Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chemistry faculty receive NIH grant

Associate Professors of Chemistry Jeff Schwinefus (left) and Greg Muth recently received a $200,000 NIH grant that will fund nine student researchers over three years.
Associate Professors of Chemistry Jeff Schwinefus and Greg Muth recently received a grant of nearly $200,000 from the National Institutes of Health to study the folding of DNA and RNA.
The grant also provides plenty of opportunities for St. Olaf students to get involved in the project, with funding included for nine student research positions over three years.
The research looks at problems associated with how proteins or nucleic acids like RNA fold, and why they fold in the way that they do. Problems in folding can lead to diseases like dyskeratosis congenita (premature aging) and aplastic anemia (when bone marrow can’t replenish red blood cells), and they hope that this research on folding can lead to new information regarding these diseases.
Schwinefus says that the student researchers are a very important piece of the three-year project. "Students are critical to this project. We hope to generate a cadre of students who are trained to critically think about such biomedical issues," he says.
Elliot Schmidt '12, one of the first student researchers to work on the project, says the experience has helped prepare him for his future goal of studying chemistry in graduate school. "The most valuable thing I learned this summer is what research is really like. You are in uncharted territory. It is full of mistakes (sometimes quite expensive) and you're never quite sure what exactly you'll find," he says.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Green Chemistry in January, Anyone?



**The CEL can help you prepare your application materials. Stop in anytime M-F, 9am to 5pm for assistance - Modular Village.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency;
Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics;
Economics, Exposure, and Technology Division;
Industrial Chemistry Division;
Green Chemistry Program - U.S. EPA in Washington D.C.

Green Chemistry Program Intern

U.S. EPA Headquarters
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460

The United States Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC has openings for at least two college student interns to join its Green Chemistry Program during the month of January. The position is volunteer, not paid, but offers a unique opportunity for training in green chemistry. During December, EPA will receive nominations for the 2011 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards; during January, EPA staff and interns will read all of the nominations, write a brief review of each nomination, discuss the nominated technologies in multidisciplinary group meetings, and prepare the nominations for the judging panel convened by the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute®. Because the work is highly technical, interns need to have a strong science background including at least one year of organic chemistry. For general information about the program and summaries of previous nominations, visit www.epa.gov/greenchemistry. If you have questions or would like to be considered for an internship, please send email to greenchemistry@epa.gov.

The position is a volunteer one, but the senior PhD chemist who works in EPA’s Green Chemistry Program has worked with a number of summer and January interns previously and can provide educational support.

• Sophomore, Junior, or Senior with strong academic record in science.
• At least one year of organic chemistry; majors might include chemistry, biochemistry, biology, pre-med, but other majors will be considered.
• Strong analytical abilities, ability to extend knowledge and skills to a very broad range of cutting-edge technologies related to chemistry.
• Evidence of effectiveness working independently; demonstrated self-starter.

Other Useful skills:
• Ability to learn quickly
• Strong written and verbal communication skills
• Ability to interact well with all kinds of people
• Understanding of and respect for diversity

This is an unpaid internship.

APPLICATION MATERIALS (apply by email to greenchemistry@epa.gov)
Cover letter including a statement of interest in this internship
Transcript listing science courses and grades (does not have to be official)
Contact information (phone and email) for 2-3 references

EPA is making this opportunity available to college students who are available during January (i.e., students at schools with J-terms, interim January terms, etc.). We have up to four openings and will consider applicants as we receive them. Students will get the most from the internship if they are at EPA for the four weeks between January 3 and January 28. Internships with different start and end dates may be considered.

Deadline: MONDAY, NOVEMBER 1st

Please send email to greenchemistry@epa.gov.


For SENIORS who are, or will be, looking for employment:

This is the opportunity you've been waiting for!

On Tuesday, October 26th, a group of recent alums will be down to campus to speak
at the Center for Experiential Learning's first Hunt Club meeting at 6:30pm in BC 144.

These alums will share stories and experiences based on their job search process as seniors at Olaf, including the successes and challenges they experienced during their time right out of college. The alums are willing to discuss everything from how many interviews it takes to get an offer, to how to manage your online profile (Facebook, LinkedIn) and how to handle "happy hours" with co-workers. The sky's the limit!

The idea is that they are here as St. Olaf alumni, not as representatives of their respective organizations.

Current SENIORS will have a chance to ask candid questions without getting the "corporate" response.

The Hunt Club:
A senior job search support group
Tuesday, October 26th
BC 144

Here are the alums who will be down to campus:

Tyler Lantz ’09: History, Management Studies Concentration
Currently in a Technology Leadership Program
First job out of college - Benefits Administrator

Rachel Woldum ’09: English and Film Theory, Women's Studies Concentration
Currently an Americorps Promise Fellow serving in Northfield

Vanessa Holste ’06: Theater
Currently a Sr. Merchandise Specialist
First job out of college - Individual Annuity Service Specialist

Jason Hollar ’08: Mathematics
Currently a Benefits Administrator
First job out of college - Mechanical Systems Analyst

Stephanie Dalager ’05: Math and Econ, Stats Concentration
Currently a Manager in Guest Insights
First job out of college - Merchandise Planning Business Analyst

Come as you are! Hope to see you there!

Help with figuring out possible schedules

OK, so I'm going to register for a common sophomore-level course sequence including organic chemistry and first-year biology and need to submit a set of possible schedules.

Let's see.... Chemistry 248 has three sections, and Chemistry 254 has seven sections. Bio 126 class has three sections and lab has eight sections. That's.... 3 x 7 x 3 x 8 --- holy cow! We're talking about over 500 possible schedules potentially!!! What do I do now?? (Actually, only 99 of those are compatible, but still....)

Help is available. Take a look at the Schedule Planning Assistant and see if it might be useful to you. This site walks you through the process of figuring out a set of possible schedules that you can enter into the registration system.

Using the Schedule Planning Assistant, you can factor in your extracurricular activities, select specific course times or profs, and get a sense of what the possibilities are. Now, even then, you might end up with quite a few schedule possibilities. So what if that happens? No one is suggesting that you enter ALL possible schedules into the SIS. We recommend entering at least a half a dozen or so, just to cover your bases.

Here are tips from the Chemistry Department chair, Prof. Abdella:

1) Whatever you do, don't just register for ONE schedule. This is the most common mistake science students make, and it's totally avoidable. Sure, you have a favorite schedule. Enter that. But also put in a few options that aren't quite your favorite. Otherwise you may end up with no chemistry course (especially because labs and class are linked, so if you can't get a lab, you also won't be getting a course section.

2) Remember that the labs most likely to close are the ones that are earlier in the day. If you have the possibility for attending them, get some schedules in there that include afternoon labs.

3) Get your schedules in early. This system only works if people don't procrastinate.

4) Check the system a day before it's all over and see how it looks. Did you get your courses? No? Think about adding a few more schedules with other sections.

5) Talk with the registrar! The beauty of this system is that there's plenty of time to fix things before registration is finally run. Just go over to the registrar's office and tell them you are having problems getting your courses. They are ready and willing to help you. They will be able to give you excellent advise.

6) Stay calm. There's no need to panic if you are having problems. Think of registration as a "first draft" that might be revised for full credit (OK, pun intended...) If it doesn't work out the first time around, talk with your adviser. That's what they are there for.

Good luck at registration!

Prof. Hanson

Friday, October 22, 2010

Chemistry GRE Review Sessions

If you are planning to take the Chemistry GRE on November 13 or on a future date, you are encouraged to come to the following review sessions that will be conducted by the Chem faculty:

Date                 Topic           Faculty Member
Wed, Oct 27     Physical      Schwinefus
Mon, Nov 1      Analytical     Walczak
Wed, Nov 3      Organic       Hanson
Wed, Nov 10    Inorganic     Miessler

These review session will be in RNS 316.

You can get further information about the GRE Chemistry exam, including a downloadable practice book, at http://www.ets.org/gre/subject/about/content/chemistry.  I have a copy of the practice book in my office that you are welcome to check out if you wish.

Gary Miessler

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ph.D. Program at Mayo

Do you know students who are seeking Ph.D. training for a career that melds the unparalleled thrill of discovering basic biological mechanisms with the excitement of translating those findings into the novel therapies for human diseases?

In other words, Basic Science on Steroids, where students not only perform cutting-edge basic research that leads to new insights in biology, but also see how their discoveries can make a difference. If so, please forward this email to them so that they can learn more about the Mayo Clinic’s Molecular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Program (MPET) in the Mayo Clinic Graduate School.

You may not even be aware that Mayo has a graduate school that offers Ph.D. degrees. We do! And it’s just one part of Mayo’s commitment to research and education that includes a yearly research budget of over $500,000,000 (mostly from NIH grant awards) and full institutional support of Ph.D. training. What we offer:

Exceptional Student Outcomes
Examples of our student’s successes include (see attached PDF for details):

• Tremendous productivity during student training—Ph.D. (and M.D./Ph.D.) students graduating in the last 10 years averaged 5.8 publications, with publications in some of the very best journals in the world (e.g., Molecular Cell, Nature Immunology, Nature Genetics, Nature Cell Biology, PNAS, Neuron, Journal of Cell Biology, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Genes & Development, Nature Biotechnology).

• Nearly all students go on to academic postdoctoral training at top-notch institutions
• Former students now have careers as leaders in academia and industry.
• Funding of a highly competitive, peer-reviewed NIH predoctoral pharmacology training grant (T32GM072474) that received rave reviews (see attached PDF).

• Students complete Ph.D. training in an average of 5.2 years.

Committed Mentors
Our faculty members are committed to fostering the intellectual development of students into future leaders in biomedical science (as demonstrated by our student outcomes!).

Cutting-Edge Research
Our research programs are firmly rooted in basic science research that integrate across the disciplines of pharmacology, biochemistry, cell biology, molecular biology, genetics, physiology, genomics, and proteomics. The goals of these programs are to discover the basic mechanisms that regulate cell function and to translate these findings into novel therapies.

• Cancer Biology and Therapeutics—Discover the molecular underpinnings that drive cancer and new approaches to treat these diseases

• Regenerative Medicine—Research how to program (or reprogram) human cells to regenerate organs and develop novel therapeutics

• Pharmacogenomics and Genetics—Employ cutting-edge genetic technologies to discover, at the molecular and genetic levels, why humans have vastly different responses to drugs

• Drug Discovery—Use supercomputers and chemistry to discover and develop mechanism-based drugs
• Neurobiology and Genetics of Addiction—Develop sophisticated genetic models and methods to understand addictive behaviors

• Cardiovascular Biology and Therapeutics—Identify the molecular mechanisms and genetic defects that contribute to heart disease and develop improved therapies

Full Student Financial Support
Student stipend, tuition, and, benefits (including health insurance) are paid by the institution for 5 years! So, students don’t have to worry about how to fund their stipends and can focus on research.

To Apply
Applications are due by December 1, 2010. (Be sure to indicate MPET as your first choice!) http://www.mayo.edu/mgs/phd-admissions.html

To learn more about the MPET program and mentor’s research programs http://www.mayo.edu/mgs/mpet.html

Please don’t hesitate to contact me. E-mails are fine, but I especially welcome phone calls to discuss the program.

Larry Karnitz, Ph.D.
Professor and
Graduate Program Director
Molecular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Mayo Graduate School
Mayo Clinic
College of Medicine
Rochester, Minnesota
Phone: 507-284-3124
Email: Karnitz.larry@mayo.edu

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Student research turns pond scum into energy

By Alexandra Wertz '12
October 5, 2010

Ben '12 with his photobioreactor

You’d think it would take another Einstein to make a scientific breakthrough as far-fetched as making a car run off of pond scum. But a young scientist has recently proven that just such a thing is possible. And he doesn’t go by Einstein. He goes by Ben.

Ben Auch '12 poses with the photobioreactor that got him the EPA fellowship. "We have the potential as a nation to be world leaders in the science and technology that could transform our world into one that is renewable and sustainable, instead of one driven by consumption and waste," he says. "Being a small, small part of this larger opportunity is both exciting and humbling." Submitted photo.

Ben Auch '12, a St. Olaf chemistry major with a concentration in biomolecular science, understands the urgency and enormity of the energy crisis and is dedicated to working toward a solution. When he came to St. Olaf two years ago, Auch created an independent research project that examines microalgal biofuels as a potential substitute for diesel fuel. Not only is his research on the cutting edge of science, but it recently won him an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Greater Research Opportunities fellowship for $48,900.

Auch’s research focuses on algae — the very stuff that grows in golf course ponds and on the side of boats. Algae are microscopic plants that have a great capacity to store energy. These plants produce triglycerides, which is the same kind of fat molecule humans store. Triglycerides can be extracted from the algae, chemically converted, and then used in diesel vehicles as a direct substitute for diesel fuel. Studies show that biofuels could potentially replace approximately 10 percent of our total energy consumption, with transportation energy being only a small fraction of that.

An energy opportunity
Last summer, Auch built a photobioreactor (a series of 14 algae-growing test tubes, each approximately six feet tall) and grew algal cultures in a friend’s basement. “The neighbors thought I was nuts,” Auch says. But his project, as well as his on-campus lab research at St. Olaf last year and a job at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center in Madison, Wisconsin, this past summer, made Auch a strong candidate to receive the fellowship.

"What’s exciting to me is that our national and global energy problem, both in terms of our energy independence and global climate change, can be an energy opportunity," Auch says. "We have the potential as a nation to be world leaders in the science and technology that could transform our world into one that is renewable and sustainable, instead of one driven by consumption and waste. Being a small, small part of this larger opportunity is both exciting and humbling."

Auch’s interest in biofuels goes back a few years. When he arrived at St. Olaf, Auch approached Associate Professor of Chemistry Greg Muth about research. "This was quite a reversal, as it is the faculty who are usually recruiting students to join their labs," Muth says. "Ben's enthusiasm and thoughtful plans for building a photobioreactor over the summer made it impossible to say no."

But Auch realizes that his research is just the first step in making the transition to using microalgal biofuels. "Of course it sounds easy, but in reality there are a lot of concerns ," Auch says. "The key point is that the ultimate solution to alternative, renewable transportation fuels will be a combination of many different processes — there’s no single answer to our energy problems. We don't know enough now to know which biofuels will work and which won’t. We have to take our time and do the research."

A love for the lab
Auch’s personal passion is infectious, say faculty members who have worked with him and his fellow peers, whom he tutors in biology. "Ben is altruistic. He loves being in the lab and sharing his excitement about algae-based biofuels with others. He is creating a campus group focusing on bioenergy and has plans to generate projects in the local schools to turn kids on to science. He sees the importance of his work educationally, economically, and environmentally," Muth says.

The fellowship money Auch received from the EPA will go toward tuition, a stipend for an internship at an EPA research facility next summer, research supplies, and travel expenses to various science conferences. The award will help put Auch on the path to his dream career in renewable energy research. He plans to get his Ph.D. in the biological sciences related to biofuels and bioenergy. From there he would like to pursue research related to synthetic or systems biology and bioenergy.

"My favorite part of doing research with algae is, frankly, more aesthetic than intellectual. I think every scientist has an innate desire to work with green, bubbly, glowing test tubes. It’s that classic mad-scientist image. That’s exactly what you see when you walk in our lab," Auch says. "On a good day, it's green everywhere."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Chemistry Seminar

Friday, October 8, 2010
RNS 390 at 3:15 p.m. with refreshments served prior to seminar.

Joe Chihade
Associate Professor of Chemistry
Director of Carleton's Interdisciplinary Science and Math Initiative
Director of Biochemistry

Piecing together a molecular puzzle -
mitochondrial alanyl-tRNA synthetases

The aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases the keepers of the genetic code - each of these enzymes must catalyze the attachment of a specific amino acid to the set of transfer RNAs that bear the corresponding anticodon, ensuring that DNA codons are correctly translated into proteins. Animal cells have a distinct set of tRNAs in the cytoplasm and another in the mitochondria, so in many cases they require two aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases for each amino acid. The mitochondrial enzymes can differ considerably in structure and function from their cytoplasmic counterparts, and relatively little is known about them.

Work in my lab has focused on characterizing the molecular
interactions between mitochondrial alanyl-tRNA synthetases and their RNA substrates. Understanding these oddballs has provided interesting insights about the evolution of RNA recognition in general and the mode of action of alanyl-tRNA synthetases in particular.