Biological Sciences Department Celebrates Award-Winning Ph.D. Students and Fellows
By Ben Panko
Carnegie Mellon University's Department of Biological Sciences held a virtual awards ceremony to honor its doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows who received departmental awards.
"We have a lot of great work to celebrate," said Professor Russell Schwartz, who served as emcee of the event.
The department honored six Ph.D. candidates and one postdoctoral fellow with five different awards funded by endowments from Margaret Carver and Semon Stupakoff.
Scott Keith received the Margaret Carver Research Enrichment Award, which grants $5,000 to a Ph.D. candidate or postdoctoral fellow to enhance their research in ways that would not otherwise be possible. Keith, a Ph.D. candidate in the lab of Associate Professor Brooke McCartney, plans to use the award funds to conduct a metabolomic profiling study to see how the bacterium Acetabacter modifies the diet of Drosophila fruit flies.
This work "will advance our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying microbiota-driven effects on animal metabolism," Keith said of the proposed work. "Our lab doesn't do anything like this routinely."
The Stupakoff Graduate Student Research Enrichment Award, which grants $5,000 to a Ph.D. candidate to enhance their research in ways that would not otherwise be possible, was given to both Sarah Boothman and Anne Meyer.
Boothman, a Ph.D. candidate in the lab of Professor Jonathan Minden, will use her award to purchase a software platform to assist her research studying the effects of the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis on Drosophila fruit flies. The software will automate the collection and processing of data on movement and sensory responses taken from videos of flies infected with the bacterium.
"So far I've been doing this manually," Boothman said. "I'm very excited."
"In my research, I seek to address how novelty emerges from the creation of new cell types in starfish," said Meyer, a Ph.D. candidate in the lab of Professor Veronica Hinman. She plans to use her award to travel to the Kristineberg Marine Research Station at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden to collect specimens of the species Amphiura filiformis to cultivate and collect extractions to analyze and compare to sea urchins, the only other species possessing larval skeletons. "It's a critical opportunity to address where these larval skeletal cells come from."
Alyssa Lawler and Sarah Werner shared the Margaret Carver Award for Enhancing Diversity, Equitability and Inclusion. The award is annually given to a Ph.D. candidate or postdoctoral fellow to support any activity to enhance diversity, equitability and inclusion in the Department of Biological Sciences, at Carnegie Mellon, in Pittsburgh or in the wider world.
Lawler, a Ph.D candidate in the lab of Assistant Professor Andreas Pfenning, plans to use the funds to create a podcast on science at CMU; and Werner, a Ph.D. candidate in the lab of Associate Professor Luisa Hiller, aims to design an interactive outreach program to encourage interest in STEM among children of immigrants and refugees.
Daniel Wilson was the recipient of the Stupakoff Outstanding Research Paper Award, which annually recognizes Ph.D. candidates judged to have the best research papers that year. Wilson, a Ph.D. candidate in the lab of Professor John Woolford, was recognized for a manuscript submitted to the journal Molecular Cell titled "Nascent polypeptide exit tunnel maturation is coupled to a nucleoplasmic checkpoint in large ribosomal subunit assembly."
Finally, William Hattleberg was honored with the Margaret Carver Outstanding Research Award, which is given annually to the postdoctoral fellow judged to have the best research paper that year. Hattleberg, a member of the Hinman Lab, was honored for a research letter published in the journal Nature titled "Pluripotency and the origin of animal multicellularity."
"For the last 100 years or so, people have believed that sponges are the most ancestral animal," Hattleberg said of his work. "We found that there was little evidence for this, which really shakes up what we know about how animals evolved."