Awards and News

Biology Department Student Prizes

The William K. Purves Biology Prize is awarded to a junior biology major who combines scholarship with some kind of breadth (intellectual, cultural, athletic or service).  The winner for the 2011-12 academic year is Rafer Dannenhauer ’13.

The W. A. Brandenburger Biology Prize is awarded annually to a senior biology major for outstanding performance and promise in the field of biology.  The Brandenburger Prize winner for the 2011-12 academic year is Adam Novak ’12.

The Beckman Scholar in Biology is awarded to Russell Thompson ’12 to begin May 2010 and end July 2011.

The Biology Writing Fellows for the 2011-12 academic year are Emily Putnam ’12 and Will Chen ’12.

Other Announcements

Daniel Garcia ’10 Awarded a HHMI Gilliam Fellowship

Daniel Garcia received an HHMI Gilliam Fellowship, which will support his graduate studies for up to five years.

These fellowships are very competitive.  Only former EXROP students are eligible, but just a small percentage of those receive Gilliam Fellowships.  For instance, last year there were approx. 81 EXROP scholars, but only 9 Gilliam Fellows.

Alicia Schep ’11 Named Churchill Scholar for 2011-2012

Alicia Schep has been awarded a Churchill Scholarship for 2011-12 to study computational biology at the University of Cambridge.  She was one of 14 Churchill Scholars from the U.S. this year – all but two of whom were from R1 schools.  The only other Churchill winner from an undergraduate college this year was Michael Gormally, a chemistry major at Pomona College.

Schep represents 16th recipients of the Churchill Scholarship from HMC and the first time two HMC students have been honored in the same year. Thsi year, only 14 Churchill scholars were selected nationwide from 103 colleges and institutions.

Sara Goetz ’08 Passed Away

Biology major Sara Goetz ’08 passed away on October 23, 2010.  The following is taken from her online obituary from the Kitsap Sun:

Sara Elizabeth Goetz of Berkeley, CA:  March 27, 1986 to Oct. 23, 2010

Sara, 24-year-old daughter of Paul and Kathy Goetz of Bremerton, died on Oct 23rd in Berkeley CA, from a blood infection. Over the past year, she fought a disabling nerve disorder that caused her severe pain and though her death was related to this illness, it was completely unexpected.

Sara was born in Bremerton WA and attended Cottonwood Elementary, Fairview Jr. High and was co-valedictorian at Olympic High School in 2004. Sara enjoyed sports, playing trombone in jazz band, nature, animals, riding horses and caring for her many pets.

Sara spent the last 6 years of her life with her boyfriend, Nick, who she met at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA. She majored in Biology and her passion for this field was evident to anyone who spoke with her about it. Sara studied for a semester in Costa Rica, returning with many stories of the places she visited and the jungle wildlife she studied. After she returned, Sara worked at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, fulfilling a goal she made after her sister Jenica died from leukemia in 1993.

In the past year, Nick earned his Master’s Degree at UC Berkeley, while also caring for Sara, who remained strong, loving and thoughtful despite the pain from her illness. Nick and Sara planned to marry as soon as she could walk down the aisle unassisted.

Survivors include her parents Paul and Kathy; her boyfriend Nick Sherrow-Groves; her two sisters, Karen and Hanna; and her grandparents, Robert Goetz of Oak Harbor and Edgar and Betty Starr of Des Moines. Sara was preceded in death by her big sister, Jenica (1993), and her grandmother, Doris Goetz (2008).

Sara’s memorial service will be held at Kiana Lodge, 14976 Sandy Hook Rd. NE in Poulsbo on Nov 11. Guests are invited to arrive at 12 p.m. and the service will begin at 1 p.m. Regardless of the weather, some of the service will be outdoors. Flowers for the service may be sent to Kiana Lodge, to arrive on the 10th of November. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Peninsula Bible Fellowship (PBF) Benevolence Fund or to the National Childhood Cancer Foundation (CURESEARCH) in Sara’s memory.

Andrey Shur ’11 Named Goldwater Scholar

Senior Andrey Sergeivich Shur is among 20 recipients nationwide of the 2010-2011 Astronaut Scholarship, the country’s largest monetary award based solely on merit for science, math and engineering undergraduates and postgraduate students. This year’s scholarships totaled $200,000.

Shur, a Los Angeles native, is pursuing a joint chemistry and biology major with plans for a career in biochemistry research. His other interests include robotics, mechanical engineering and drawing. ” I plan on pursuing a career as a researcher at a biotech/ pharmaceutical company,” said Shur. “I feel that the future is in biology.”

The awards are granted by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in 1984 by the six surviving original Mercury astronauts. The foundation supports the nation’s global leadership in science and technology by providing scholarships for college students who exhibit motivation, imagination, and exceptional performance in these fields.

Alicia Schep ’11 Named Goldwater Scholar

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation announced that Harvey Mudd College junior Alicia Schep ‘11 is one of the two Mudders awarded a Goldwater Scholarship.

Schep, a chemical biology major, plans to earn a Ph.D. in molecular biology and conduct research in that field then teach at the university level. She is currently doing research in the lab of chemistry Professor Robert Drewell on the transcriptional regulation of the TERT gene in human cells. The TERT gene encodes for the catalytic subunit of Telomerase, which contributes significantly to the ability of stem cells and cancer cells to divide indefinitely. “Understanding the regulation of telomerase is important for understanding how cells become cancerous,” Schep said.

“I am spending a few weeks at Mudd wrapping up my research in the Drewell lab, but I will then be spending most of the summer at NYU doing research in a lab that focuses on post-transcriptional regulation in breast cancer cells,” she said.

HMC Graduates Join Teach for America

Harvey Mudd College seniors Ben Keller and Maureen Ruiz (Neuroscience ’10) have been selected to join Teach For America, the national corps of top recent college graduates who commit to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools and become lifelong leaders in the effort to expand educational opportunity. The organization seeks students who demonstrate achievement, leadership, perseverance, and a commitment to expanding opportunity for children in low-income areas.

Ruiz, the outgoing president of the Associated Students of HMC, is a biology major with a focus in neuroscience. She will join the more than 7,000 corps members teaching in 35 regions across the country and 17,000 alumni working from within education and many other sectors to create the systemic changes that will help end educational inequity. Ruiz will be teaching in Denver, Colo.

Keller said he decided to join Teach for America because he felt it would have a more direct impact than grad school. “I believe that I have an opportunity to use what I’ve learned at Mudd to make a real difference in the lives of children underserved by our nation’s education system,” he said. “I also think that it will broaden my own perspectives and help me to grow as a person.

Keller will be teaching in a charter school in Washington, DC. He plans to resume his electrical engineering education by pursuing graduate studies at UC Berkeley, where he has deferred admission.

After approximately 30 hours of independent work and observation of experienced teachers, corps members attend an intensive five-week training institute and a regional orientation to the schools and communities in which they will be teaching. At the institute, corps members teach in summer school programs, receive feedback from veteran teachers, and complete a regimen of seminars and practice sessions designed to build the capabilities required to advance student achievement. During their regional orientation, corps members complete additional training sessions on establishing clear goals for their students’ achievement, planning for instruction, and preparing to use data to inform their approach.

Keller said his time at HMC served as an impetus to join Teach for America. “The most important aspect of my Mudd education was the development of an understanding that science is not a goal in itself, but rather a means to furthering the betterment of society.”

Admission to Teach For America is highly selective, with 15 percent of applicants earning acceptance to the 2009 corps.

In 1989, Wendy Kopp proposed the creation of a national teacher corps in her senior thesis at Princeton University. Convinced that many accomplished recent college graduates seek work that offers significant responsibility and makes a real difference in the world, the 21-year-old Kopp raised $2.5 million of start-up funding, hired a skeleton staff, and launched a grassroots recruiting campaign. During Teach For America’s first year (1990), 500 corps members taught in six low-income communities. Today, 7,300 corps members are teaching in 35 regions.

Teach For America is a member of AmeriCorps, the national service network, through which corps members are eligible to receive loan forbearance and interest payment on qualified student loans, as well as an education award of $4,725 at the end of each year of service.

NSF Fellowship Awarded to Study Biology

Harvey Mudd College senior Marc Badger (Physics ’10) awarded an NSF Pre-Doctoral Fellowship for a grant originally written in Professor Ahn’s Physiology seminar class. Badger will study Integrative Biology at the University of California at Berkeley beginning in August 2010.  The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) provides students with three years of funding—up to $121,500—for research-focused master’s and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Other recent graduates received honorable mentions this year, including Hallie Kuhn ’09 who will study Systems Biology at Harvard University and Ben Schiller ’08 who is studying Molecular Biology at UCSF.

McFadden and Maloney Awarded Cotrell Funds for Coral Research

An award from the Cottrell College Science Program of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement is supporting an HMC interdisciplinary team of researchers who seek to differentiate closely related coral species common to the Indo-Pacific reef. Although the species are morphologically indistinguishable, each produces a different suite of potentially significant natural products.

Professors Catherine McFadden (biology) and Katherine Maloney (chemistry), specialists in the molecular biology of corals and natural product chemistry, respectively, are studying Sarcophyton glaucum (pictured right), the source of at least 90 reported natural products including several of pharmacological importance. Past attempts to harvest these pharmaceutical agents for further study have been confounded by inconsistency in the kinds and relative amounts of chemicals found in the samples. In recent research using molecular phylogenetic analysis, McFadden has found that populations of S. glaucum do not constitute a single species but rather a complex of at least seven “cryptic” species, which can coexist in the same location. Together, Maloney and McFadden will try to establish whether the variability in natural products can be explained by these species differences.

The two researchers will collect coral specimens in the Republic of Palau, using the facilities of the Coral Reef Research Foundation, and return samples of the coral tissues to HMC for analysis. Students are expected to make significant contributions at each stage of the project. Biology students in the McFadden lab will extract DNA from the tissue, sequence the mitochondrial msh1gene and use these gene sequences to identify the cryptic species. Chemistry students in the Maloney lab will extract organic molecules, perform solvent partitioning of the extracts and analyze them using the college’s new liquid chromatograph-mass spectrometer to obtain chemical profiles.

The Research Corporation for Science Advancement, created in 1912, is America’s second-oldest foundation and the first dedicated solely to science. Through its various programs RCSA funds innovative research by early career scientists, both individually and in teams crossing traditional disciplinary boundaries. The Cottrell College Science Award has the added goal of promoting the opportunity for undergraduate students to participate in cutting-edge research, an experience that gives them a head start in learning to think like scientists. The Foundation’s goal is to build and improve the scientific workforce to ensure 21st-century America’s prosperity and security.

Eliot Bush Awarded NSF Grant

A $157,489 grant from the NSF is contributing to the training of undergraduate HMC biologists with strong quantitative backgrounds. Additionally, through research opportunities and coursework, the project, entitled “RUI: Characterizing Context Dependent Biases iNucleotide Substitution,” will help introduce students to molecular evolution and computational biology.

“Nucleotide substitution is an important mechanism by which genomes change over time,” explained Eliot Bush, principal investigator and assistant professor of biology. “This project seeks to improve our understanding of nucleotide substitution by focusing on an aspect that is currently poorly characterized: how the context of neighboring nucleotides biases substitution.”

He noted that currently the best-described bias effects are those due to immediately adjacent nucleotides. However, more distant nucleotides also affect substitution. “The goal of the project is to develop and apply a method to systematically characterize more distant context effects.” The information gathered from Bush’s study can be used to further improve models of nucleotide substitution.

“Twenty-five percent of HMC’s graduates receive a Ph.D. within nine years of graduation,” noted Bush. “This project will contribute to the training of a new generation of biological researchers with exceptional quantitative skills. An additional benefit of the research grant is that the software we develop for this project will be available at no cost to a wide range of audiences via the Web.”