To acquire wisdom, one must observe

SciFest 2022 celebrates undergraduate research

The Brandeis community recently celebrated SciFest, an annual poster gallery that features the culmination of undergraduate research in the sciences. This year’s 11th annual SciFest was held on Aug 11th and showcased 116 different undergraduate scientific projects from numerous scientific fields. 

Student presenters described their experience conducting research and participating in SciFest with The Brandeis Hoot. 

Nicole Kanzler ’23 from the Paradis Lab is researching a receptor protein called Plexin-B2 to study synapse formation in the mammalian brain. In an interview with The Hoot, Kanzler described her research project, saying, “My ongoing research focuses on a receptor protein called Plexin-B2 that has been shown to promote inhibitory synapse formation onto excitatory neurons in the CA1 hippocampal region.” Her goal is to investigate “if Plexin-B2 plays a similar supporting role in inhibitory synapse formation, but onto a class of inhibitory neurons rather than excitatory.”

Kanzler adds, “Researching gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in my own branch of independent study. Experiencing lab life first-hand and then getting to formulate my work into a poster presentation has provided me with a solid foundation for my future research and career.”

Another student researcher, Nathalie Vieux-Gresham ‘23 from the Birren Lab studies the chronic impact of satellite glia cells on neuronal plasticity in the peripheral nervous system. Vieux-Gresham described the importance of this work, saying, “This is important because the glia-neuron network in the peripheral nervous system is essential for modulating and regulating the activity of our organs like the heart. With that understanding, we can understand how certain disorders like hypertension come to be and how we can seek out potential treatment options.”

Vieux-Gresham explained that her summer research not only contributed to her senior thesis project, but also “became meaningful because [her] goal for the summer was to make [her] research accessible to both scientists unfamiliar with the field and to those who are not well-versed in the sciences in general.” She added that “science becomes more meaningful and impactful when there is a general level of understanding between [her]self, [her] audience, and anyone else interested in…neuroscience in general. Presenting at SciFest to other scientists was the beginning of that goal.”

Shoshana Solomon ‘24 from the Lovett Lab studies DNA damage using bacterial models. Her research involves examining the genes, such as iraD, that regulates DNA damage response under nutrient deprivation conditions. Solomon described the outcome of her project, saying, “I produced data that gave insight to my overall project which aids my understanding of DNA damage response patterns and suggests further projects that explain the SOS independent response system to DNA damage.” 

Solomon also shared what she learned from SciFest: “Through SciFest, I was able to practice designing a poster and presenting my findings to the larger scientific community. I was able to gain a tremendous amount of experience and am very grateful to have had the opportunity to present at the symposium.” 

The audience for SciFest consisted of other undergraduate students from Brandeis, caregivers of students, Brandeis graduate students in the sciences and Brandeis faculty and staff. 

Hannah Riseman ‘24 describes her experience as an audience member at SciFest and what she took away from the experience, saying, “I really enjoyed SciFest! It was so exciting seeing my friends present the projects they worked so hard on over the summer and to learn more about research at Brandeis.” As a Chemical Biology major, Riseman noted, “I was particularly interested in some of the chemistry posters and had a great conversation with an undergraduate student from the Krauss Lab.”

SciFest is supported by funding from several organizations and donors. In an email with The Hoot, Director of Division of Science Administration Heather Felton and Director of Education, Outreach and Diversity in the MRSEC program Anahita Zare discussed the wide range of funding sources. This summer, the M.R. Bauer Foundation and the Blavatnik Family Foundation each supported summer research projects for 10 undergraduates. Felton listed other significant donors, such as Dr. Frederick W. Alt ’71, Gene and Shirley Cordes, Dan Getz, Stephen Hahn P’24 & Dina Venezky P’24, Peter & Barbara Palmer Jordan, Tema C. Nemtzow ’79 & Kraig L. Steffen, Denise D. Selden ’70, Dr. Ilene G. Wittels, David G. & Susan C. Van Hooser, Dr. Elaine S. Yamaguchi ‘71 and the Leontine Jordan & Johanna Dreyer Foundation, the Jerome A. Schiff Charitable Trust, the Abraham Kaplan Charitable Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Science Foundation. 

Zare shared that in addition to displaying Brandeis student projects, students from Hampton University, California State University at Fullerton and Smith College were able to participate in SciFest through the Research Experience for Undergraduates program (REU) within the Materials Research Science and Engineering Department (MRSEC).

Felton added that Brandeis “can only run the summer research program and SciFest because of the generous donations all our donors provide.”

SciFest is described as “the high point of the summer in the Division of Science” due to its celebration of undergraduate contributions and projects. The tradition of SciFest will continue next year, marking the 12th run of the symposium. 

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