Broader Impacts

Better Communication, Better Science

Alexandre and Barnajeet
Dr. Gladys Alexandre, left, and REU participant Reena Barnajeet.

In 2015, researcher Dr. Gladys Alexandre learned something valuable: the addition of Reena Barnajeet, a hard of hearing student, to her lab improved the communication skills of everyone in the group. (more…)

“YOU SHOULD ALWAYS HAVE A HOBBY”

 

Broader Impacts* are just as important as Intellectual Merit in the NSF Merit Review process. Dr. Ahna Skop has found a recipe for broader impacts that’s given the public a taste for science. Learn the story of her not-so-secret ingredients.

Dr. Ahna SkopFor Dr. Ahna Skop, the key ingredients in the recipe for good broader impacts are found in a researcher’s personal passions. (more…)

RUI AWARD SUPPORTS 2017 STUDENT RESEARCH ACHIEVEMENT AWARDEE, RIMA REBIAI

Rima Rebia, Student Research Acheivement Award, Biophysical Society, Feb. 2017

Rima Rebiai, winner of the Biophysical Society’s “Student Research Achievement Award” stands next to her entry.

At the 61st Biophysical Society meeting held in New Orleans February 11-15, 2017, undergraduate researcher Rima Rebiai received the prestigious Student Research Achievement Award. Of the 14 awards made, Rebiai’s research was the only project focusing on nanoscale biophysics.

Rebiai’s research was funded in part by a Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) grant from the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB). RUI proposals support faculty at predominately undergraduate institutions to conduct research that builds institutional capacity for research and supports the integration of research and undergraduate education.

The research was a collaboration between and Dr. Emina Stojkovic, Bernard J. Brommel Research Professor, Department of Biology at Northeastern Illinois University, and Drs. Ken Nicholson and Stefan Tsonchev, Associate Professors in the Department of Chemistry. The award (#1413360) was the first to be awarded to the Biology Department in NEIU’s history, said Stojkovic. An interesting side note, Stojkovic added, is that she attended a similar meeting of the Biophysical Society as an undergraduate student 17 years ago with her research advisor, Dr. Anne Walter from St. Olaf College.

The university featured the honor on its News and Announcements page. According to Northeastern, Rebiai’s project, titled “Light-Induced Conformational Changes of S. aurantiaca Bacteriophytochromes as Revealed by Atomic Force Microscopy,” is the first to use atomic force microscopy to build structural characterization of light-regulated enzymes. Highlighting Stojkovic’s pride in Rebiai’s achievement, the article concludes with a quote: “This is a true honor to have our student stand on the national stage.” Rebiai is currently in her first year of Ph.D. studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

NATIONAL ALLIANCE FOR BROADER IMPACTS: THE POWER OF PARTNERSHIPS

NABI

In April, the National Alliance for Broader Impacts (NABI) held its fifth annual Broader Impacts Summit at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, WA. NABI is a network of more than 600 individuals working together to build institutional capacity, advance broader impacts, and demonstrate the societal benefits of research. NABI members come from educational institutions, museums, science centers, zoos, botanical gardens, professional societies, private industry, foundations, and other organizations. A list of member institutions is available on the NABI website and you can read about the objectives of NABI in a prior post on the MCB Blog. Established in part with funding provided by the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, NABI events and resources help researchers create and develop impactful broader impacts activities.

At the summit, Dr. Suzanne Iacono, Head of the Office of Integrative Activities (OIA) at the National Science Foundation, delivered a keynote address entitled Broader Impacts at NSF. She noted, across proposals, student education and broadening participation were two main focus areas. These areas were also a major point of discussion in several of the sessions at the meeting.

The theme of the three-day summit was the “Power of Partnerships.” Sessions focused on three strands: innovative BI approaches and activities, faculty and student development and training, and broader impacts infrastructure, skills, and tools. Research into the role of partnerships in empowering high-quality outreach, models for public engagement partnerships, and best practices in the assessment and evaluation of broader impacts were presented, which created a foundation for data-driven conversations about broader impacts for the 21st century and beyond.  Presenters discussed how to construct strong science education and build outreach partnerships with a diverse array of partners such as citizen scientists, startup companies, museums, community partners, STEM graduate students, engineers, and faculty. Summit participants also learned how to use crowdfunding, cinema, social media, and Twitter as tools to facilitate outreach.  Discussion also focused on how to reach non-traditional public audiences, minorities underrepresented in STEM fields, and the next generation of scientists. Panelists offered lessons learned while establishing outreach partnerships such as University of Wisconsin – Madison Science Alliance, which connect scientists with K-12 educators, parents, lifelong learners, students, and others. The Summit had a strong focus on the future of BI and NABI.  Sessions engaged member feedback, discussed the creation of a peer-reviewed journal about broader impacts, and considered the role of the NSF CAREER Program in integrating intellectual merit and broader impacts. Slides for each presentation are available at https://broaderimpacts.net/2017-schedule/.

If you are interested in becoming a member of the National Alliance for Broader Impacts network, visit their website at https://broaderimpacts.net/join-nabi/ to join for free. Registration for the next summit, which will be held at the Providence Biltmore April 25-27, 2018 will become available on the NABI website at https://broaderimpacts.net/.

This work is partially funded by the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Award #MCB – 1408736.

DR. SUSAN GERBI WINS THE 2017 GEORGE W. BEADLE AWARD

This is a headshot style photo of Dr. Susan Gerbi who is sitting in her laboratory in front of culture test tubes and a white board, wearing a red sweater, pink turtleneck shirt, and smiling.

MCB congratulates Dr. Susan Gerbi on her 2017 George W. Beadle Award. Each year, the Genetics Society of America honors one investigator for “outstanding contributions to the community of genetics research” such as “creating and disseminating an invaluable technique or tool, assisting the community with the adoption of a model system, working to provide a voice for the community in public or political forums, and/or maintaining active leadership roles.” This distinguished honor was presented to Dr. Gerbi during the 58th Annual Drosophila Research Conference in California.

Dr. Gerbi is the George D. Eggleston Professor of Biochemistry and Professor of Biology at Brown University. In part with NSF support, she has made many notable scientific contributions in all of the areas described above. For example, together with Dr. Joseph Gall, Dr. Gerbi created in situ hybridization, an invaluable technique to locate genes on chromosomes. Additionally, she developed a novel Replication Initiation Point Mapping (RIP) technique that enabled researchers to pinpoint the start site for DNA replication in eukaryotes. Dr. Gerbi and her group also solved the first sequence of eukaryotic 28S ribosomal RNA (28S rRNA). By comparing it to its bacterial homologue (23S rRNA), Dr. Gerbi and her team identified both regions of variability (expansion segments), which aid researchers during phylogenetic analysis, and key regions of conservation (core secondary structure and domain specific conserved sequences) that are held constant among organisms to maintain rRNA function. Further, Dr. Gerbi was the first to identify an in vivo role for U3 small nucleolar RNA, which promotes ribosomal RNA folding and processing, and she was the first to develop a fluorescence-based method to track localization of small RNAs in vivo, which allowed for the identification of specific sequences that target the RNAs to the sites of ribosome assembly in the nucleolus.

Dr. Gerbi and her research team also developed Sciara coprophilia as a model organism, mapping the fly’s genome using a new, handheld DNA sequencing technology called the Oxford Nanopore MinION. (The MinION made a recent appearance in space when it was used by NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins to sequence DNA on the International Space Station.) With the genome, transcriptome, and methodology for genome editing now available, Dr. Gerbi is actively promoting the use of Sciara as a model organism to mine its unique biological features, including a monopolar spindle in meiosis, non-disjunction, chromosome imprinting, and elimination. Studies on Sciara offer new insights into the mechanisms of locus-specific DNA re-replication, which may serve as a paradigm for gene amplification in cancer. This work was partially funded by the Genetic Mechanisms cluster of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Award #MCB-1607411.

Dr. Gerbi has also served the scientific community in numerous leadership positions and science advocacy roles. For example, Dr. Gerbi was Founding Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry at Brown University, serving in that role for 10 years. Just a few of the many broader impacts of her work that have focused on training the next generation of scientists include 33 years of service as principal investigator (PI) or co-PI on Brown University’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) predoctoral training grant. Dr. Gerbi has also served as President of the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB), fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), chair of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Consensus Conference on Graduate Education, founding member and Chair of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Graduate Research Education and Training (GREAT) group, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee’s Study on the National Needs for Biomedical Research Personnel. She was also a member of the National Academy of Sciences committee on Bridges to Independence, which led to NIH’s Pathway to Independence K99 award that provides research funding opportunities to postdoctoral researchers who are transitioning to faculty positions.

For these and other efforts, Dr. Gerbi has contributed greatly to the genetics community through her dedication to scientific research, leadership, and advocacy. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Susan Gerbi!

Broadening the Impact of Science

Broader Impacts (BIs) are the contributions to society and advancement of scientific knowledge that result from research. As we previously noted on the MCB blog in this infographic, there are many different ways science can have broader impacts. The BI activities and outcomes spotlighted in this post were submitted by MCB-funded researchers as examples of what they have accomplished with MCB support, not prescriptions for success during the merit review process. If you are: 1) an MCB-funded researcher and 2) would like to share your broader impacts activities with our readers, please fill out this form to be considered in a future post.

The top image shows the Slideboard website homepage which contains pictures of cells tagged with fluorescent markers in green and orange and text that says “Welcome to Slideboards – Explore Slideboards – Learn More.”The bottom image shows an example slideboard. On the bottom left of the slideboard example is a white screen shot of the title “Localization and abundance analysis of human IncRNAs at single cell and single molecule resolution,” authors “Cabili MN*#, Dunagin MC*, McClanahan PD, Biaesch A, Padovan-Merhar O, Regev A*, Rinn JL*#, Raj A*#; *equal contributions, #corresponding authors,” and the reference “Genome Biology 2015, doi:10.1186/s13059-015-0586-4,” followed by the acknowledgement “Great work led by Moran Cabili and Margaret Dunagin. A wonderful collaboration between the Rinn, Regev, and Raj labs!” On the bottom right of the slideboard example is a repeat of the title and author list, a dropdown arrow, twitter symbol, Facebook symbol, and a list of questions with hyperlinks to answers created by the students who made the Slideboard. The questions ask “1. Where can I learn more about IncRNA? 2. How did we choose the IncRNA to screen? 3. Did you test whether any types of stress change localization or abundance? 4. Should I do a two-color validation of my IncRNA FISH? 5. Was there any correlation between whether a probe “failed” and any other factor from RNA-seq? 6. What are these off targets that create the non-specific background? 7. What sorts of inconsistencies did the two color assay reveal? 8. Were these patterns the same across cell types?”

Slideboard website homepage (top) and an example slideboard with title page and Q & A (bottom), which are available at http://slideboard.herokuapp.com/.

Once a scientist makes a discovery, it is off to the presses to publish. The resulting journal article can be lengthy and filled with jargon, because it serves as a how-to guide for other scientists in the field to repeat experiments. Though very informative to experts, scientific publications can be challenging for students and the general public to read quickly and understand. Dr. Arjun Raj, MCB CAREER recipient and Associate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, and his research team came up with a new way to communicate science called “Slideboards.” As shown at the bottom of the image, slideboards contain the title, citation, and authors of journal articles, followed by lists of frequently-asked questions with in-line answers. Teams of graduate and high-school students generate each slideboard by asking and answering their own questions about the paper. Online readers can use a form at the bottom of the slideboard to submit their own questions, which are answered by the students. Creating a slideboard allows the team to practice using web-based technology, and translating complex scientific literature into a summarized question-based format. This outreach project also helped graduate students develop skills necessary to present their own research, while encouraging high-school students to learn about scientific projects at the leading edge of the field. To view the Slideboard website, go to http://slideboard.herokuapp.com/.

This work is partially funded by the Cellular Dynamics and Function Cluster of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Awards #MCB – 1350601.

A group of students and graduate student Laura Bankers stand on a bridge over water in front of trees and grass on a nature hike at the Science Booster Club’s 2016 evolution summer camp (top left). Graduate student Kyle McElroy talks with a group of students in front of trees and grass by water during the 2016 evolution summer camp. He is gesturing with his hand, and wearing a green shirt and orange and black ball cap. One of the students, a young girl is smiling wearing a checkered blouse and green lanyard (middle left). A group of young men who are seated in a classroom at a table smile at the camera and hold up vials of DNA that they learned how to extract during the 2016 evolution summer camp while wearing a blue and orange tee-shirt, grey tee-shirt, blue tee-shirt and blue and white ball cap, or a black tee-shirt. Two are wearing orange lanyards around their neck and one is wearing purple lab gloves. In the background other youth participants are standing in front of a monitor glowing on the wall. (bottom left). Dr. Emily Schoerning is dressed up as Captain Planet in a green wig, red shirt and shorts, and blue nylons. She is standing with her arms up in a superhero pose in front of a window near potted plants (top right). Undergraduate student Jorge Moreno, wearing a black polo shirt and jeans with a yellow badge, and graduate student Laura Bankers in a grey dress. Both are standing in front of a yellow and black wall with a display monitor, and are standing behind a table with candy, flyers, and other materials, talking to off-screen participants (bottom right).

Attendees at the Science Booster Club’s 2016 evolution summer camp enjoyed nature hikes with graduate student Laura Bankers (top left), discussions of the evolution of parasites with graduate student Kyle McElroy (middle left), and gained hands-on experience extracting DNA with Integrated DNA Technologies (bottom left). The Science Booster Club hosted visits with Dr. Emily Schoerning as Captain Planet (top right), and discussions with undergraduate Jorge Moreno and graduate student Laura Bankers at the Iowa State Fair (bottom right).

As you look around the sidelines at a sporting event, you may notice a group of parents enthusiastically raising funds for new team uniforms or sporting equipment (booster club). Taking that concept out of the world of sports and into the world of science, Dr. Maurine Neiman (Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Iowa) and Dr. Emily Schoerning (Director of Research and Community Organizing at the National Center for Science Education) teamed up with students at the University of Iowa to create a Science Booster Club. The Science Booster Club held a summer camp (images on the left) and participated in community-organized events such as the Iowa State Fair (images on the right). At each event, club members facilitated fun, interactive science activities and discussions with the public. The group also raised funds to purchase and donate equipment to local science teachers. Young people attending these events, often from underserved areas that lacked scientific resources, have the chance to see themselves as scientists by learning through a hands-on approach. Graduate and undergraduate booster club members also gained valuable grant writing and proposal review, outreach, communication, education, and event planning experience – skills that are useful in future professional scientific careers. As such, for his work in the science booster club, graduate student Kyle McElroy received a 2017 summer stipend from MCB’s NSF 16-067 supplement to improve graduate student preparedness for entering the workforce. Dr. Schoerning noted, “We worked with over 54,000 Iowans last year during this pilot project at the University of Iowa, and have expanded into a national program in 11 states.” Click here to learn more about the Science Booster Club at the University of Iowa.

This work is partially funded by the Genetic Mechanisms Cluster of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Awards #MCB – 1122176.

CONGRATULATIONS TO 2017 PRESIDENTIAL EARLY CAREER AWARDEE, DR. AHMAD KHALIL!

Dr. Ahmad Khalil is smiling, arms crossed, standing in front of his lab bench while wearing a blue and white checked shirt and glasses.

MCB would like to congratulate Dr. Ahmad (Mo) Khalil, recipient of the 2017 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The PECASE award is the most prestigious honor a scientist or engineer can receive from the U.S. government early in their independent research career.

PECASE selection is a highly competitive process. As we previously noted on the MCB Blog, awardees must first receive a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award. Dr. Khalil received his CAREER award from the Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster in the Division of MCB. The National Science Foundation annually nominates up to twenty CAREER awardees for the PECASE award, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy makes the final selection of PECASE awardees.

Dr. Khalil was selected to receive a PECASE award because his work is an outstanding example of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and because of his strong commitment to service, scientific leadership, education, and outreach. His research uses synthetic biology to engineer cellular networks; the specific focus of his CAREER award is to develop synthetic tools to study the function of prions in yeast cells and populations. You can read more about his research at Boston University on his lab’s website or in a post we featured via the Share MCB Science blog theme.

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Khalil!

This work is partially funded by the Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, CAREER Award #MCB-1350949.

MOLECULAR BIOPHYSICS INVESTIGATORS AWARDED SOCIETY HONORS

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) congratulates three investigators who recently received distinguished awards in recognition of their contributions to science. Each investigator has been supported in part by MCB’s Molecular Biophysics program.

This is a headshot style photograph of Dr. Gary Pielak in a grey button down shirt with glasses. He is smiling at the camera.Dr. Gary Pielak received the 2016 Carl Brändén Award from the Protein Society. Dr. Pielak is the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Biophysics and Vice Chair of Facilities with a joint appointment at the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Carl Brändén Award honors “an outstanding protein scientist who has made exceptional contributions in the areas of education and/or service to the science.”  The service part of the Award reflects, in part, Gary’s stint with us as a MCB Program Director. Dr. Pielak works with his research group to study the equilibrium thermodynamics of proteins under crowded conditions and in living cells using high-resolution in-cell NMR and other methods. His research is supported in part by MCB and NSF’s Division of Chemistry.

Dr. Martin Gruebele was awarded the 2017 Nakanishi Prize by the American Chemical Society. Dr. Gruebele is a 2013 National Academy of Sciences fellow, James R. Eiszner Endowed Chair in Chemistry, Professor of Physics at the Center for Biophysics and Quantitative Biology, and full-time faculty member in the Beckman Institute Nanoelectronics and Nanomaterials group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Much like MCB places high priority on cross-disciplinary research (using computational, physical, mathematical, and engineering tools, technologies, or methodologies to address major biological questions), the Nakanishi prize celebrates “significant work that extends chemical and spectroscopic methods to the study of important biological phenomena.” The Gruebele group uses lasers, microscopy, and computational approaches to explore complex biochemical processes such as transport of unfolded proteins within a cell. This work was supported in part by MCB and NSF’s Division of Chemistry, Division of Materials Research, Division of Undergraduate Education, and the Office of International Science and Engineering.

This is a headshot style photo of Dr. Dave Thirumalai in a grey striped button down shirt. He is smiling at the camera.Dr. Dave Thirumalai received the 2016 Award in Theoretical Chemistry from the Division of Physical Chemistry of the American Chemical Society during the Fall ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia. Dr. Thirumalai is currently Chair of the Department of Chemistry in the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. As noted on the awards web page, Dr. Thirumalai was recognized for his “outstanding contributions to physical and biophysical chemistry, especially work on protein and RNA folding, protein aggregation, and effects of molecular crowding in cells.” The work of Dr. Thirumalai and his research team when we was at the University of Maryland was supported in part MCB and NSF’s Division of Chemistry, Division of Physics, and the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure.

Please join MCB in congratulating Drs. Pielak, Gruebele, and Thirumalai on their awards!