Northampton, MA, United States
Northampton, MA, United States

Smith College is a private, independent women's liberal arts college with coed graduate and certificate programs, located in Northampton, Massachusetts, United States. It is the largest member of the Seven Sisters. In 2013, U.S. News & World Report ranked it 18th among Best Liberal Arts Colleges.Smith is also a member of the Five Colleges consortium, which allows its students to attend classes at four other Pioneer Valley institutions: Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Wikipedia.

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Harrington M.E.,Smith College
Progress in Neurobiology | Year: 2012

Fatigue is a symptom associated with many disorders, is especially common in women and in older adults, and can have a huge negative influence on quality of life. Although most past research on fatigue uses human subjects instead of animal models, the use of appropriate animal models has recently begun to advance our understanding of the neurobiology of fatigue. In this review, results from animal models using immunological, developmental, or physical approaches to study fatigue are described and compared. Common across these animal models is that fatigue arises when a stimulus induces activation of microglia and/or increased cytokines and chemokines in the brain. Neurobiological studies implicate structures in the ascending arousal system, sleep executive control areas, and areas important in reward. In addition, the suprachiasmatic nucleus clearly plays an important role in homeostatic regulation of the neural network mediating fatigue. This nucleus responds to cytokines, shows decreased amplitude firing rate output in models of fatigue, and responds to exercise, one of our few treatments for fatigue. This is a young field but very important as the symptom of fatigue is common across many disorders and we do not have effective treatments. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: | Award Amount: 553.65K | Year: 2014

The aquisition of a total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscope will greatly enhance the life sciences at Smith College, the nations largest liberal arts college for women. This microscope will inspire a new generation of scientists through its ability to observe individual molecules in real time, thereby providing an opportunity to go from textbook descriptions of molecules to actually witnessing their behavior and showing how molecular activity leads to the behavior of whole cells. Interdisciplinary research in Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, Neuroscience and Physics will include: cellular organization and cargo transport by the molecular motors that allow for cell movement; interactions of molecular motors and their tracks at different stages in muscle and nerve development; time-dependent function of single molecule catalysts; characterization of designed proteins that may inhibit cancer progression; and time-dependent responses of novel polymers designed to react to specific environmental conditions. Finally, the TIRF microscope will facilitate the creation and validation of a low-cost teaching TIRF microscope designed for pedagogical applications and laboratory class exercises. Design plans and materials for this teaching system will be disseminated to colleges and universities throughout the United States as part of Smith College?s substantial community outreach programs.

Recently great progress has been made in understanding the biophysics and mechanochemistry of proteins and small molecules. Total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy is an essential tool enabling this revolution as it enables sub-diffraction-limited single molecule localizations to a precision of ~1 nm. A TIRF microscope at Smith College will enable single molecule research in eight laboratories representing six departments and programs. Research is focused in three areas: 1) mechanochemistry, genetics, and biophysics of the cytoskeleton, 2) single molecule mechanisms of chemical polymerization and catalysis, and 3) engineered proteins and their interactions within cells. Several cytoskeleton projects will delve into understanding the motor proteins dynein, kinesin, and myosin and how they interact with one another and their microtubule and microfilament tracks. Investigations of how anesthetics catalyze cytoskeletal rearrangement in neurons and how kinesin inhibitors alter radial glial cells in development will also be conducted. The molecular level dynamics of peptide interactions and how these interactions affect the macroscopic mechanical attributes of polymers of these peptides will be studied.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: BIOLOGICAL OCEANOGRAPHY | Award Amount: 472.73K | Year: 2014

Most of the biomass, productivity, and overall metabolism in the ocean are due to microbes, including bacteria, single-celled algae and protozoa. Oxygen depletion, harmful blooms, and other ocean ills are all attributable to these smallest members of the plankton. Their production and processing of organic matter, however, form the basis of the oceans food web and thus determine the amount of food humans can harvest from the sea. Due to their small size, it is more difficult to assess the biological diversity of microbes than it is for larger organisms, such as the oceans fish and mammal populations, yet because of their high abundance and dominance of ocean metabolism it is critical that we are able to measure microbial diversity and to understand how it changes over different time and space scales in response to changes in the environment. This project will make an important step forward in helping us to understand microbial biodiversity and set a baseline for changes that are expected in coming decades. In carrying out this research, undergraduate and graduate students as well as post-doctoral scholars will obtain training in the latest sequencing and data-processing technologies, an important goal for maintaining US leadership in biotechnology.

This project will use DNA-based methods to measure microbial diversity in the coastal ocean, employing the deep-sequencing technology to sample hundreds of thousands of microbial species simultaneously. To enable the deepest possible sampling, it will focus on a single group of microbes, the ciliates, using them as a model for similar microbes. Previous use of such methods has revealed a common pattern in which a small group of common ciliate species is accompanied by a very large group of rare ones. Because the new sequencing technologies provide so much information about microbial communities from each sample, this project will be able to evaluate how both the common and rare parts of the community (the latter is often referred to as the rare biosphere) change with seasons, distance from shore, climate zone, etc. The technical goals for this project are to evaluate how ciliate diversity varies over time and space in the ocean, to evaluate environmental factors, both abiotic and biotic, that drive this variation, and to perform experiments under controlled conditions to test hypotheses about the relationship between diversity and these factors.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: Chemistry of Life Processes | Award Amount: 410.03K | Year: 2016

The Chemistry of Life Processes Program in the Chemistry Division is funding Dr. David J. Gorin from Smith College to develop chemical reagents that selectively modify one compound in a complex biological mixture. Currently, transforming one molecular target in a mixture with many competing molecules is a major challenge for chemical researchers. The strategy being developed relies on DNA molecules capable of folding into complex three-dimensional structures and adhering to specific targets of interest. The DNA serves as an adhesive to bring a modifying chemical structure into close proximity, resulting in selective modification of the target. These new reagents are being applied to perturb and study molecular processes in living systems, including communication within bacterial populations that are important for understanding infections. Undergraduates at Smith College, the nations largest liberal arts college for women, are key contributors to the research. In order to increase the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) undergraduate engagement and the success of women, and especially women of color, course-based research and guest lectures by diverse STEM role models are incorporated into the introductory organic chemistry classes. The impact of these and other curricular innovations are assessed through the deployment of a competition-based assessment plan for student capacities alongside more traditional approaches for tracking student outcomes.

The goal of this research is to develop reagents for the selective chemical modification of one target molecule in a complex biological mixture. A new class of selective catalysts that recognize and bind to a particular target, thereby increasing the rate of a desired reaction, are being developed. Specifically, selective and high-affinity DNA aptamers are being covalently linked to well-established low molecular weight catalysts, including organo- and transition metal-catalysts, to create DNA-small molecule catalyst conjugates (DCats). DCats enable enzyme-like selectivity with synthetic reagents, promising a fundamentally new capability to target a chemical reaction to any molecule of interest. Generality is being demonstrated in an array of reaction chemistries on both small molecules and protein substrates. In addition, a DCat is being developed to investigate N-acyl homoserine lactone chemical communication within populations of bacteria. This application demonstrates the broad potential of DCats as tools to study biological systems and other complex mixtures. Smith University undergraduates are centrally involved in the research, which represents a springboard for STEM graduate study and careers. Incorporation of the proposed research into the introductory organic chemistry laboratory class broadens the impact of the research by reaching a greater number of students, especially those who might not vigorously pursue research opportunities on their own initiative.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: MAJOR RESEARCH INSTRUMENTATION | Award Amount: 271.65K | Year: 2014

Non-technical description:

This grant supports the acquisition of a laser system at Smith College, an undergraduate womens liberal arts college. This system will enable two main developments, the first of which is the next generation of a technique called Atom Trap Trace Analysis (ATTA) which is expected to significantly improve the ability of the U.S. to monitor activity at known and suspected nuclear reprocessing sites, as well as to analyze ice core samples for climate history studies. The second development involves the measurement of several energy levels of neutral beryllium to high precision, which improves our understanding of atomic theory and helps to advance basic science.

Technical description:

To perform trace analysis with krypton (in support of the first development described in the paragraph above), krypton atoms first need to be transferred to a metastable state for laser cooling and trapping. The precision of most Atom Trap Trace Analysis measurements is currently limited by the methods used to produce the metastable atomic beams. Replacing these methods with the optical source funded here will lead to significant advances such as an increase in detection efficiency, a decrease in sample size, and elimination of cross-sample contamination. The beryllium project (the second development described in the paragraph above) aims to improve experimental measurements on several energy levels and the ionization threshold. Currently, theoretical estimates of the energy levels have more than an order of magnitude more precision than experimental measurements. These improved experimental results will delineate various theoretical models, test quantum electrodynamics, and help determine the nuclear charge radius of beryllium.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: MODULATION | Award Amount: 468.13K | Year: 2013

Why do some species live in large groups while others interact only to reproduce? This project investigates neural sources of variation in mammalian social behavior, including pathways that support motivation to interact with others and social tolerance. Most of what is known about the neurobiology of social attachments comes from research on mothering and monogamy, while little is known about non-reproductive relationships. The goal of this project is to examine where and how the hormone oxytocin acts in the brain to influence social behavior between peers. This is approached with behavioral, pharmacological, and molecular genetic studies of meadow voles. Meadow voles display environmentally induced variation in social behavior, acting aggressive and territorial in summer months, but living in social groups in winter. These experiments will investigate how seasonal changes in neurochemistry, particularly in oxytocin circuitry, underlie changing anxiety, social tolerance, and social attachments. This fills a gap in our understanding of social relationships by adding the study of non-reproductive peer relationships, and contributes important basic information on how oxytocin contributes to both prosocial and antisocial behaviors in different brain regions. These findings will have implications for understanding sociality across social species, particularly in mammals. These studies will be conducted at a womens college, providing training opportunities for undergraduate women, many from under-represented groups. Students will serve in leadership roles and participate in all aspects of this research including presentation and publication of work. Anatomical and genomic data from these studies will be contributed to online repositories (Data Dryad and GenBank), and custom software will be made available through the lab website


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: ENGINEERING EDUCATION | Award Amount: 65.20K | Year: 2016

Extant research pinpoints gaps between school and work in respect to engineering practice. For example, a recent American Society of Mechanical Engineering (ASME) study identified a number of student weaknesses, such as: practical experience, project management, problem solving, and design. Equally important, industry supervisors have also identified these gaps. The misalignment between the engineering classroom and workplace poses serious challenges with the professional formation of engineers. Generally speaking, capstone courses are key academic experiences that can bridge these gaps. Few studies, if any, have examined the effectiveness of capstone courses in helping students make the transition from engineering classrooms to the workplace. Instead, most research focuses on course structure, pedagogy, assessment, and end-of-course outcomes. To address the knowledge gaps, the investigators draw on Wengers concept of communities of practice to study students experiences as they move from capstone courses to the workplace.

Using a multi-case study design, the project is focusing on four primary research questions:
(a) What skills, practices, and attitudes fostered through the capstone experience do individuals draw on or apply in their early work experiences?
(b) What differences do individuals identify between their capstone design and early work experiences, and how do those differences help or hinder their school-to-work transition?
(c) What specific pedagogical practices or aspects of the capstone course do students identify as helping or hindering their transition?
(d) In what ways do individuals perceive themselves to be underprepared in their early work experiences?

Further, with a particular focus on women and Hispanics, the investigators proposed to study the extent that capstone design courses prepared these students to enter communities of practice in engineering workplaces. This project is closely aligned with the National Science Foundations strategic priorities to build the STEM workforce with capable individuals, as well as broadening participation in engineering among underrepresented groups.

In the scientific literature, there are numerous studies that highlight the gaps between theory and practice in relation to engineering education and the workplace, yet capstone courses are common practices that engineering instructors use to help students gain more in-depth engineering knowledge. There is a dearth of studies that have examined the effectiveness of capstone courses and how these courses may help students to translate and apply prior engineering coursework to the engineering workplace. With this in mind, this project has immense potential to positively impact engineering instruction across the nation. It also possesses great potential in helping engineering faculty to develop more effective capstone courses, while maximizing their instructional resources to create such courses. Ultimately, this project will benefit U.S. engineering industries seeking to hire adaptable engineering graduates who are technically and professionally prepared to enter the engineering workforce.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: | Award Amount: 130.00K | Year: 2014

Whenever equations model the world around us---whether describing how the gross domestic product depends on different sectors of the economy or predicting the trajectory of a spacecraft or a hurricane---those equations also describe a geometric object. For a simple system of equations like the line x+y=1, geometry might not seem very useful. When we have complicated systems with dozens of equations in hundreds of variables, methods from geometry can be one of the few ways to analyze important quantitative and qualitative aspects of the system, like where it has a maximum or how many pieces it has. This research project develops important geometric tools for describing complicated systems of equations. It then applies these tools to specific systems of equations with important applications in mathematics, physics, computer science, and other fields.

The PI proposes to solve three linked questions in modern Schubert calculus: the first studies the cohomology of the affine Grassmannian; the second studies the intersection homology of Schubert varieties; and the third studies the cohomology of a family of subvarieties of the flag variety called Hessenberg varieties, in order to answer major open questions about the flag variety. To do this, the PI will use GKM theory, a combinatorial and algebraic algorithm to describe equivariant cohomology, as well as a recent extension of GKM theory called generalized splines. The goals of the project will be 1) to develop theoretical tools and algorithms in generalized splines and 2) to apply these tools to perform specific computational and combinatorial calculations in the various cohomology rings we study.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: AMO Experiment/Atomic, Molecul | Award Amount: 33.59K | Year: 2016

The aim of this project is to advance the understanding of the inner workings of the atom. Specifically, this project investigates how all the components that make up the beryllium atom, the fourth element on the periodic table, come together to give beryllium its atomic and nuclear properties. Our knowledge of atomic systems is driven by both experimental and theoretical results. The lighter elements (hydrogen, helium, and lithium) have been extensively studied both experimentally and theoretically. Because beryllium has more subatomic particles compared to the three lighter elements, it is more complex and difficult to model. As the computations involved in modeling this atom grow more complex, it becomes essential to provide experimental results to both check those calculations and determine which theoretical models correctly describe this multi-electron system. The most precise experimental measurements currently available for beryllium are up to 10,000 times less precise than those for the three lighter elements. This project will greatly improve upon these experimental measurements in order to validate fundamental atomic and nuclear theories as well as provide information about the nuclear and electronic structure of the atom. Understanding beryllium is an important stepping stone to developing a multi-electron theory that successfully describes larger and heavier atoms, which make up the bulk of the periodic table of the elements and are essential components of the materials that we live and work with every day.

High precision spectroscopy will be performed on the neutral beryllium isotope chain to significantly improve the experimental accuracy of several key energy levels. The results will delineate various theoretical models, test quantum electrodynamics, and help determine the nuclear charge radius of beryllium. Spectroscopy will be performed on both singlet states (2s2p, 2s3d, and 2snp Rydberg states) and triplet states (2s2p, 2s3s, 2s4s, and 2snp Rydberg states) as well as the ionization threshold. An oven operating at 1200 degrees Celsius will produce a beam of neutral atomic beryllium. Transverse spectroscopy will be performed on this atomic beam using a variety of laser sources including a frequency quadrupled Ti-Sapphire laser and external cavity diode lasers. Photon energy calibration is provided by a calibrated ultra low expansion cavity and the atom-light interaction is detected by absorption, fluorescence, or ion detection depending on the state being studied.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: GoLife | Award Amount: 412.50K | Year: 2015

Most of the biological diversity in eukaryotes (organisms with distinct nuclei) is in the form of microscopic species and, when compared to other eukaryotes (plants, animals and fungi), is less well-studied in terms of morphological characterisitics, evolutionary relationships among species, and genetic variation. This relative lack of information on microbial eukaryotes not only has consequences for our understanding of all biodiversity on Earth, but also how we interpret cellular and evolutionary biology in the broadest sense. This research will advance our knowledge of a major evolutionary group (clade) of microbial eukaryotes that comprise the Stramenopila, Alveolata and Rhizaria, (SAR). SAR is a major clade of diverse microscopic eukaryotes that was recently identified by evolutionary analyses and additional data have robustly supported SAR as an independent evolutionary lineage. This discovery is forcing a re-evaluation of the evolution of several eukaryotic traits, most notably photosynthesis. Within SAR there are many diverse lineages but genetic data are rare and concentrated in only a few lineages: Apicomplexa (e.g. malarial parasites), omycetes (e.g. parasite water molds) and diatoms (e.g. ecologically important phytoplankton). This project proposes to increase the number of SAR species with genetic data as well as massively increase the amount of genetic data collected per species. Organisms used for genomic data will be imaged and will be integrated to the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) to provide a comprehensive resource on microbial eukaryotic diversity.

Despite their global ecological importance, fewer than 50% of all SAR clades are represented by even a single genome in public databases. The work proposed here would add at least 250 novel genomic-scale datasets (transcriptomes, draft genomes, single-cell amplified genomes), focused primarily on capturing diversity within SAR. These datasets will be made publicly available, substantially increasing our understanding of the evolution of these organisms. The application of both established phylogenomic and emerging similarity network methods will enable a multi-layered analysis that will provide new information for evolutionary analyses of these organisms. This will include: 1) diversity discovery using targeted environmental 18S surveys coupled with high-throughput FlowCam imaging; 2) high-throughput transcriptomic sequencing; and 3) single cell genomics of unculturable taxa. Phylogenetic analyses will capture the genetic mosaics that underlie the early evolution within SAR. Beyond the increase in genome scale resources from diverse members of the SAR clade, the proposed work will generate image data layers and integrate these with other images from the literature in EOL. Undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will be trained in cutting edge techniques and will provide a workshop for teacher training in microscopy. This project will increase diversity of participants by recruiting students from underrepresented groups and develop of a high school curriculum on the microbial tree of life.

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