Carnegie Mellon University
June 23, 2022

Meeting of the Minds Showcases Student Research

By Kirsten Heuring

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS
  • 412-268-9982

On May 4, Carnegie Mellon University hosted Meeting of the Minds, an annual undergraduate research symposium that showcases research from across the university. Students from the Mellon College of Science presented their research to professors and peers.

Jessalyn Grant-Bier, a recent graduate from the Department of Biological Sciences, shared her research on starfish regeneration.

Starfish have the unique ability of full body regeneration; their larvae can be cut in half, and each half can become its own starfish. Grant-Bier used the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9, developing a way to use this tool in starfish. She hopes that other researchers can use this protocol to further discover and understand genes that allow starfish to regenerate limbs.

“There were a lot of variables that got in the way. I was taking a system that was evolutionarily designed for bacteria and putting it in a sea star. I had to fight against a lot of variables that are not ideal, but it did work,” said Grant-Bier, who worked with Veronica Hinman, the head of the Department of Biological Sciences and the Schwertz Distinguished Professor of Life Sciences.

Grant-Bier hopes her work is the first step in the process to determine which genes allow for regeneration and discover how to activate them as a potential treatment.

“Maybe 20 years in the future we will figure out how these genes involved in regeneration connect to human biology,” said Grant-Bier. “Maybe we can turn on gene pathways that exist but aren't activated to improve healing and human medicine.”

Another recent graduate from the Department of Physics, Mark Coopershlyak, presented his research. Coopershylak worked in the lab of Stephanie Tristram-Nagle, research professor emerita of physics, to create a new program to enhance the lab’s X-ray data acquisition.

The Tristram-Nagle lab uses X-ray light scattering to analyze the structure of different proteins, determining how their secondary structures affect their properties. However, this research was made more difficult after equipment failure, and the data collection had to be done manually. 

“Another student and I needed to find a way to get our computer to talk with the CHESS synchrotron from Cornell and the other computers in the lab,” said Coopershlyak. “The computer is really old, so we had to figure out a way to get modern software to run on our computer.” 

Coopershlyak decided to make the process easier, working with other students in the lab to create a Python code that enhanced data collection from the specialized machines. This allowed X-ray scattering data to be collected automatically, and it connected the machines together.

“The work that we've done is already in use in our lab, and it's also being used by other professors at Carnegie Mellon,” said Coopershlyak. “They've been using it as an educational tool. Students would come in and learn how we do X-ray scattering.”