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SciFest XII celebrates undergraduate scientific research

The Brandeis community recently celebrated SciFest, the largest annual poster symposium for undergraduates conducting scientific research. This year marked the 12th annual SciFest and was held at the Shapiro Science Center on Aug. 10. Altogether, there were 104 presenters from a wide range of scientific backgrounds. Student presenters described their experience conducting research and presenting at SciFest with The Hoot.

Mia Nydam ’26 and Noah Michaud ’26 participated in SciFest for the first time this summer. Nydam’s project at the Street Lab focused on elucidating the molecular dynamics of two proteins involved in facilitating proper protein folding in cells. “I was awed to see so many posters on all four floors and even more amazed to see how many people attended the event,” she said. “Having different people of different backgrounds asking questions about my research made me reconsider what I have done in a different light.”

Michaud worked at the Duclos Lab to design and test a microfluidics device that would allow for the creation of a global actin gradient in order to test a hypothesis regarding the biomotility of an actin bead active matter system. “Presenting at SciFest was a great opportunity to not only present my research to fellow scientists but also to the Brandeis community as a whole. It acted as a great wrap-up to my summer work,” he reflected.

Additionally, several rising seniors commented on their experience partaking in SciFest for the last time in their undergraduate careers.

Fijare Plous ’24 conducted research at the Haber Lab where she helped develop a screening protocol for the CRISPRi system, a genetic platform that can prevent the transcription of a gene. “I did this by setting up the screen to focus on single strand annealing—a form of DNA double strand break repair for regions lying between two homologous sequences—along with the DNA damage checkpoint recovery. After performing the screen and compiling a list of candidate genes, I tested four of them to determine if any may in fact play a role in single strand annealing or the DNA damage checkpoint. Of those four, one gene (YNG1) appears to likely play a role in one of the two pathways. More studies will need to be done to identify which pathway it contributes to and what its role is,” she explained.

“I had a wonderful experience presenting at SciFest! It’s amazing to see the breadth of research being done by undergraduates and the amazing feats they’ve accomplished. I’ve found the scientific community at Brandeis to truly be supportive, and it brings me joy to see the community come together and celebrate undergraduate work. To my fellow summer researchers—congratulations on your work! It was an honor to present at SciFest with you all,” she shared.

Albert Countryman ’24 used computational modeling on simulated gels to study how disordered materials can attain rigidity at the Chakraborty Lab. “SciFest was an opportunity to practice the kind of scientific communication that is so common in real life and that never gets requested in classes,” Countryman reflected. He particularly valued practicing “having to adjust [the] presentation on the fly to adapt to audiences of all different levels of expertise.”

Ken Kirio ’24 analyzed the effect of aging on circular RNA, a type of noncoding RNA that accumulates in neuronal tissue, at the Kadener Lab. “SciFest was great because I love getting to learn about other projects outside my field that other Brandeis students are working on,” he said.

Jacob Gehtman ’24 conducted research at the Oprian Lab where he studied how enzymes carry out complex reactions to form a vast array of natural products. “We’re specifically studying the enzymes that make terpenes, called terpene cyclases,” he explained. Terpenes are a broad category of compounds that have numerous pharmaceutical applications. “The ultimate, sky-high goal is to develop a system where we can take the amino acid sequence of a terpene cyclase and be able to predict which products it makes based on that sequence.”

Gehtman valued the opportunity to not only share his work with the Brandeis scientific community and the general public, but also to learn about all the amazing work done by other undergraduate students. “For me, it’s why presenting at SciFest is so dynamic and exhilarating; it teaches the skill of elucidating complex ideas in simple terms, a skill that I really value in science and beyond,” he concluded.

The SciFest audience consists of Brandeis science community members such as faculty members, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, as well as family members, Brandeis administrators and non-science scholars.

Nicole Kanzler, a research technician at the Paradis Lab, commented on her experience as an audience member at SciFest. “As a recent graduate, it was amazing to walk around and experience the vast range of topics that Brandeis students researched this summer. For me, SciFest was such a reminder of how incredible and accomplished this community is!”

Though the experience of presenting at SciFest was very meaningful for Nydam, she shares one area of improvement. “I loved the event, but I wish it was longer and more staggered so presenters would have the opportunity to listen to other people’s posters without feeling like I abandoned my own.” In other words, the timing and presenting logistics of SciFest may be adapted to allow undergraduate students to better appreciate each other’s work.

Students conducting research at Brandeis are supported through a number of fellowships made possible by donations. In an interview with The Hoot, Director of the Division of Science Heather Felton listed this year’s fellowships: Blavatnik Family Foundation Summer Undergraduate Science Fellowships, Division of Science Summer Research Fellowships, Dr. Frederick W. Alt ’71 Summer Biology Research Fellowship, Ellen Rubin Gordon ’65 Summer Fellowship, Division of Science Life Science Scholars Program Fellowships, Nemtzow & Steffen Student Research Endowment Fellowship, VanHooser Family Science Undergrad Research Endowed Fellowship, Jordan-Dreyer Summer Research Scholarships, Professor Robert Stevenson Memorial UG Research Fellowship, REU in the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, Summer Materials Undergraduate Research Fellowships and Quantitative Biology Research Community (QBReC) Summer Fellowships.

Moving forward, Brandeis Division of Science staff hope to continue to accrue donations to support SciFest in the future. To make a donation to support undergraduate scientific research at Brandeis, one can go to Brandeis’ Make a Gift” page, click choose a designation, scroll to the bottom of the list and select “Undergraduate Summer Science Research Fellowship Fund,” Felton explained.

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