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Students in HHMI Program publish their research
November 21, 2012Tweet
Two undergraduate students who conducted interdisciplinary research through Binghamton University’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute Program have had their work published in scientific papers.
William Marsiglia, a senior majoring in biochemistry and a recipient of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, is co-author on a paper that represents years of his work in the lab. Joshua Rosenkranz, a 2012 graduate with a degree in computer science and currently a software engineer at IBM, is first author on a paper describing his HHMI project that he presented by video at an international conference in Crete.
The Binghamton HHMI Program was Rosenkranz’s introduction to research.
“I wanted to see what I could do in the actual world with the knowledge I got from class,” Rosenkranz said. “With research, you can actually see how some of what you’re doing in class applies to real life, and you feel very accomplished when something gets done.”
Binghamton University’s HHMI Program is the product of a $1.4 million, four-year grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to fund undergraduate interdisciplinary research opportunities focused on solving problems in the life sciences. Undergraduate students with majors in mathematics, the life sciences, the physical sciences, computer science, systems science and engineering spend a year working in teams with faculty mentors on an interdisciplinary collaborative project.
Through the HHMI Program, Rosenkranz worked under Lijun Yin, associate professor of computer science, to use image stitching to create a panoramic image of the ancient biological forest site in Gilboa.
“Rather than being able to view the whole site at low resolution, you were able to see a huge, high-resolution image where you could zoom in far enough to see a piece of dirt,” Rosenkranz said.
Yin encouraged Rosenkranz to submit a paper about the project to the International Symposium on Visual Computing. The paper, “Panorama Image Construction Using Multiple-Photos Stitching from Biological Data,” was accepted, and Rosenkranz presented at the conference in Crete via video.
Rosenkranz, along with Yin and undergraduate partner Yuan Xu, worked with William Stein, associate professor of biological sciences, on the project. He said he found the interdisciplinary aspect of the project to be both challenging and rewarding.
“It’s hard because when you don’t know how another person’s discipline works, it can be very difficult to understand how they are going to go about completing their objective,” Rosenkranz said. “But it is all about communication. Once we figured that out, it was a lot better.”
Marsiglia, who already had two years of research experience under his belt when he was accepted into the HHMI Program, said the program’s focus on interdisciplinary research made it unique.
“It’s great to get exposure to a different field,” Marsiglia said. “In biochemistry you can make a drug, but someone needs to test it. My partner Joseph Petro, a neuroscience major, showed me how experiments work on rats. The biggest accomplishment for me was understanding how interdisciplinary research works practically.”
Marsiglia and Petro worked on a research team with Christof Grewer, associate professor of physical chemistry, and Jilla Sabeti, assistant professor of psychology. The team tested a receptor-inhibiting chemical on rats that had been exposed to alcohol over time to see what effects the drug could have on alcoholism.
“We found that the rats who were alcoholics and received the drug actually learned better than the rats who weren’t exposed to anything, even the alcohol. The drug has the potential for being able to treat alcoholism,” Marsiglia said.
Although Marsiglia completed the Binghamton-HHMI Program, he has continued working in Grewer’s lab, synthesizing molecules. He was second author on a paper, “Defining Substrate and Blocker Activity of Alanine-Serine-Cysteine Transporter 2 (ASCT2) Ligands with Novel Serine Analogs,” which was published in the Journal of Molecular Pharmacology.
“Publishing a paper at such an early stage in his undergraduate career is not the norm,” Grewer said of Marsiglia. “I believe that the many awards that he has received, including the HHMI fellowship and the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater award, attest to the high quality of his work.”
Anna Tan-Wilson, HHMI program director and distinguished teaching professor of biological sciences, echoed this sentiment.
“It takes a lot to produce the kind of work that can be published. This program has attracted some very bright students,” Tan-Wilson said.
The Binghamton HHMI Program’s focus on interdisciplinary research not only provided funding for the collaborative research projects that Marsiglia and Rosenkranz worked on, but also inspired some of them.
“Research is becoming more interdisciplinary,” Tan-Wilson said. “HHMI recognized that this is where you can make inroads. A lot of the projects in this particular program did not exist when we started, but when we got professors from different disciplines together, they started coming up with new ideas from speaking with each other.”
The Binghamton HHMI Program funding will end in two years, but that doesn’t mean interdisciplinary research at Binghamton University will.
“We are hoping that the projects will continue on their own and that interdisciplinary research for undergraduates will continue in an informal way even after the funding stops,” said Elizabeth Button, Binghamton University’s HHMI grant coordinator. “That would be a good outcome.”
Binghamton University’s Binghamton HHMI Program is holding information sessions at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, and at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3, both in S3-214.