Current News

Shannon Silva, a biology major and Commonwealth Honors College junior, has been named a recipient of the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, awarded by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.

The aim of the foundation is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scholars to work as scientists, mathematicians and engineers. The Goldwater, a nationally competitive scholarship, supports students with a passion for research and potential to contribute to their disciplines, and who plan to pursue a graduate degree. Each scholarship covers eligible expenses for undergraduate tuition, fees, books, room and board, up to a maximum of $7,500 annually.

Research has been an important part of Silva’s undergraduate career. The Peabody, Mass., resident joined the Vandenberg Lab in the UMass Amherst Department of environmental health sciences in her sophomore year. She has been evaluating the effect of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on the histopathology of mammary tumors and four additional tissue sites that may be targets of metastasis. Silva has previously interned at Cell Signaling Technology and was an Amgen Research Scholar at Duke University in the summer of 2019. This year, she is scheduled to participate in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at Gerstner Sloan Kettering. After her anticipated graduation from UMass Amherst in 2021, she hopes to apply her lab research experiences, and her experience as a Goldwater Scholar, to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular cancer biology.

Silva’s nomination for the Goldwater was made possible by UMass Amherst’s Office of National Scholarship Advisement (ONSA). Advising and careful nurturing of Silva’s application was given by ONSA Director Madalina Akli. Each year, ONSA nominates four sophomores and juniors. ONSA is an advising service available to all UMass Amherst undergraduate and graduate students, as well as the university’s robust alumni community.

We are fortunate to have a student who has successfully competed for both these prestigious national fellowships!

CLICK HERE to see the original article.


Biology lab PhD student Seanne Clemente receives 3-year National Science Foundation GRFP and Ford Foundation Fellowships

We are fortunate to have a student who has successfully competed for both these prestigious national fellowships!

Go to this link to read more about the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship.


Three of Peg Riley's student's won big!

Congratulations to:

Hailey Charest (2021, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Microbiology Double Major)

Hadley Beauregard (2022, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and German & Scandinavian Studies double major)

Bryanna Frietas (2020, Chemistry & Psychology double major)

Bac-Be-Gone won a 2020 Ginspoon Entrepreneurial Concept Award in which each member of the team won $150. The team was nominated by a faculty member and were then asked to fill out an application about their venture. Since it is an individual award, each member of the team was awarded!

The team was created by these three undergraduates and targets development of products to eliminate or prevent MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infections!


Current molecular biochemistry, microscopy and genetic techniques have become so powerful that scientists can now make mechanistic discoveries – supported by multiple lines of evidence – about intimate processes in plant reproduction that once were very difficult to examine, says molecular biologist Alice Cheung at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

She is the senior author of a new paper in Nature describing how she and her team used such tools to solve, in unprecedented detail, the mechanisms of how flowering plants avoid polyspermy. As the name suggests, polyspermy results from multiple sperm entering and fertilizing an egg, a condition harmful to the zygote. In plants, preventing polyspermy also means higher chances for more females to be fertilized and ensures better seed yields, both of which are agriculturally important.

Click HERE to read more!


**** The 13th annual Kaulenas Lecture is postponed until further notice. A new date and time is TBD.****

This year's lecture will be given by Dr. Stanley Prusiner, the 1997 Nobel laureate in Physiology of Medicine.

In recognition of his pioneering work discovering prions, the underlying cause of neurodegenerative diseases including Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (or Mad Cow), Dr. Prusiner has also received the Wolf Prize, the Lasker Award, the Potamkin Prize, and the National Medal of Science.

He was elected to the National Academy of Science in 1992.

Dr. Prusiner will be speaking about recent discoveries in his lab, namely that the same misfolded protein phenomenon that gives rise to prion diseases is now widely recognized to play a role in most neurodegenerative diseases.

This lecture is sponsored by the Initiative on Neurosciences (IONs) at UMass.


The workplace climate committee has won a grant to create monthly lunches for staff and faculty to meet and get to know each other outside of the work interactions. The award was for $500 from the Deans office. More information to come over the coming weeks!

Peg Riley was invited to give a "Fireside Chat" with Keith Yamamoto at the Precision Medicine Conference in Silicon Valley on January 22-24, 2020.

Keith R. Yamamoto is Vice Chancellor for Research, Executive Vice Dean of the School of Medicine, and Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco, UCSF.

The Precision Medicine World Conference is the largest & original annual conference dedicated to precision medicine. PMWC’s mission is to bring together recognized leaders, top global researchers and medical professionals, and innovators across healthcare and biotechnology sectors to showcase practical content that helps close the knowledge gap between different sectors, thereby catalyzing cross-functional fertilization & collaboration in an effort to accelerate the development and spread of precision medicine.

HERE is the link to her chat!


Duncan Irschick is working on UMass Amherst’s Digital Life Project to create visual records of critically endangered species.

The Digital Life Project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has been revolutionary in creating visual records of critically endangered species in ways that technology has never allowed before.

The project team modeled the first-ever 3D image of a southern right whale after researchers used aerial photography and drone videos to measure the mass and volume of whales. Previously, the only way to weigh any whale was by using a dead or stranded animal. Using its innovative Beastcam array, the team has also produced the world’s first accurate 3D image of the southern white rhino.

Led by Professor of Biology Duncan Irschick, the Digital Life Project has gathered a number of global collaborators. Documenting southern right whales as they gathered at their winter breeding grounds off the coast of Argentina involved participants from the Southern Right Whale Health Monitoring Program and the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies in Denmark. To create the visual of a rare southern white rhino, Irschick and team collaborated with the Perth Zoo in Australia, which volunteered its resident rhino, Bakari, to be photographed.

The resulting images are a valuable reference for researchers and conservationists. Measurements of live whales at sea offer information about how stressors affect the weight and physical condition of whales, as well as enabling accurate sedative dosing for whales who panic while entangled in fishing gear. All five species of rhinos are under extreme pressure worldwide, particularly from poaching for their horns. “It’s very special to photo-capture an animal like a rhino because they are a persecuted species,” comments Irschick.

Irschick and his colleagues have created several Beastcam rigs, including hand-held and tripod-mounted instruments in a variety of sizes for animals large and small. The original array consists of 10 fixed arms, each mounting three cameras for a 30-camera array. A variation of this method has even been used to photo-capture free-swimming sharks underwater! Animals located at the focal point of the array are modeled in 3D with special software. For Bakari the rhino, technicians and zoologists took photos from 360 degrees, and then a CGI artist animated the results, which were released last fall on World Rhino Day.

The UMass Amherst Digital Life Project makes its data and models publicly available as “an archive for animals,” says Irschick. The unique capabilities of the project are in demand, with models having been downloaded over 20,000 times since its inception.

As many species face down extinction, the Digital Life Project provides a compelling visual resource for those who want to intervene on behalf of their survival.

Click HERE to learn more!


The Jensen Lab is behind a single unmarked door in the basement of Morrill Science Center III.

In this lab, there are more than 6,000 of one of science’s most valuable models for studying human genetics and disease—the zebrafish. The tiny, striped members of the minnow family dart about in 200 small tanks on racks that are four rows deep.

In one particular tank, all of the zebrafish have lost their zebra; their typical five uniform, pigmented, horizontal stripes are gone. Called “crystals,” these creatures are a translucent pink, and you can see outlines of their backbones and the shadows of their tiny internal organs.

Light is actually a toxic insult upon life at the cellular level, especially on cells called photoreceptors that process light in the eye. “Their eyeballs are completely clear,” she explains. She hopes the light will degenerate, or damage, the cells. “It seems weird that we are trying to get the cells to die,” says Jensen. “But we need a model to get the cells to die so that we can understand why they die and then how to keep them alive.” Learning why the cells degenerate will improve our understanding of an eye disease that affects about one out of every 8–10 thousand young Americans: Stargardt disease.

Named for Karl Stargardt—the German ophthalmologist who first described the inherited eye disorder in 1909—Stargardt disease is a disorder of the retina that causes vision loss (though generally not complete blindness) during childhood or adolescence, though in some cases it doesn’t occur until adulthood. Vision loss progresses slowly over time in most people with the disease, from normal vision to legally blind. Currently, there is no treatment to delay or cure the disease.

Thanks to a grant from the Manning Innovation Program —a recent $40,000 gift to UMass for the support of translational research projects and the transfer of breakthroughs to the marketplace—Jensen hopes she is all the closer to finding a key that will unlock some of the secrets of Stargardt disease.

Click HERE to learn more!


Three of Peg Riley's student's won big!

Congratulations to:

Hailey Charest (2021, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Microbiology Double Major)

Hadley Beauregard (2022, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and German & Scandinavian Studies double major)

Bryanna Frietas (2020, Chemistry & Psychology double major)

These three students won 1st place and $600 in the Amherst Works Pitch Event. Their company, Bac Be Gone, produces an antimicrobial cleanser that kills MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) on contact!