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R. Thomas Zoeller, professor in the department of biology is one of seven faculty members from across five colleges and schools that have been named Public Engagement Faculty Fellows by the Public Engagement Project (PEP). They will draw on their substantial research record to impact policy, the work of practitioners and public debates. The fellows, who will receive a stipend and technical training in communicating with non-academic audiences, will also travel to Beacon Hill to share their research with lawmakers.

“Last spring’s inaugural fellows were very successful in getting their research into the hands of the media, policymakers and practitioner groups” said Amy Schalet, director of the Public Engagement Project. “And we are excited to be working with another accomplished group of scholars this year.”.

Zoeller studies the role of thyroid hormone and brain development and the ability of environmental chemicals to interfere with thyroid hormones to produce cognitive deficits in children. During his fellowship, Zoeller will develop tools and strategies to better communicate with non-science audiences including policymakers, health care professionals and the public.

The Public Engagement Project is a faculty-driven initiative building on a collaboration of the Center for Research on Families (CRF), Center for Public Policy and Administration (CPPA), and Institute for Social Science Research, (ISSR). The Public Engagement Faculty Fellowship has been made possible with funding from the College of Natural Sciences, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Provost’s Office and University Relations, as well as the collaborating centers and institutes.

When biologist Duncan J. Irschick worked with sharks in Florida last spring, he longed for a simple, quick tool for creating 3-dimensional models of them, as well as the geckos he studies. So, he and colleagues developed a multi-armed platform that integrates several cameras plus a computer system to produce 3-D images. They call it the “Beastcam.”

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Jennifer Olins '17 Junior biology major Jennifer Olins has been a research assistant in Associate Professor Samuel Hazen’s regulatory genomics lab since she enrolled at the University in September 2013. She is one of a few talented students admitted into the campus’s competitive First-Year Research Experience program and the Biology Talent Advanced Program (BioTAP). Since joining the Hazen group, Olins has been awarded two competitive Commonwealth College Research Assistant Fellowships and received honorable mention for her application to the American Society of Plant Biology Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program.

During her time in lab, Olins has become an independent scientist executing her own experiments. Highly skilled at the bench, she has mastered a number of scientific techniques including polymerase chain reaction (PCR), gel electrophoresis, and yeast and bacteria genetic transformation. When Olins expressed a strong desire to learn microscopy, Hazen had her do so by having her conduct an experiment he needed for an article to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. “The outcome was excellent,” says Hazen, “and because of her contribution Jenny is now recognized as a co-author on the article.”

Hazen was also impressed with Olins when the student that was performing many of the laboratory managerial duties recently departed for graduate school and Olins stepped in to fill the void. “Jenny is a clear leader within my group and a dedicated and thoughtful scientist,” says Hazen. “Her academic performance is also extraordinary.”

Olins, will be honored for her achievements at a spring luncheon with the Chancellor.

Alex is an Integrative Ecological-physiologist who studies the physiological
mechanisms and ecological interactions that allow and affect bird migration, as
well as the eco-physiological constraints that affect the ability of different bird
species to survive major environmental challenges associated with climate change.
You can visit Alex’s website here.

Alex’s lab is currently located in Morrill 3 room 409, with his new lab being renovated
in the space formerly occupied by Lynn Margulis (3rd floor of Morrill 3).

Duncan J. Irschick, Biology, Alfred J. Crosby, Polymer Science and Engineering, and doctoral candidate Casey A. Gilman, Biology, have shown that geckos have a spring-like mechanism in their bodies to enhance adhesion as they become larger, as reported in PLOS ONE article. In 2012, four of the authors invented the flexible adhesive Geckskin. BBC article, Science Newsline article. Nature World News article., UMass News & Media Relations article.

Elena’s research investigates neuromodulatory networks in the brain. She is interested in how activity in locus coeruleus norepinephrine neurons modify neural targets to change behavioral responses to environmental stimuli. Her lab primarily studies the impact of locus coeruleus activity on cognitive control and motor responses. This research increases our understanding of different disorders where locus coeruleus functioning is altered, such as ADHD and anxiety, and cases where locus coeruleus neurons are lost such as in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Elena's lab is currently located in Morrill 3 South, room 413A, while her new lab is being renovated.

Gerald Downes, Biology, with James Chambers, Chemistry, and Amherst College neurobiologist Josef Trapani, have been awarded a three-year $824,025 collaborative research grant from the National Science Foundation to study the zebrafish brain to better understand how neurons regulate locomotion. Downes, the lead investigator, says his ultimate research goal is to better understand how different chemical signals, called neurotransmitters, work together at cellular and molecular levels to coordinate normal locomotion such as walking and swimming.

News-medical.net.

Phys.org.

UMass News & Media Relations.

Duncan J. Irschick from the Biology Department and Al Crosby from Polymer Sciences and Engineering are currently starring in two TV shows on Geckskin. These include the episode "Inspiration from Nature" in Stephen Hawking's Brave New World Series, and "Inventors" featured in the show "Worlds Strangest". Both are currently airing in the US.

Plant cell biologist Magdalena Bezanilla has received a four-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to further her award-winning research on fundamental processes of plant growth, in particular how molecules secreted by cells help to determine their outer shapes and patterns. Using a moss species that provides a simple, fast-growing model plant for which the whole genome is known, Benzanilla and her research team will manipulate the moss model by systematically altering the plants’ DNA blueprint to make minor changes in protein secretion, then evaluate what happens when proteins are altered one at a time.

The paper can be accessed here.

Lynn Adler, with collaborators from Dartmouth College, the USDA, and Kew Gardens has received new grants from NSF and USDA totaling nearly $1 million to study how floral chemical compounds affect bumble bee disease. Together, this research will address the extent to which bumble bees are exposed to floral chemical defenses in wild and agricultural systems, the impacts of such compounds on bumble bee health, the role of such compounds in disease transmission, and implications for managing bee disease in agricultural settings.