichia coli Heptosyltransferase III: Exploring Substrate Specificity in Lipopolysaccharide Core Biosynthesis,” The paper is co-authored by her former graduate student Jagadesh Mudapaka. FEBS Letters is published by Elsevier on behalf of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies.

Taylor also is the co-author of “Improving Alternate Lignin Catabolite Utilization of LigAB from Sphingobium sp. strain SYK-6 through Site Directed Mutagenesis,” published in Process Biochemistry, June 2015. The work in this paper describes molecular engineering of the enzyme LigAB to be better able to metabolize compounds derived from Lignin. Co-authors include Kevin Barry, PhD ’15; Erin Cohn ’15 and Abraham Ngu ’13.

Taylor presented her research “Thoughts about Adenosine: Efforts in Drug Discovery of Nucleoside Utilizing Enzymes” at the Gordon Research Conference: Nucleosides, Nucleotides and Oligonucleotides in July. Her talk described the work she is performing to help in drug discovery for two enzymes from E. coli, Heptosyltransferase I and the TrmD tRNA methyltransferase, and one human enzyme, p300 histone acetyl transferase.

“Our work in these systems involves computational modeling of interactions between small molecules and the enzymes, to help design new compounds with medical applications,” Taylor explained.

Grad Student Ranasinghe Speaks on Computational Chemistry

#THISISWHY

Duminda Ranasinghe, a Ph.D. candidate in Chemistry, spoke April 16 in Exley in the fourth event of the Graduate Student Speaker Series. (Photos by Hannah Norman ’16.)

Ranasinghe gave a talk titled “Computational Chemistry: Chemistry Without Chemical.”

Ranasinghe gave a talk titled “Computational Chemistry: Chemistry Without Chemical.”

Computational chemistry uses quantum mechanics to predict reactions and molecular properties.

Computational chemistry uses quantum mechanics to predict reactions and molecular properties.

Over the past decade, computational chemistry has become popular with chemists as a tool to explore reactions and molecules. At Wesleyan, researchers are making reliable computational methods, which are accurate and faster than what is currently available.

Over the past decade, computational chemistry has become popular with chemists as a tool to explore reactions and molecules. At Wesleyan, researchers are making reliable computational methods, which are accurate and faster than what is currently available.

Othon, Taylor Students Published in Physical Chemistry Letters

Christina Othon and Erika Taylor, along with physics graduate student Nimesh Shukla, Lee Chen ’15, Inha Cho ’15 and Erin Cohn ’15, are the co-authors of a paper titled “Sucralose Destabilization of Protein Structure” published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, March 2015. Othon is assistant professor of physics and was PI on the paper. Taylor is assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies.

Sucralose is a commonly employed artificial sweetener that behaves very differently than its natural disaccharide counterpart, sucrose, in terms of its interaction with biomolecules. This research suggests that people may need to think about the impact of sucralose (a.k.a. Splenda) on their proteins.

Watch Othon explain associated research in this video. She speaks around the 34 minute mark.

Kaus Investigates Protein Structure by Using X-Ray Crystallography

Katie Kaus, a PhD candidate in molecular biology and biochemistry, spoke on "Molecular Detectives: Investigating Protein Structure using X-ray Crystallography" during the Graduate Student Speaker Series March 26 in Exley Science Center.

Katie Kaus, a PhD candidate in molecular biology and biochemistry, spoke on “Molecular Detectives: Investigating Protein Structure using X-ray Crystallography” during the Graduate Student Speaker Series March 26 in Exley Science Center.

The molecular structure of proteins is an important component in studying how proteins interact with each other, providing information about how cellular processes are carried out by specific proteins, Kaus explained. By studying the structure of specific proteins, scientists can understand why germs make us sick.

The molecular structure of proteins is an important component in studying how proteins interact with each other, providing information about how cellular processes are carried out by specific proteins, Kaus explained. By studying the structure of specific proteins, scientists can understand why germs make us sick.

Kaus focused her presentation on members of a family of proteins called bacterial pore forming toxins (PFTs); specifically Vibrio cholerae cytolysin (VCC) and Vibrio vulnificus hemolysin (VVH). These proteins are secreted by pathogenic strains of the aquatic bacteria, V. cholerae and V. vulnificus. V. cholerae is the human pathogen that causes cholera, an endemic disease in several parts of the world. V. vulnificus is found in contaminated seafood, such as raw oysters, as well as contaminated seawater. V. vulnificus most frequently causes gastrointestinal distress but can also cross from the gut into the blood stream resulting in lethal septicemia.

Kaus focused her presentation on members of a family of proteins called bacterial pore forming toxins (PFTs)–specifically Vibrio cholerae cytolysin (VCC) and Vibrio vulnificus hemolysin (VVH). These proteins are secreted by pathogenic strains of the aquatic bacteria, V. cholerae and V. vulnificus. V. cholerae is the human pathogen that causes cholera, an endemic disease in several parts of the world. V. vulnificus is found in contaminated seafood, such as raw oysters, as well as contaminated seawater. V. vulnificus most frequently causes gastrointestinal distress but can also cross from the gut into the blood stream resulting in lethal septicemia.

VCC and VVH are homologous proteins that are secreted by their respective bacteria, bind to macromolecules at the surface of host cells, and undergo structural changes creating lytic pores in the host cell membrane. As part of her research, Kaus is interested in understanding how these bacterial proteins recognize and specifically attack human cells. Guided by biochemical assays, Kaus used a technique called X­-ray crystallography to identify structural relationships between VCC or VVH and the biomolecules each protein binds.

KVCC and VVH are homologous proteins that are secreted by their respective bacteria, bind to macromolecules at the surface of host cells, and undergo structural changes creating lytic pores in the host cell membrane. As part of her research, Kaus is interested in understanding how these bacterial proteins recognize and specifically attack human cells. Guided by biochemical assays, Kaus used a technique called X­-ray crystallography to identify structural relationships between VCC or VVH and the biomolecules each protein binds.

X-­ray crystallography involves obtaining protein molecules in a crystalline form and taking advantage of the manner in which an X­ray beam is diffracted by the atoms that make up these protein crystals, to determine their arrangement within the 3-D space of a protein molecule. Pictured, Kaus looks at crystals under a microscope in Hall Atwater Laboratory.

X-­ray crystallography involves obtaining protein molecules in a crystalline form and taking advantage of the manner in which an X­ray beam is diffracted by the atoms that make up these protein crystals, to determine their arrangement within the 3-D space of a protein molecule. Pictured, Kaus looks at crystals under a microscope in Hall-Atwater Laboratory.

By using this approach, Kaus identified similar, yet distinct molecular mechanisms employed by VCC and VVH to specifically recognize and attack host cell membranes. Understanding how these proteins specifically attack human cells will aid in developing treatments against V. cholerae and V. vulnificus infection.

By using this approach, Kaus identified similar, yet distinct molecular mechanisms employed by VCC and VVH to specifically recognize and attack host cell membranes. Understanding how these proteins specifically attack human cells will aid in developing treatments against V. cholerae and V. vulnificus infection. (Photos by Olivia Drake)