Grants Issue

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Announcing the Summer 2020 SSMN Grantees

 

Seed Grants (up to $10,000)

 

LAURA DASSAMA
Assistant Professor, Stanford University
Sloan Scholar in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Penn State University

Determining interactions of SARS-CoV-2 proteins with red blood cells in the advancement of COVID-19

“COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 3 million and killed more than 200,000 people world wide. While the virus primarily acts on lung tissue, the presentation of anemia and poor oxygenation in some patients suggests that there might be interactions between the virus and red blood cells. My laboratory will investigate this, aiming to provide detailed descriptions of interactions that exist between viral proteins and red blood cells, as well as with the primary protein component of red blood cells.”

 

FRANK HAMMOND
Assistant Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology
Sloan Scholar in Mechanical Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University

Self-Attaching Prosthetic Devices

“Physical therapists often prescribe powered prostheses to help restore vital functions to patients with upper and lower limb impairments. Despite breakthroughs in robotics and biosensing that promise to make these devices more accessible and effective, the adoption rate for powered prostheses is less than 40%. This low adoption rate can be attributed, in large part, to the effort required for patients to don the prostheses (patients need someone to assist), as well as to deficits in interface quality (e.g. comfort, stability). The long-term goal of this project is to take the first steps toward smart, self-attaching prosthetic devices capable of significantly reducing the difficulty of donning while also monitoring and actively controlling the device-user interface to improve comfort and enable chronic use. The objective of the proposed work is to develop a self-attaching upper-extremity prosthesis testbed with which studies on automated donning and adaptive device-user interface control can be conducted. This testbed will include a mechanical prototype of the attachment mechanism and a sensor embedded pneumatic interface which can control the tightness and temperature of the device interface according to the user’s level of activity. The results of the proposed research will form the foundation of proposals to the DOD, NSF, and NIH focused on bridging the gap between robots and humans – in ways that better leverage the brain’s adaptability, while exploiting the power and precision of current computing and mechanism design capabilities.”


A-ANDREW JONES
Assistant Professor, Northeastern University
Sloan Scholar in Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Enabling a lab-on-a-faucet

“We will develop and test a lab on a faucet sensor as both a device for detecting water born contaminates and an enabling device for future lab-on-a-chip devices. The results of this will enable me to apply for future funding from DHS, DOD, and NSF and create a clearer distinction between my work and my advisors work.”


MICHAEL MARTINEZ-COLON
Assistant Professor, Florida A&M University
Sloan Scholar in Marine Science, University of South Florida

Evaluation of historical environmental health changes in coastal ecosystems

“The overall project scope is to develop and implement of a low-cost and high-impact tool for determining historical changes of coastal ecosystem health. Benthic foraminifera are an excellent bioindicator proxy. The known relationships between key taxa of benthic foraminiferal communities and sediment quality enables the assessment of environmental health and status changes. The excellent preservation potential of intact and fossil foraminiferal shells in sediments, unlike macrofauna, allows us to reconstruct the historical evolution (19th-21st centuries) of marine environments, thus providing invaluable information on environmental health changes (deterioration vs. restoration).  This new ecological baseline data will identify how coastal environments have changed through time and will identify time periods of high ecological risk which will in turn benefit future decision-making policies for monitoring assessments. The PI has engaged the Director of the Florida Coastal Office at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on the design of this pilot project. Evaluation of the results will determine the feasibility for future system-wide implementation, thus facilitating the expansion of this assessment approach into other coastal and estuarine ecosystems along the state of Florida in which research and resource managers, for example from the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, will be the “end-users” of this tool.”

 

DANEESH MCINTOSH SIMIEN
Assistant Professor, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Scholar in Materials Science and Engineering, Rice University

Non-Contact, Structurally Responsive and Adaptive Smart Polymer Nanocomposites

“The ability to induce micro- or nanostructural surface depth changes in nanocomposites remotely, would imbue a novel and transformative capability to correct processing deformities, or expand overall material functionality. Current technologies such as kiragani based solar cells, change their surface angle to track the sun via applied strains, for example. This project seeks to uncover innovative and novel approaches to gain new knowledge in understanding how a nanocomposite’s components can be utilized to generate surface contouring changes with applied magnetic fields instead of applying external strains physically to the system. This project would uncover new knowledge into non-abrasive and non-destructive methods to generate transformative processing tools for additive manufacturing techniques, remote generation of surfaces for in-service artificial joints or recontouring of in use parts in hostile and/or remote environments. This Sloan grant will allow a collaboration at the Harvard University Center for Nanoscale System (CNS) research center which will allow the P.I. to conduct research in the area of nanosystem characterization and modelling of the dynamic behavior of  homogeneous species of single walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNT) in Polyether ether ketone (PEEK) matrices using theory and empirical data, to understand, measure and define the relationship between nanoparticle type, architecture, excitation dynamics, temperature and particle redistribution via self-assembly and strain relaxation of the rigid rod-like nanoparticles. A model predicting the dynamic response of self-assembled nanoscale particles with pre-defined architectures in an optically pumped, magnetized field will be generated and validated. This will advance the understanding of nonlinear deformation, and structure-property relationships producing a novel quantitative method of process assessment and a validated, deterministic algorithm for optimized smart nanomaterials design.”

 

ALEXANDER PAREDEZ
Associate Professor, University of Washington-Seattle
Sloan Scholar in Biology, Stanford University 

Elucidation of the EncystR interactome to identify novel control points of differentiation into infectious cysts

“Giardia is a major parasite infecting more than 200 million people each year. We identified EncystR, a receptor-like protein that negatively regulates the induction of encystation. Misregulation of encystation could be used to clear infections. Currently the molecular mechanism by which EncystR regulates differentiation into cysts remains unresolved. In general, there is a major knowledge gap about how all parasites monitor their environment for cues to differentiate for the next life cycle stage. Therefore, our identification of EncystR is an exciting discovery that will help fill the current knowledge gap.     

Live cell imaging revealed that EncystR is rapidly internalized after inducing encystation with encystation medium. By following EncystR trafficking we found that EncystR traffics to a novel acidic compartment. Giardia is not thought to have conventional lysosomes, so this stage induced acidic compartment is a mystery and another potential point of attack.

We propose to perform biotin-ligase proximity labeling experiments over an encystation time course. This will identify proteins that interact with EncystR at the plasma membrane, endosomes, and the newly discovered acidic compartment. The identity of these proteins will provide clues into how EncystR regulates encystation as well as the role of the newly discovered acidic compartment.     

My laboratory is currently without a major research grant and at risk of losing my talented technician with 5 years of Giardia research experience due to lack of funds. SSMN seed funding would provide salary support and cover the cost of these experiments. The dataset generated by this work will bolster preliminary data for an NIH RO1 proposal currently under revision, which is essential for my next promotion. The outcome of this project will additionally guide future larger studies aimed at our long-term goal of elucidating the mechanism regulating entry into the encystation pathway.”

 

E. CARLA PARKER ATHILL
Assistant Professor, Connecticut College
Sloan Scholar in Medical Science (Neuroscience concentration), University of South Florida – Morsani College of Medicine

 The Biology of trauma’s effects on learning: Characterizing the how cortisol alters astrocyte mediated regulation of synaptic function using RNA profiling of FAC sorted neural stem cells

“Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events that occur during childhood and are linked to high-risk behaviors and poor educational outcomes. Physiologically, ACEs lead to persistent elevations of stress hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol can alter neuronal communication through its modulation of synaptic function, leading to disruptions in learning, attention and memory. Astrocytes are essential to synaptic function, regulating the formation, maintenance and elimination of neuronal synapses, events crucial to learning and memory. The extent to which elevated cortisol levels alter these regulatory mechanism is largely unknown.   Understanding how cortisol impacts astrocyte mediated regulation of synaptic function can give insight into the biological mechanisms driving trauma’s effects on learning. The goals of this project are 1) to determine how cortisol impacts the expression of genes involved in astrocyte lineage specification and synaptic regulation and 2) to identify the phenotypic and functional properties of ‘astrocyte-like’ glial cells in the zebrafish nervous system to determine the functional similarities to human astrocytes. To do this, neural stem cells from control and cortisol treated zebrafish embryos will be collected using FACS, then RNA isolated for gene expression profiling with RNA-seq and RT-qPCR. If funded, this grant will facilitate the purchase of reagents by providing resources not available through departmental or institutional sources.”

 

YOHASELLY SANTIAGO-RODRIGUEZ  
Assistant Professor, Northwestern State University
Sloan Scholar in Chemical Engineering, University of Puerto Rico

Removal of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances from water sources: converting toxic compounds into building blocks for fuel conversion

“Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are contaminating water sources around the world. The presence of PFAS in drinking water is a serious threat to the environment and human health due to potential toxic effects. Studies indicate that PFAS are accumulated in the human body causing adverse immune outcomes and metabolic outcomes, such as dyslipidemia. The removal of these substances from water sources is a current environmental challenge because PFAS are highly stable molecules due to their strong carbon-fluoride bonds. Modified and unmodified carbon nanotubes, and graphene composites have proved to degrade perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is a member of PFAS and one of the focus for most of the water treatment efforts that are being currently developed. Nanostructured metal oxides, such as In2O3 and Ga2O3, have been utilized in the photocatalytic decomposition of PFOA demonstrating a promising enhancement in the performance of nano-photocatalysts (a minimum percent of PFOA’s removal of 71% during a maximum of 3 hours was obtained). We are proposing the use of carbon nanostructures modified with metal oxides as photocatalysts to not only removing PFAS from water, but also transform them into benign substances, such CO2 and fluoride ions. The acquisition of a photochemical reactor system will facilitate the study of the photocatalytic properties of the modified nanostructures on degrading PFAS. Moreover, an exhaustive research on the effects of modifications in shapes, sizes and loading contents of the nanostructures and in operational conditions will be developed. All these efforts will direct in achieving the main project goal of building a successful research in the study and design of novel nanomaterials that can be implemented in wastewater treatment.”

 

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Career Development Grants (up to $5,000):

 

YAMIXA DELGADO-REYES
Assistant Professor, San Juan Bautista School of Medicine
Sloan Scholar in Biology, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Pied

In vivo effect of Pt-Def analogs in tumor development in the syngeneic Lewis Lung Carcinoma (LLC) mouse model

“In a previous project, we developed three Pt-based compounds using as ligand the iron chelator, Exjade© (Def) as a potential cancer therapy. Thus, we obtained promising results using an in vitro model, lung adenocarcinoma cells, where all our compounds demonstrated cytotoxic activity. Specifically, one of them (ie.Pt(Def-NH2)(py)) showed an increment of 60-fold in the activity compared to CisPt (manuscript in preparation). These findings led to the need for studies in an animal model to strengthen our position for a successful competitive grant application. I am currently at the San Juan Bautista School of Medicine in Caguas, PR in a research track tenure position since 2017. I am also one of the pioneers developing biomedical research projects and direct my own research laboratory at the institution. For this training, I will collaborate with Dr. Yancy Ferrer at Universidad Central del Caribe (UCC) in Bayamón, Puerto Rico (PR). The main goal of this mentoring proposal is to learn and gain experience working with mouse animals to conduct in vivo studies, especially in the Lewis Lung Carcinoma (LLC) mouse model. Concurrent with the training, we will be conducting in vivo experiments testing Pt(Def-NH2)(py) and essential controls to validate our results (ie. Def, Def-NH2, CisPt). Our intermediate goal is to understand the Pt-Def analogs’ mechanism of action. The findings will help us to complete the results of this project and submit a second publication. The primary objectives of this project are: • Take a training in animal handling and ethics, experimental design, animal monitoring and tumor evaluation • Study the in vivo effect of our novel metallodrug Pt(Def-NH2)(py) in a lung tumor mouse model • Receive mentoring from Dr. Ferrer and networking opportunities from faculty involved in cancer research at the UCC. • Complete the analysis of the results of this project to submit a publication • Obtain essential data to submit competitive grant applications.”

 

MAURA PALACIOS MEJIA
Postdoctoral Researcher, University of California, Los Angeles
Sloan Scholar in Wildlife & Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University

Establishing a baseline of biodiversity and ecology of Jalama Creek in the Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve using environmental DNA to assess stream restoration success

“Jalama Creek is a historical passageway for steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and formed part of the Chumash settlement, “Halama.” Currently, the Jalama creek has several barriers to steelhead passage in place, which impede and prevent steelhead migration to 21 miles of spawning and rearing habitat in the upper reaches of the Jalama Creek watershed. The Nature Conservancy is developing a restoration plan to remove the passage barriers from Jalama Creek within the next decade. This study aims to apply eDNA metabarcoding to water and sediments samples from Jalama creek to establish a baseline biodiversity inventory and determine the current presence and distribution of O. mykiss in the watershed. This study will identify critical habitats that house special status species and invasive species and will form part of a longitudinal study pre- and post-barrier removal which will allow The Nature Conservancy to assess the success of the fish passage projects. Under the guidance of my mentor, Laura Riege, Restoration Project Manager at TNC, I will be recording environmental and biological parameter, as well as collecting environmental DNA samples. In addition, I will have access to data analyses pipelines used by local, collaborating environmental consulting firms to be able to compare to pipelines developed in the Wayne Lab and expand my abilities in eDNA bioinformatics. Laura will also assist me in developing the conservation application of eDNA scientific research component, writing grants and manuscripts for the results of this project, and facilitating access to resources (e.g. networking, access to the preserve, etc.). This will contribute to the advancement of my career in academia through training and experience of environmental DNA (eDNA) application through a restoration lens.”

 

GABRIELA SOSA
Postdoctoral Researcher, Texas A&M University
Sloan Scholar in Ecosystem Science and Management, Texas A&M University

Restoring a Coastal Prairie at Memorial Park Conservancy Using Locally Adapted Native Seed Supplies

“Plant community biodiversity is critical for maintaining the ecological resilience of coastal prairie ecosystems. Locally adapted native seed supplies are needed by restoration ecology practitioners working for agencies, municipalities and the private sector (i.e. consultants, land-owners).  Even though native seed supplies are needed to restore these lands, a critical number of important native plant species are not commercially available. The Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK) has a team of researchers focused on “Habitat Restoration and Enhancement” with ongoing projects on native grassland restoration. With support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Career Development Award I would expand my current postdoctoral research training to assess the establishment of ecotypic native seeds in restoration plots at Memorial Park Conservancy (MPC) in Houston, Texas. These ecotypic native plant species are adapted to particular environmental conditions and therefore exhibit behavioral, structural, or physiological differences from other members of the species. In addition, a month-long stay at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute will provide me with the opportunity to network with staff at the Texas Native Seeds (TNS) program. TNS is a non-profit program that conducts applied restoration research. Having a professional network that has access to commercially available, locally adapted native seed sources would be of great benefit to the restoration projects I will continue to pursue in my career as an Applied Ecologist. The research and training gained from this project will be also improve the quality of a peer-reviewed publication that will be submitted to the International Journal of Restoration Ecology in July 2020.”

 

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Conference Travel Grants (up to $1,500):

 

RAQUEL LOPEZ
Online Math Instructor, Western Governors University
Sloan Scholar in Applied Mathematics, Arizona State University

Future of Education Technology Conference:
How information technology adopted by an institution can transform pedagogical processes within it

Investigating and establishing best educational practices, which would teach other fellow instructors how to best utilize the tool called Caseload, within Salesforce – the Education Data Architecture Platform used at WGU. Many Course Instructors do not know how to even use this powerful tool; I propose that my research results will motivate others to see the power of Caseload; my hope is many more institutions of any size will use this to become a connected campus, to enable a dynamic 1-to-1 engagement between mentors and course faculty to enhance the student journey. My project will allow me to promote the value of Salesforce Caseload and online teaching using information technology solutions, to teach students in a more student-centric way.  The solutions would increase the instructors’ productivity and overall students learning experience, retention and success.”

 

LUIS ORTIZ
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, The New School
Sloan Scholar in Mechanical Engineering, City College of New York

American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting:
Interdependent vulnerabilities between COVID-19 and weather hazards

“The shelter-in-place policy in New York City (NYC), enacted to reduce transmission rates of COVID-19, has led to an interruption of worker commute patterns and an increase in time spent in residences. This shift in living patterns may fundamentally impact the way people are exposed to various weather hazards (e.g., exposure to indoor extreme heat). As the epicenter of the current pandemic and one of the most densely populated cities in the United States, there is an urgent need to study the shared and cascading between the novel coronavirus (and policies related to it) and other types of hazard (e.g., extreme heat, flooding). Using a combination of publicly available data and state-of-the-art high resolution numerical urban weather prediction, my work investigates the role of these changing policies on vulnerabilities across various populations in NYC.  Incoming data suggests large inequalities in the number of cases across various socio-demographic indicators like median income. We will also explore these vulnerabilities in the context of climate change and its modification of weather extremes.  The work will be presented at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco, California. As the largest conference in the geosciences, attendance will expose my work to a wide audience across many disciplines, opening it to feedback from climate and atmospheric science communities, while serving as an important networking event that will help my faculty search.”

 

TRAVIS WILLIAMS
Research Scholar, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Sloan Scholar in Electrical Engineering, North Carolina A&T State University

International Conference on Machine Learning and Applications:
Threshout Regularization for Deep Neural Networks

“Regularization is key to a well-trained, robust model capable of performing well on a test set. Deep learning suffers from a huge overfitting problem due to the large number of nodes, high dimensionality of parameters, and depth. Dropout regularization is a popular method of regularizing networks with Bernoulli noise injection, unlinking connections by dropping random nodes to zero. We introduce a better version of Dropout, called Threshout, that uses Gaussian noise and soft thresholding to regularize deep neural networks. Based on wavelet subband denoising, our proposed method offers more randomness and robustness than Dropout through its flexibility, and more varied noise injection. Experimental results on four benchmark classification datasets prove that our proposed method outperforms Dropout in accuracy and in the prevention of overfitting.”

 

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Honorable Mentions:

ZAKARIA AL BALUSHI
Assistant Professor, University of California, Berkeley 
Sloan Scholar in Materials Science and Engineering, Pennsylvania State University

CHIBUEZE AMANCHUKWU
Assistant Professor, University of Chicago
Sloan Scholar in Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

VERONICA MORALES
Assistant Professor, University of California, Davis
Sloan Scholar in Biological and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University 

REBECCA VEGA THURBER
Associate Professor, Oregon State University
Sloan Scholar in Biological Sciences, Stanford University 

 

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