If Chen Liang (Lynn Group) sees a problem in need of a solution, she’ll create one. In Fall 2012, not long after moving to Atlanta from China to start graduate school, Chen volunteered with refugee families in Clarkston, GA and was struck by the challenges that children and their families were facing. “I was shocked to see children a couple of miles from me are living without matching shoes and suffering from hunger.”
Chen knew what the solution needed to be—“The best way to change the life of an under-served child is through education,” she explains. That insight led Chen to enlist the support of Barbara Coble in Emory’s Center for Community Engagement and Leadership. Dr. Coble was already running a program—Graduation Generation—focused on outreach to under-served students in Atlanta public schools. Together, they created the Student Educational Experience Program (SEED), to provide those same students with greater access to science education, including tutoring, workshops, and information on science careers and higher education.
The partnership with Dr. Coble got Project SEED off the ground, but there were still plenty of logistics to be worked out. “I started cold-calling many presidents of other clubs to learn their funding process and how to write a charter. I also spread my idea around the chemistry department and my friends and successfully convinced some to join SEED.” The majority of SEED’s original members are from the Department of Chemistry, although the program now includes students and faculty from biology and physics, among others.
Barbara Coble praises Chen for her commitment and vision. “Chen is an outstanding community engagement practitioner with a uniquely humble, yet fiercely determined spirit. She works diligently to connect Emory students and university resources to these students.” Reflecting on her experiences working with Dr. Coble, Chen echoes that same praise. “When I had the idea of SEED, I brought it to her and she liked it and helped a lot during the founding process. Dr. Coble never gives up. Her persistency and upbeat spirit encourages me a lot when things get rough for SEED.”
Part of the brilliance of Project SEED’s design is that it draws on the impressive scientific resources Emory already has in place—particularly the expertise of its students. “We would all reach out to different clubs and professors, share SEED’s mission, and ask them to give students one hour sessions on various subjects,” explains Chen. Over time, SEED participants from Emory have built relationships with the students they serve, particularly students from Atlanta’s Maynard Jackson High School.
Deeabe* is one of those students. She recently joined SOAR, a branch of SEED led by undergraduate Lexy Dantzler that connects students with research experiences in Emory labs, and started working on research in the lab of Dr. Meleah Hickman in the Department of Biology. “Deeabe’s family is not wealthy and her mom had breast cancer a couple of years ago. Despite the family situation, she is driven and hardworking,” says Chen. “She has received a scholarship from Pearls of Purpose and will be attending Georgia State this fall. That’s what I want SEED to be—an extra hand to help these students achieve their dreams.”
Despite Project SEED’s remarkable scope, it is far from Chen’s only contribution during her time at Emory. She has also served as a Student Ambassador for the Laney Graduate School, working to connect Emory students with professional development resources.
“Chen organized a fantastic program with the co-founder and CEO of Oystir, Rudy Bellani, who presented via Skype to a large group of students about what employers are looking for from STEM PhDs. Chen has always been a reliable source of ideas and feedback for the LGS as she is committed to her own academic and professional success as well as the success of her colleagues and future LGS students,” says Sarah Peterson, Laney’s Assistant Program Director for LGS Career Resources.
Chen also led an initiative to better connect science PhDs with career opportunities in consulting. Once again, the project stemmed from her recognition of an unfulfilled need—she saw that consulting firms that recruited at Emory focused largely on the professional schools, such as Rollins or Goizueta, despite the availability of PhDs with broad training in science and health issues. Chen took on the presidency of Emory’s dormant Advanced Degree Consulting Club (ADCC), reviving and expanding the organization and reaching out to consulting firms. Now, several of those firms regularly recruit from Emory’s talented pool of science PhDs and ADCC has rich resources to help PhDs pursue a career in consulting.
How does Chen balance these many outreach accomplishments with her research work? A lot of it comes down to time management. “I have learned to plan my day down to every hour,” says Chen. “Sometimes, I have to work twelve hours a day or work on weekends to fulfill requirements from both sides; but in general, my research and extracurricular work complement each other. The achievement from SEED energizes me and motivates me to excel in research; my TA and research experience, as well as my network in academia helps me improve SEED as a program.”
It also helps to have a supportive research advisor in Dr. David Lynn. “Chen is a remarkably passionate and caring individual, committed to making a difference with her research and through her ability to contribute to the education of others,” says Dr. Lynn. “Her community outreach to young Atlanta children through SEED is changing her colleagues and our faculty. One of my entire classes for Emory 1st year college students was built on the outreach infrastructure she helped develop. Chen has already created a powerful and lasting mark on her Atlanta community and has the potential to change our world at a time when her compassion for humanity is so much in need.”
Even in Chen’s research, her desire to explore what’s missing and maximize her understanding of what is possible is apparent. (Click here to read more about Chen’s research!) Her research seeks to contribute to the search for more effective therapeutics for Alzheimer’s disease by exploring amyloid proteins, hypothesized to cause the progression of the disease. Her work on amyloids resulted in a first author paper in JACS in 2014. After she completes the PhD at Emory, Chen plans to draw on her training to contribute broadly to the field of life science and education. Project SEED, shored up by her hard work, will continue after Chen graduates. “One of the biggest challenges ahead for SEED will be to fill Chen’s shoes, as the President, when she graduates,” says Dr. Coble.
*The student’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.
The hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease is the presence of plaques in the brain formed by the aggregation of Aβ peptide with heavy β-sheet content–also known as amyloid. Amyloid is hypothesized to be causative in Alzheimer’s disease through multiple mechanisms such as oxidative stress, interaction with receptors and synaptic loss. Currently, over five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, costing the nation 236 billion a year. It’s expected that by 2050,healthcare spending on Alzheimer’s will reach one trillion. The NIH invests around 500 million annually for Alzheimer’s research. Despite the prevalence of Alzheimer’s and the intensive efforts of researchers, no effective therapeutics for the disease is yet available. This dilemma attracted me to the study of amyloid as my PhD research project.
Current drug design for Alzheimer’s disease focuses on finding molecules that bind and block the action of these deleterious proteins. Typically, a disease—like cancer, diabetes, and, as some have believed, Alzheimer’s—is caused by proteins with a fixed structure. However, my study in Dr. David Lynn’s lab at Emory University demonstrates that amyloid, unlike conventional drug targets, is highly dynamic and can change structure over time. My research could potentially explain why conventional drug discovery methods don’t succeed with Alzheimer’s –they generally ignore the structural diversity and the changing nature of amyloid.
The peptide I use in this research is the nucleating core of Aβ Dutch mutant, Aβ(16-22)E22Q or KLVFFAQ. People with this genetic mutation develop a more severe form of Alzheimer’s. I discovered that early on, after dissolving, this peptide forms ribbon shaped structures and later autocatalytically change into fibers (Figure 1). More detailed characterization using IE-IR (isotope edited infrared spectroscopy) and solid state NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) reveals that in the ribbon shape, two neighboring peptides within a β-sheet are pointing in the opposite direction—a state that is commonly referred to as an anti-parallel β-sheet arrangement. Yet the conformation is transient. After a week, the peptides autocatalytically switch into parallel β-sheet where all peptides are pointing in the same direction. Furthermore, by simply adding salt, I was able to control the speed of such shape shifting and even greatly expand the range of observed structures.
This research is significant in the study of Alzheimer’s disease and drug development because it begins to explain why no effective therapeutics have been developed for Alzheimer’s disease. Due to the high thermo-stability of amyloid, researchers commonly assume amyloid structure remains static upon assembly. My study demonstrates the opposite: amyloid can change structure and such a change is sensitive to environmental conditions. Now people can imagine the change and diversity that could occur when amyloid is spreading through different cellular environments as it ravages the brain.
Such an “environmental dependent conformational change” is an important property of Aβ protein and these dynamics are beginning to gain more attention in the scientific community despite being counter-intuitive. Amyloid’s high thermostability has led researchers to reason that once formed amyloid should be stable and their structure should be faithfully replicated throughout the brain. The implication of my study on the treatment of Alzheimer is that instead of measuring the amount of amyloid and treating patients non-discriminately, the structure diversity of amyloids should be central to any consideration in developing diagnostics and therapeutics. New methods of drug discovery—taking into account amyloid’s unique properties—will certainly be necessary for treating Alzheimer’s and the increasing number of amyloid diseases.
Students from the Summer Science Academy visited chemistry on Wednesday to participate in demos and tours organized by Pi Alpha Chemical Society. The Summer Science Academy is a two-week science enrichment program that provides high school students from traditionally underrepresented minority backgrounds the opportunity to develop a better understanding and appreciation of science by exposing them to an educational environment that is conducive to learning, motivating, challenging, and fun. “Hands on” experiences like the visit to chemistry are designed to heighten students’ interest in science by increasing awareness of careers in science and healthcare.
Academy students were treated to a short, accessible lecture about the disciplines of chemistry by graduate student Anthony Sementilli (Lynn Group). During the question and answer period, one of the Academy students asked “Are we going to get to blow things up today?”
Not to disappoint, Anthony wrapped up the lecture with a series of demos in the chemistry courtyard, including fire (combustion) and ice (liquid nitrogen cloud!) First year student Cam Pratt, newly arrived at Emory in the past week to start a summer rotation in the Davies Group, assisted with the demos.
The visitors also had the opportunity to participate in the “elephant’s toothpaste” demo. Following the demos, students toured the Jui and Lynn labs with the assistance of Anthony, Ally Boyington (Jui Group), and Michelle Leidy (Scarborough Group).
The Summer Science Academy will bring two more groups to chemistry on June 22nd at 1:00pm and July 7th at 11:00am. If you are a current graduate student interested in volunteering to help with either visit, email Anthony Sementilli.
Congratulations to Robert Kubiak (Davies Group) and Roxanne Galzier (Salaita Group) for being awarded 2016 Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation! Robert is a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry and Roxanne is a graduate student in the Emory/Ga Tech joint Biomedical Engineering program.
Congratulations also to Anthony Sementilli (Chemistry, Lynn Group) and Aaron Blanchard (BME, Salaita Group) who received Honorable Mentions.
For the 2016 competition, NSF received close to 17,000 applications, and made 2,000 award offers.
The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based Master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions. As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the GRFP has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers.
The ORDER Senior Seminar course, run by Professor of Chemistry David Lynn and Professor of Dance Leslie Taylor has received a Community Engaged Learning Grant to cover the costs of an intervention program for at-risk middle school students. The program was developed by undergraduates in the ORDER course in partnership with Dr. Lynn, Dr. Taylor, and Anne Winiarski (Psychology) via Barbara Coble’s Graduation Generation Education Partnerships program. The interventions will include a discussion of developmental changes, anger management intervention, and a skill building workshop. [Full Article]
Tolulope Omosun successfully defended her thesis, “Cross-β Folds of Amyloid as a Versatile Self-Propagating Catalyst” on Wednesday, January 6th, 2016. Tolulope’s thesis committed was led by David Lynn with Brian Dyer and Vince Conticello as additional members. After graduation, Tolulope will be a Presidential Management Fellow. Bearing the Presidential moniker, the PMF Program is a flagship leadership development program at the entry level for advanced degree candidates. It was created more than three decades ago by Executive Order and is designed to develop a cadre of potential government leaders.
The Emory Wheel profiles the new Atwood Addition with a focus on the ATOMIC classroom in the story, “Atwood: The Classrooms of the Future.” Hear from David Lynn, Tracy McGill and Doug Mulford and see a few new photos of the space. [Full Article]
The Emory University Department of Chemistry congratulates Dr. Eric James Miller on successfully defending his thesis, “Part 1. Discovery of a Fluorinated Enigmol Analog with Enhanced Pharmacokinetic and Anti-Tumor Properties” and “Part 2. Preferential Activation of Metabotropic Glutamate Receptor 3 over Metabotropic Glutamate Receptor 2.”