ARCHIVED: NSF Grants Offer Students Unique Opportunities

National Science Foundation grant

Four members of the Sarah Lawrence faculty have been awarded grants from the National Science Foundation, funding projects that involve student contribution and participation. The grants, totaling over $700,000 and spanning three years, have advanced opportunities for students to pursue serious scientific study at the small liberal arts school. The grants provide unique educational experiences for students, allowing them to engage intimately with intensive scientific research, both in the field as well as in the laboratory.

This past summer, through the Sarah Lawrence Undergraduate Summer Research Program, Biology Professors Raymond Clarke and Drew Cressman worked with students on their NSF grant projects, making significant strides in the respective investigations and contributing to the biological community.

Clarke and recent Sarah Lawrence graduate Carly Gaebe (’04) have been conducting both lab and field work on Clarke’s project, researching the effects of water movement and zooplankton escape behavior on planktivory by coral reef fishes in different microhabitats. Clarke, who was awarded $172,000 for his inter-institutional collaborative project, with the assistance of Gaebe, worked with Chris Finelli from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium in the field, and Ed Buskey of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in his Port Aransas, Texas laboratory.

Not only did Gaebe have to privilege of working with a NSF grantee this summer, she also was working with a scientist whose namesake has been immortalized in marine biology. A small species of fish, Tomicodon clarkei, was named for the professor by Jeffrey Williams and James Tyler in their paper "Revision of the western Atlantic clingfishes of the genus Tomicodon (Gobiesocidae), with descriptions of five new species," published in Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology, Number 621 (2003).

Cressman’s project, investigating the critical role that the Class II Transactivator (CIITA) protein plays in the immune response in normal individuals, should ultimately facilitate a deeper understanding of the immune response and contribute to work on HIV and other immune system diseases. This research is supported by a three year NSF grant totaling $278,000. Cressman worked with five students this summer, each of whom worked on independent experiments providing significant contributions to the CIITA investigation.

This fall thanks partly to NSF funding, Sarah Lawrence students will have more opportunities to work closely with science faculty members on important research projects as other grant projects resume. These projects include Ryan Hinrichs’ “Spectroscopic Studies on the Heterogeneous Chemistry of Model Mineral Aerosol Compounds,” which will provide Sarah Lawrence with its first summer research project in Chemistry in 2005; and Karen Rader’s investigation of the historical relationship between academic and public understanding of biology in the twentieth century United States, specifically examining the changing display patterns of life science exhibitions in American Museums between 1900-80.

Sarah Lawrence Summer Research Program

The NSF grants, supplemented by the Dean’s Office at Sarah Lawrence, fund the Sarah Lawrence Undergraduate Summer Research Program, a summer internship program now in its second year. The Science Division of the program provides undergraduate students the opportunity to pursue research projects in a variety of disciples within the science faculty at the college, and offer even more intensive and in-depth study than is available during the year. Guided by faculty members working on an assortment of long term research projects, the students receive extensive experience in professional scientific research, as well as a summer stipend and guaranteed summer housing for a nominal fee. For more information on the Summer Research Program or how to apply, click here.

Clarke

Biology Professor Raymond Clarke and recent Sarah Lawrence graduate Carly Gaebe (’04) have been conducting both lab and field work on Clarke’s project, researching the effects of water movement and zooplankton escape behavior on planktivory by coral reef fishes in different microhabitats. Clarke, who was awarded $172,000 for his inter-institutional collaborative project, worked with Chris Finelli from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, who joined teacher and student for three weeks at Glover’s Reef in Belize. Gaebe helped deploy complex instruments to measure precisely the water currents in the feeding zones of little fish called blennies. In addition to the field-work, the project included two weeks of lab work at Port Aransas, Texas in the laboratory of Ed Buskey at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. Here, blennies were placed in tanks that created water currents matching those measured in the field and their feeding attacks on natural prey were videotaped. In the fall semester, a student will work with Clarke to analyze these videotapes to determine feeding success at different current speeds. Carly Gaebe, who plans to attend graduate school in marine biology, enjoyed many new experiences ranging from working with precision underwater while being buffeted by ocean swells to picking individual live copepods out of mixed plankton samples under a microscope.

Clarke’s fish

Professor Ray Clarke, of the Sarah Lawrence biology faculty, has been bestowed the honor of namesake for a small species of fish: Tomicodon clarkei.

In their paper, "Revision of the western Atlantic clingfishes of the genus Tomicodon (Gobiesocidae), with descriptions of five new species", Jeffrey Williams and James Tyler state: "The species is named in honor of Raymond D. Clarke, Professor of Biology at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York, who collected the holotype and only known specimen during his studies of the behavioral ecology of chaenopsid blennies at Carrie Bow Cay, Belize." The paper was published in Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology, Number 621 (2003).

Few professors, and even few biologists have the opportunity to supply their name to new species—that opportunity us usually reserved for taxonomists who work together on determining names. However, due to Clarke’s collaboration with Tyler, he made the right connections, and will be immortalized in the world of marine biology!

Cressman

Drew Cressman’s students made some very exciting discoveries and advancement this summer. Cressman received a grant from the NSF for an investigation of the critical role the Class II Transactivator (CIITA) protein plays in the immune response in normal individuals, a project ultimately facilitating a deeper understanding of the immune response and contributing to work on HIV and other immune system diseases. Each student participating in the summer program had an independent project to work on, contributing to the greater CIITA investigation. Lab technician and returning Summer Research Program student Lindsay Zielinski has spent the last year manipulating the gene for the CIITA protein and putting together a system for the purification of CIITA from bacteria and using it to assess the ability of CIITA to interact with other proteins. Despite the arduous work just setting up the project, Zielinski acquired data that showed she was successful.

Sisters Sebila and Zerina Kratovac worked on experiments that, according to Cressman “generated some surprising results.” Cressman explained that these results “suggest CIITA may associate with and be regulated by other proteins and enzymes in the cell that nobody has ever really considered before. At the moment, their preliminary data is very clean and promising, and will form the basis of a new grant application that we will submit to the NSF in January.”

Alissa Pham continued a project started Christin Janczak last summer, assessing how mutations in the CIITA gene affect the protein's subcellular localization and the rate at which it induces the expression of other genes. This project involved treating cultured mammalian cells with a chemical agent every hour for anywhere from 3 to 16 hours for 3 sets of samples, so as to ensure statistical accuracy. When Pham presented her results [at biweekly lab meetings], “…they had to be summarized in these massive graphs and tables which would always leave the rest of us a bit overwhelmed,” Cressman said, “but Alissa stayed right on top of it.”

Allie Slane, continuing with a project initiated by Mike LeVasseur, who graduated in May, examined the ability of CIITA to translocate from the nucleus to the cytoplasm in cells. This project brought out Slane’s skill in trouble shooting; lead by consistently puzzling results in her data, Slane conducted a careful analysis to deduce the cause of her unusual observations, and through this analysis discovered that a particular gene sequence was not what it was initially believed to be. This research required lot of time in front of a fluorescent microscope, tracking the effect that a chemical inhibitor of nuclear export has on CIITA protein localization in cells. Her data was a sequential series of pictures of cells that glow bright green wherever the CIITA protein is located. Cressman commented that “a composite image of her data is almost a combination of art and science.

This summer also saw Cressman, partnered with Christin Janczak, his student of two years, publish a paper in the July 1st issue of the Journal of Immunology. Looking back, Cressman is quite proud of his students and feels they “have made nice progress working out some of the molecular mechanisms that regulate immune system activity.”

Hinrichs

This summer, Ryan Hinrichs began research for his NSF project, “Spectroscopic Studies on the Heterogeneous Chemistry of Model Mineral Aerosol Compounds,” with the assistance of Sarah Lawrence junior Robert Garrard. Hinrich’s, awarded $282,000 by the NSF, officially receives funding in October and the summer work was sponsored by Sarah Lawrence College through the Sarah Lawrence Summer Research Program.

Hinrichs’ project is an investigation of soil and mineral dust deposits in the atmosphere and how these particles reacts with the high concentration of NOx gases, a main component of smog. “Each year, over a billion tons of soil and mineral dust becomes suspended in Earth’s atmosphere. These microscopic soil particles can alter the chemistry of the atmosphere, and we are particularly interested in how these particles react with polluted air…” Hinrichs explains. “In our laboratory, we study these interactions by using model systems, which consist of pure mineral samples and controlled concentrations of pollutant molecules.”

The three year grant will support one undergraduate student during the academic year to assist Hinrichs on this project, as well as two students over the summer, in addition to funding research equipment.