Julia Curran ’12 Wins WEST Giving Back Award for Promoting Women in STEM

Julia Curran ’12 has won the WEST Giving Back Award, given to women in the science and technology fields who have made a profound impact on society.

Curran, who majored in biology within the Commonwealth Honors College while at UMass Amherst, is a research associate in the analytical development for biologics group at Takeda Oncology (formerly Millennium) in Cambridge, Mass. WEST, which stands for Women in the Enterprise of Science and Technology, promotes the advancement of women in the business of science and technology. Local STEM companies submit nominations for this award, suggesting women who are role models balancing job and personal responsibilities while making a difference in their community.

The award’s biography notes that as a STEM mentor, Curran is “often engaged as much by her young students as they are from her. Her warm charismatic attitude and shared curiosity makes the learning positive and a place where mistakes are not errors but hypotheses for further testing. As Julia will tell you, it is the students’ ever-present enthusiasm and inquisitive attitudes that keep her volunteering year after year.”

As a volunteer on the ambassador and membership committees of the Healthcare Women’s Association, Curran plans events with 10 other healthcare ambassador companies in greater Boston. She also participates in local philanthropic opportunities including the Leukemia and Lymphoma’s Light the Night and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation’s Race for Research.

This article was taken from the CNS website and is available here.

Hazen's Lignin Synthesis Advance Could Lead to More Efficient Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels

Plant geneticists including Sam Hazen, Biology, have sorted out the gene regulatory networks that control cell wall thickening by the synthesis of the three polymers, cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. Their genetic advance is expected to “serve as a foundation for understanding the regulation of a complex, integral plant component” and as a map for how future researchers might manipulate the polymer-forming processes to improve the efficiency of biofuel production.

The UMass News & Media article, is available here.

Dumont Receives Top Honors for Bat Research

Betsy Dumont, professor of biology and vice provost for academic affairs, recently received the Gerrit S. Miller Award from North American Society for Bat Research “in recognition of outstanding service and contribution to the field of Chiropteran biology,” placing her among the world’s most influential bat biologists.

The award was presented to Dumont at the 44th annual meeting of NASBR held Oct. 22-25 in Albany, N.Y. Dumont is the 21st recipient and only the fourth woman to have earned this high distinction since it was first given 34 years ago.

The UMass News & Media article, is available here.

Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Interfere With Placental Thyroid Hormone Activity Study by R.Thomas Zoeller

A study led by biologist R. Thomas Zoeller of the University of Massachusetts Amherst provides evidence that endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) found in flame retardant cloth, paint, adhesives and electrical transformers, can interfere with thyroid hormone action in pregnant women and may affect the fetus.

The researchers chose to analyze placental tissue because it likely reflects what is occurring in the fetus. Using placental tissue samples from 164 pregnant women with no thyroid disease, they analyzed the messenger RNA expression for the enzyme CYP1A1.The researchers found that in pregnancies where the placenta contained higher levels of CYP1A1, there were signs of thyroid disruption. Levels of two thyroid-regulated genes tended to be higher in these pregnancies, although the mother’s overall thyroid hormone levels did not change.

Results appeared in an online edition and in the December print edition of the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. News-Medical.net. Medical Express. Science 2.0. Science Daily. Science Codex. MedIndia.net. Growingyourbaby.com.

The work was a collaboration between scientists in the biology department at UMass Amherst and physician scientists led by Larissa Takser at the University of Sherbrooke, Québec.

The UMass News & Media article, is available here.

Outstanding Biology Seniors Honored

Biology Seniors Victoria Phu (left) and Amanda Rutherford (right) have both been recently honored by the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Victoria Phu, who is a Junior Fellow and an Honors biology senior, has been honored with the Welch Scholarship. This scholarship has given her the opportunity to pursue research focusing on song-bird communication and work towards her goal of attending dental school. The full article, which was featured in UMass Magazine, can be found here.


Amanda Rutherford, who is also an Honors biology senior, has been named a Rising Researcher. Over her four years, Amanda has studied the effects of insecticide exposures on the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes. The full article can be found here.