Kevin Bandura and Wei He Receive the Astrid and Bruce McWilliams Graduate Fellowship-Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, March 31, 2008

Kevin Bandura and Wei He Receive the Astrid and Bruce McWilliams Graduate Fellowship

Graduate students Kevin Bandura and Wei He are the 2008 recipients of the Astrid and Bruce McWilliams Fellowship in the Mellon College of Science. The fellowship, established in 2007 by alumnus Bruce McWilliams, chairman, president and CEO of Tessera Technologies; and his wife, Astrid McWilliams, provides tuition, stipend and fees for up to one year of graduate study, as well as $1000 for conference travel or other research expenses. The MCS Dean’s Office has matched the McWilliams’ generous gift this year with additional funds to provide full support for two outstanding recipients. Both Bandura and He exemplify the purpose of the fellowship — to support graduate students conducting leading-edge research in emerging fields such as nanotechnology, biophysics and cosmology.

“Thanks to the McWilliams’ extraordinary support, we have this outstanding opportunity to invest in excellent graduate students in key research areas,” said Fred Gilman, acting dean of the Mellon College of Science and Buhl Professor of Theoretical Physics.

photo of Kevin Bandura and Bruce McWilliamms

Kevin Bandura and Bruce McWilliams

Kevin Bandura, a fifth year doctoral student in Physics working with Professor Jeff Peterson, is investigating whether a new technique called three-dimensional intensity mapping of the universe is feasible for studying huge volumes of the universe using very simple inexpensive telescopes. Obtaining this type of data is key for studying dark energy, a non-luminous energy that is accelerating the expansion of the universe. To look for evidence of dark energy’s effects, Bandura has assembled a prototype interferometer that can detect the characteristic radio emissions from neutral hydrogen — a telescope that can map wide regions of the sky. Observing the sky in this manner allows Bandura to study the history of the expansion of the universe and constrain current models of dark energy’s effect in the universe. He is also investigating whether his custom telescope is necessary to carry out these mapping tests of dark energy or if an existing single-dish telescope can do the job. To accomplish this task, Bandura will be collecting data using the Green Bank Telescope, the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, located at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s site in Green Bank, West Virginia. He then will compare that data to the data collected by the prototype telescope he has built. Bandura earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from Carnegie Mellon.

photo of Wei He and Bruce McWilliamms

Wei He and Bruce McWilliams

Wei He is a fourth year doctoral student in Chemistry working with Associate Professor Catalina Achim. She studies the structure of synthetic molecules called peptide nucleic acids (PNAs), molecules that possess both DNA and protein-like features. PNAs are comprised of the same bases normally found in DNA and RNA; researchers in the Achim lab insert metal complexes into PNAs instead of the standard AT or GC base pairs. These metal-containing PNAs have the potential to conduct electrons and store information. But to rationally design this new type of molecule, it is important to know the structure of the PNA before and after the metal complexes are added. Despite the fact that PNAs were discovered in the early 1990s, the structure of PNAs in solution was a mystery, until now. Using NMR spectroscopy and molecular dynamics simulations, Wei He determined the structure of a PNA duplex, which was a very challenging task. She is continuing this initial work by analyzing PNAs that contain chemical groups that bind metals and comparing this modified PNA structure to the unmodified PNA structure. She is currently making PNAs containing transition metal ions, and she will study them using NMR to see how their structure differs from that of unmodified PNA. Wei He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Peking University and a master’s degree in chemistry from Carnegie Mellon.


Amy Pavlak