Wednesday, December 29, 2010
MCS Graduate Students Recognized by Professional Societies
Physics Ph.D. student Eric Evarts and Chemistry Ph.D. student Lea Veras were recently honored by professional societies in recognition of their excellence in research.
Evarts was the co-recipient of the Best Student Presentation Award at the 55th Annual Conference on Magnetism and Magnetic Materials. The award recognizes and encourages excellence in graduate studies in the field of magnetism. Evarts, a student in Physics Professor Sara Majetich’s research group, took the honors for his talk, "Spin Torque Switching of 26 nm Diameter Magnetic Tunnel Junction Using a Conductive Atomic Force Microscope." Evarts developed a technique to explore measurements on the smallest reported magnetic tunnel junction nanopillars to date. He found that something unexpected causes these small pillars to get very hot during the measurement, which causes damage to the magnetic layers in the pillars. Based on temperature estimations from his measurements, the pillars may reach 600°C under conditions that in larger pillars would only lead to temperatures around 60°C. His work has far-reaching implications for bit patterned media and other future data recording technologies. Evarts’s work was performed with Majetich and Jimmy Zhu, Jim Bain and David Ricketts from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Evarts shared the top spot with Antoine Dussaux from The University of Paris-Sud 11. Both students received a cash award.
Veras received a travel award to present her research at the Biophysical Society’s 55th Annual Meeting in Baltimore. Recipients of the competitive student travel award are selected based on scientific merit. Veras, a student in Associate Chemistry Professor Maria Kurnikova’s research group, will present her recent findings on the molecular mechanisms that control the blocking and unblocking of ion channels in NMDA receptors. Specialized proteins that span brain cell membranes, NMDA receptors play a central role in how the brain develops, learns, and stores memories, and they have been implicated in many diseases, including schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. Veras has used high-level computational chemistry to build a computer simulation of the NMDA receptor to study precisely how the channel functions at the level of individual atoms. Specifically, she has unveiled the molecular mechanisms by which the magnesium ions that block the channel are released, which allows calcium ions to flow freely through the channel. Being able to simulate this key step in the NDMA receptor’s operation is critical to understanding how the channels work in health and disease, and to identifying drugs that inhibit or enhance NMDA’s activity. Veras’s work is part of a collaboration that includes Michael Yonkunas, Igor Kurnikov and Jane Hwang from Carnegie Mellon and Jon Johnson from the University of Pittsburgh.