When it comes to gas clathrates — collections of water molecules that can trap gas inside a lattice-like crystal structure — science sees them as potential friends and foes.
They’re friends because clathrate-trapped natural gas could be another source of energy for the oil and gas industry. Yet clathrates are also foes if they heat up too fast inside offshore wells. They can rapidly expand with dangerous results, as was suggested in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Clathrates buried deep within the Arctic permafrost can also trap methane, which is a major greenhouse gas, and rising global temperatures could unlock those chilly 'crystal cages' and add to climate change concerns.
If science can figure out a safe, eco-friendly way to manipulate clathrates, then a wide range of disciplines and industries could benefit from the applications. A unique interdisciplinary team of Georgia Tech researchers may have found a way to accomplish that goal, using proteins embedded in bacteria from deep below the Earth’s surface to bind to clathrates and change them.
“Mainly on the Plane: Deep Subsurface Bacterial Proteins Bind and Alter Clathrate Structure”, published July 23 in Crystal Growth & Design (an American Chemical Society publication) is the result of a 2018 grant from the NASA Exobiology program. The researchers are Abigail Johnson and Jennifer Glass from the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Dustin Huard and Raquel Lieberman from the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Priyam Raut from the School of Biological Sciences, and Sheng Dai and Jongchan Kim from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
The petroleum industry currently tries to slow and cool off clathrates in pipelines and wells with synthetic compounds, but “there is a strong need for alternative, ‘green,’ antifreeze materials” to lower the temperature at which hydrates (clathrates) will form, says Lieberman, a professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “While antifreeze proteins derived from cold water fish show some promise, our unique proteins come from those found in microbes that natively inhabit gas clathrates, and thus hold promise as more potent and tailored inhibitors of natural gas clathrate.”
Making protein magic in the lab
The researchers found that their cocktail of protein-embedded bacteria changed the structure of clathrate crystal lattices to “polycrystalline and plate-like, instead of forming single, octahedral crystals,” as the study’s abstract notes.
“A big takeaway here is that this is one of the very first times that any group has created proteins in the lab using bacterial gene sequences from Earth’s deep biosphere,” says Glass, an associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “Deep biosphere” refers to organic materials found beneath the Earth’s surface. “Due to the great difficulty of culturing and isolating microbes from the deep biosphere, we have taken the approach of expressing these novel proteins recombinantly, using workhorse bacteria like E. coli.”
Glass says the study shows scientists can make these proteins in the lab and that they are stable enough to use in experiments. “This opens up huge possibilities for exploring functions of novel proteins from the deep biosphere in our laboratories. It’s possible these proteins could have use in biotechnology, medicine, industry, environmental remediation, and many other fields.”
Huard, a research scientist in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, marvels at how nature is capable of evolving simple yet elegant solutions to complex problems like figuring out clathrate structure. A simple amino acid sequence, when blended into proteins that bind to clathrates, “allows for organisms to thrive in extremely harsh, cold environments,” he says.
Huard adds that clathrates are known to exist elsewhere in the solar system. “Our clathrate-binding proteins, produced by bacteria, could provide a clue as to how life might survive on other planetary bodies that have gas clathrates, such as Mars.”
Don’t forget about discoveries in the past few years about the role methane clathrates may play in maintaining subsurface liquid oceans on icy moons and planetary bodies in the outer solar system, adds Glass. “Gas clathrates are thought to be possible habitable zones for microbial life. I’m very excited to connect our research to results from future [NASA] missions.”
The full extent of the capabilities of clathrate-binding proteins is not yet known, Huard says. For example, the food industry could benefit if the proteins also inhibit ice growth, since antifreeze proteins are already found in many food products.
The perfect mix of Georgia Tech researchers and disciplines
Huard researches in Lieberman’s lab, which has produced studies of the protein structure found in certain forms of glaucoma. Lieberman and Huard ended up being part of a team that Glass says illustrates Georgia Tech’s interdisciplinary strengths.
“This project is a perfect example of the exciting results that emerge when fields that often don’t talk come together to try something new,” Glass says. “Our team at Georgia Tech is truly one of the only in the world, to my knowledge, that has the scientific and engineering expertise to do this work.”
The clathrate project brought together marine microbiologists and geochemists from the Glass Lab, bioinformaticians from the Georgia Tech Bioinformatics Graduate Program, and geosystems engineers. It was catalyzed by the Ocean Science and Engineering program (OSE), in which doctoral candidate Johnson is an inaugural class member. “OSE uniquely encourages graduate projects on ocean-related research that bridge the disciplinary divides between marine science and engineering,” Glass says.
The impact of clathrates on climate science
For Johnson, the study afforded her an opportunity to offer a better understanding of clathrates, which have trapped methane under the ocean floor and deep in the Arctic permafrost.
Clathrates “basically occur anywhere there is low temperature, high pressure, water, and sufficient gas concentrations,” Johnson says. “Gigatons of methane, a known potent greenhouse gas, are stored in gas clathrates. A warming global climate could cause clathrate dissociation, potentially leading to a disastrous snowball effect. This is why it’s so critical that we have a firm understanding on the forces controlling clathrate stability.”
Johnson says the role microbiology plays in that stability is important to consider but has not been well researched. “Our study elucidates a potential role that bacteria have in stabilizing gas clathrates by producing CBPs (clathrate binding proteins). We found that CBPs bind and significantly change the morphology of the clathrate structure, which hints at a potential role in stability. Our future research will help us determine if these CBPs work to inhibit or nucleate (crystallize) gas clathrate. We hypothesize that CBPs are secreted by bacteria into their fluid habitat within the clathrate, and then bind to the clathrate, thereby inhibiting further clathrate growth; this mechanism would allow the bacteria to maintain their fluid habitat."
This month, the College of Sciences is checking in to see what our students are up to and how they’re doing. In the face of an unprecedented pandemic, we want to know: what does summertime look like? Read the previous stories in our Stay at Home Summer series:
- Sophia Martin Gets Creative, Fosters Positive Mental Health
- Nylah Boone Stays Connected with Social Media, Incorporates Self-Care Activities
- Courtney Astore Balances a Packed Schedule with Comedy, Community Connections
Edward Freeman, a fourth-year biology major on a pre-health track with a minor in Spanish, is using resilience strategies to navigate a summer of uncertainty. As he takes summer courses, tutors elementary and middle school students in Spanish, and connects with family and friends, he shares that he's prioritizing mental health and well-being.
“My summer has been somewhat of a non-stop rollercoaster, and quite busy,” he says. “With the current state of events and summer classes, there have been highs and lows, but I am determined to press on.”
Freeman says that a normal day “consists of Zoom meetings, tutoring sessions, homework, with self-care time,” but emphasizes that normal days are rare. He shares that he relies on his Google Calendar to navigate any unexpected tasks and activities each day.
This summer, Freeman is also busy sharing his new novel, “Standing: Stand on Who You Were Created to Be”, which he authored to talk about experiences and advice as a Georgia Tech transfer student, as well as a way to ‘help millennials and Gen Z push through adversity while pausing to evaluate the past’.
“I struggled with academic stress and feeling like I did not belong at Tech,” Freeman shares. “Imposter syndrome began to set in, and I felt that I wasn’t ‘smart enough’ or could not keep up with the pace. I am a 6’2” African-American male — and oftentimes in my classes I stand out like a sore thumb.”
In his book, Freeman shares positive, enduring methods that have been helpful in his journey.
“I had to rewire my thoughts with positive affirmations such as ‘I am enough’ and ‘I am capable of succeeding here,’” he says. “My grades saw a drastic improvement as I began to feel comfortable standing on who I was, and [how that related to] the challenges that were ahead of me.”
With lessons learned from the transition process, Freeman wrote “Standing” to share his experience with others in hopes that they, too, would learn to ‘build themselves up’.
“As students, we must use our words to positively speak over our lives, grades, and challenges we face inside and outside of the classroom,” Freeman says. “Standing on faith and my uniqueness has given me the peace of mind to conquer any obstacle in my way — including Organic Chemistry.”
Freeman believes that the message of “Standing” directly translates to current life, as people live through a global pandemic and address racial issues. He encourages the Georgia Tech community to “be effective and build inclusive environments where African-Americans can feel safe at home, in the classroom, and participating in regular day-to-day activities.”
“In the midst of chaos, I am reminded that I have to stand on the belief that the current state of events will improve,” says Freeman. He adds that students, staff, and faculty must unitarily address global issues. “In order to see effective change, we must stand together to face the racial injustices present and continue to educate others from a point of view that may be unseen. Using your gift to empower is the true definition of “Standing”.”
This summer, Freeman says that he’s also prioritized his own mental health by staying connected with loved ones, reading, and dedicating time to leisure.
“I enjoy spending time with family and catching up with friends over Zoom and Facetime,” he says. “I enjoy creating new content for my social media pages, and updating my personal library with new reads.”
Freeman also works as a resident assistant in Georgia Tech Office of Housing, spoke at the 2019 MLK Student Convocation, served on the Georgia Tech African American Student Union Executive Board from 2019-2020, and was recently honored as a Forbes Under 30 Scholar. He speaks Spanish, French, and Wolof, a language of Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania.
He encourages others to take time for their own mental health and let go of the pressures of constantly seeking success.
“I feel that many times, as a young generation, we go through the pursuit of achieving success in careers without taking time to evaluate what is going on in our lives. In order to become well-rounded individuals, we must learn how to tune into ourselves mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.”
This month, the College of Sciences is checking in to see what our students are up to and how they’re doing. In the face of an unprecedented pandemic, we want to know: what does summertime look like? Read the other stories in our Stay at Home Summer series:
- Sophia Martin Gets Creative, Fosters Positive Mental Health
- Nylah Boone Stays Connected with Social Media, Incorporates Self-Care Activities
- Edward Freeman Uses Resilience Strategies to Navigate a Summer of Uncertainty
Courtney Astore is a second year Ph.D. student in the Bioinformatics program. While her summer days are packed with virtual classes and research activities, Astore shares that she’s also set aside time for exercise, time with family, and leisure activities like reading.
A typical day for Astore this summer: “Wake up, make a cup of coffee, check my emails, proofread grant proposals, attend virtual lectures (as a student and teacher!), code (lots of code...), more coffee, virtual group meetings for class, writing papers for publications, reading literature, checking Covid-19 numbers on Worldometer, cycling, cooking, and virtually talking with my family and friends.”
“From teaching to researching to also being a student, my free time is limited,” she shares. “However, I love staying busy — and I especially love the research I do in my group.” That research group is Jeffrey Skolnick’s Center for the Study of Systems Biology, where Astore creates computational tools to study disease etiology (the causes of diseases) for enhancing diagnostic and therapeutic measures.
“I'm thankful that we are able to have virtual group meetings. It's fun seeing my colleagues out of the normal, everyday setting,” says Astore. Although she says that the transition to virtual meetings has been seamless, Astore shares that she misses in-person work dynamics. "I am really missing working [on campus] at Georgia Tech; there is an evident vibe that motivates me.”
Beyond her research group, this summer Astore is taking Applied Combinatorics and Introduction to Database Systems, and is a graduate teaching assistant for the Biological Principals Lab. She also operates a blog called The Binary Blonde on Instagram, where she shares relatable content about her experiences as a woman in science.
“I started The Binary Blonde last year, primarily to encourage women and individuals with disabilities to pursue careers in STEM by sharing my journey and experiences in becoming a scientist,” explains Astore.
Her username stems from an experience at a high school science fair, when she realized that very few women there were competing in computer science.
“When I was in high school, I competed in several science fairs — I loved every inch of it,” she says. “People at my school started calling me ‘the researcher’. I never thought twice about missing out on the ‘normal’ kid things to work on my projects. I also never thought twice about being a woman in STEM. In fact, I didn’t even know that women are less likely to participate in
STEM related endeavors and careers, until I began realizing that I was incredibly outnumbered in the computer science category.”
“To a degree, I felt uncomfortable and unworthy, but I didn’t let that stop me as I was incredibly excited to share the findings of my work,” Astore shares. Her final moniker came from a friend she met at another meeting, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. “I remember discussing a machine learning algorithm I implemented with a new friend. He immediately said, ‘Hey, we should call you the binary blonde!’ — and it stuck.”
This summer, Astore has used The Binary Blonde to share her experiences working remotely and staying motivated in the midst of a global pandemic. Recently, Astore shared a comedic TikTok video about ‘the many faces at a Ph.D. defense,’ where she role-played as advisor, judge, and her own boyfriend to show what it’s like to defend a thesis.
“This TikTok video was actually my first one! Although I'm quite far from my actual thesis defense, it's nice to imagine what it may be like.”
Astore also uses her social media pages to send support to the Georgia Tech community and everyone affected by Covid-19.
“We may never be ready for what tomorrow holds, but I truly hope this brings more importance to healthcare workers, scientists, and engineers working diligently to save us, find cures for us, and keep us safe,” urges Astore. “I’m excited that I am in a position to be a positive contributor to help combat Covid-19. Let’s invent better preventative, diagnostic, and treatment options to help us be prepared for times like this."
School of Biological Sciences professors Joshua Weitz and Greg Gibson will provide updates on Covid-19 projections and surveillance testing with a focus on the return to campus.
This summer, Joshua Weitz, a professor with the School of Biological Sciences who is also the founding director of the Quantitative Biosciences Interdisciplinary Graduate Program (QBioS), organized a “Hands-On Modeling Virtual Workshop” focusing on epidemics.
The Weitz Group at Georgia Tech has created various models and figures to help explain the spread and epidemiology of Covid-19. Weitz has frequently shared his findings with local and national media outlets.
This year marked the fourth annual “Quantitative Biosciences Hands-On Modeling Workshop”. Due to Covid-19, the summer 2020 event was held virtually. Focused on the basics of epidemic modeling, the workshop was joined by more than 50 online attendees from around the globe.
Weitz delivered two lectures on epidemic theory and the latest Covid-19 research. In addition, ten QBioS students, two post-doctoral scientists from the Weitz group (David Demory and Stephen Beckett), and one external post-doctoral scientist (Bradford Taylor) served as instructors for small group sessions, focusing on the hands-on experience of coding deterministic and stochastic models to predict the spread of epidemics.
The QBioS Ph.D. student organizers collected surveys following the event, which provided feedback on both the content and format of the workshop. Some examples:
“The flow of the workshop is great. Learning introductory concepts to start, the ability to apply some of them with hands-on, and then finishing with applications and extensions. Having many participants from many backgrounds adds a lot to the small group sessions as well.”
“I thought it was a great workshop to get core concepts across. I think the online format was done as best as possible and appreciated the thoughtful instructors.”
Weitz and Pablo Bravo, a second year QBioS Ph.D. student in Quantitative Biosciences, share thoughts on how they ran the virtual workshop — along with ideas and advice for those looking to host similar online workshops:
What were the biggest lessons learned from your summer workshop?
Weitz: The survey results communicated two important lessons. First, positive
responses to the workshop structure reinforce just how critical it is to contextualize modeling in terms of a key biological challenge. Providing a biological scaffold helps to focus student work and keep their interest and attention on the technical material. The second lesson is that there is an adaptation period to hands-on learning online. We intentionally spaced out the coding sessions with a mid-day break and most of the issues appeared in the morning as students and instructors adjusted to their group's dynamic, including debugging code while in different locations, and indeed, countries.
Bravo: One aspect that made the workshop possible was the participation of many members in different roles: coordinators, advertising, lecturers, instructors, IT support. Planning and working early as a team were essential.
What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome?
Bravo: There were two main problems that we had to solve. First, we offered support for three programming languages (MATLAB, Python, R), and given the high number of registrations, the first year QBioS cohort couldn't handle all of them. Members of the QBioS community, current and past members of the Weitz group stepped in and helped us in leading activity groups. It wouldn't have been possible without them!
Also, debugging was an issue. Debugging scripts over video calls was extremely difficult. Attendees were not keen on screen-sharing their code at the beginning, but as they got to know each other, this stopped being an issue. Delay between the video and audio feed remained an issue throughout the whole workshop.
What’s the one takeaway you want to stress to instructors looking to offer similar webinars and online workshops?
Weitz: Overall, we are optimistic about our ability to continue to develop and implement innovative teaching strategies in QBioS — but remain realistic that adjustment periods will be needed to foster an atmosphere conducive to small group learning when groups are dispersed.
Bravo: I think the biggest factor in the success of the workshop is that it was centered around interactive activity sessions, in which five students and an instructor would go through the material and write the scripts together. This promoted both active learning and discussion between the attendees, and also allowed attendees to follow up with questions and comments to their respective instructors — even days after the workshop finalized.
Despite the current worries and stressors facing researchers because of the Covid-19 pandemic, an overview of the grants awarded during the 2020 fiscal year shows the state of the College of Sciences research program remains strong, according to Julia Kubanek, Associate Dean of Research.
“This year, assistant professors among our six schools have been recipients of an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator award, a Cottrell Scholar award, a Sloan Research Fellowship, and four National Science Foundation CAREER awards,” says Kubanek, who is also a professor in the Schools of Biological Sciences, and Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Other early and mid-career faculty have been named Kavli and Scialog Fellows, experiences that will expose these faculty to additional collaborative and funding opportunities through engagement in elite research networks.”
Kubanek says multiple large-scale, broadly conceived proposals for center funding and graduate training grants, led by science faculty, are currently under peer review. “These future projects will grow our leadership and impact in research communities across psychology, biological sciences, chemistry and biochemistry, earth and atmospheric sciences, physics, and mathematics,” she says.
Here are the major grants and awards presented to College of Sciences faculty in FY20 (links lead to previous coverage of the announcements during the Spring 2020 and Fall 2019 semesters):
Antibody testing research, led by Biological Sciences’ Joshua Weitz and Emory University professor Benjamin Lopman, earns an NSF urgent funding grant to further study Covid-19 ‘shield immunity’.
School of Psychology assistant professor Dobromir Rahnev is one of two Georgia Tech winners of the Office of Naval Research's Young Investigator Program Awards. Rahnev will research how the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps can use technology and science to update and enhance job skills training.
Elisabetta Matsumoto, an assistant professor in the School of Physics, is a 2020 Cotrell Scholar thanks to her research on the mathematics and physics hidden in the knots and weaves of knitting.
A pair of College of Sciences professors -- Jenny McGuire in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences/School of Biological Sciences, and Lutz Warnke of the School of Mathematics -- are receiving coveted National Science Foundation CAREER Awards, which will fund future research for five years.
Colin Parker, assistant professor in the School of Physics, and Henry (Pete) LaPierre, assistant professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, have also just received FY20 National Science Foundation CAREER Awards.
Yao Yao, assistant professor in the School of Mathematics, is among 126 early career researchers selected to receive 2020 Sloan Research Fellowships.
Four College of Sciences early career scientists – Jen Glass, Chris Reinhard, Gongjie Li, and Amanda Stockton – are named Scialog Fellows for a new research initiative, Signatures of Life in the Universe.
Pamela Peralta-Yahya, assistant professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is part of the collaborative effort to study innovative aerospace concepts.
Susan Thomas, Woodruff Associate Professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, collaborates with Professor and School of Chemistry and Biochemistry Chair M.G. Finn, to try to improve treatment of follicular lymphoma.
An assistant professor in the School of Psychology will get more than $2 million in National Institutes of Health grants for two research proposals that focus on the brain's decision-making abilities, and on a promising treatment for neuropsychiatric disorders.
NSF awards effort led by Pablo Laguna and Deirdre Shoemaker for the development of the Einstein Toolkit Ecosystem: Enabling Fundamental Research in the Era of Multi-Messenger Astrophysics
Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, incuding Kim Cobb with the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, are leading a first-in-the-nation effort to help identify solutions to help reduce Georgia’s carbon footprint in ways that are economically beneficial.
One of the grant recipients is Neha Garg, an assistant professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The funding will support the protection and restoration of water quality, corals and seagrass in South Florida.
An interdisciplinary research group from Georgia Tech, including School of Physics Professor Daniel Goldman, has received a grant from the National Science Foundation to design an advanced self-propelled robot to explore the soil subsurface and record a range of signals as it advances.
The National Institutes of Health is supporting Petit Institute/School of Biological Sciences Assistant Professor Joe Lachance’s research strategy, which includes the analysis of ancient and modern genomes, mathematical modeling, and the development of new bioinformatics tools.
When it rains, it pours. That’s how it felt last month when email after email from School of Psychology Acting Chair Mark Wheeler arrived in various inboxes, sharing the joyful news of a new award. The announcement of a $334,000 grant to Dobromir Rahnev in May has been succeeded by seven other research awards to eight faculty members.
Joshua Weitz of the School of Biological Sciences is part of a team of U.S. and French scientists who will research the interaction between bacteriophage, bacteria, and the innate immune response to enable use of phage therapy, even with patients with impaired immune systems.
A prestigious honor for young scientists is presented to Georgia Tech's Michael Damron, associate professor in the School of Mathematics. The Kavli Frontiers of Science Symposium, part of the National Academy of Sciences, issued its invite to Damron, one of a long list of Georgia Tech researchers to receive the fellowship.
See the full 40 Under 40 list on the Georgia Tech Alumni Association website.
The Georgia Tech Alumni Association has announced 40 distinguished honorees who have innovated industries and positively impacted communities across the globe. More than 250 individuals were nominated by colleagues, peers, and Georgia Tech faculty this April.
The inaugural list includes a trio College of Sciences alumni: Kathryn Lanier, Director of STEM Education Outreach at Southern Research (PhD Chem 17); Maria Soto-Giron, Translational Bioinformatics Lead at Solarea Bio (PhD BI 18); and Nseabasi Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project (Psy 02).
“I am amazed and humbled by the accomplishments of these innovators and trendsetters. They epitomize the focus that our Georgia Tech alumni have to make the world a better place,” shares Dene Sheheane, president of the Georgia Tech Alumni Association.
Those nominated must have completed at least one semester at Georgia Tech, be under the age of 40 as of June 30, 2020, and have made an impact in their profession or community, spanning all industries and sectors. A committee of 26 faculty, staff, and volunteer leaders, who collectively represented all Georgia Tech colleges, scored each nominee using a 25-point rubric.
Selection Committee member Bert Reeves, MGT 2000, State Representative in the Georgia House of Representatives, expressed that, “I was blown away at the nearly impossible task of scoring the applicants. These are folks who are not just impacting their community and state, but in some cases, their country and the entire world. It is truly inspiring to see the innovation and passion that our alumni are contributing to many of the greatest issues our world faces today.”
40 Under 40: College of Sciences 2020 Honorees
Kathryn Lanier (PhD Chem 17)
Director of STEM Education Outreach at Southern Research
Kathryn Lanier is a problem-solver, a doer, and a builder of things never before imagined. She’s also pioneering the first-ever position of director of statewide STEM education outreach programs for Southern Research. Without a playbook of operations, she’s enjoyed the freedom of building a “STEMpire,” that includes everything from deep policy discussions with representatives at the state level to hosting students and teachers in the Southern Research STEM lab in Alabama. At the same time, she can sometimes be found dressed like a cat performing as her alter-ego, The Chemistry Kat, and traveling the state to host STEM pep rallies for hundreds of students. “Middle schoolers inspire me,” Kathryn says. Of course, they can be awkward and smell sometimes, she says, but their resilience is stronger than titanium. And no matter what’s going on in their private lives, they allow themselves to dream. “To live in such a way that you wear your hopes so clearly for the world to see is brave, and it's inspiring.”
Fun Fact: She has a reoccurring dream of getting stuck in the tunnels beneath the Biotech Quad. While it changes each time, her favorite version has been one where she meets and mingles with the legendary George P. Burdell.
Maria Soto-Giron (PhD BI 18)
Translational Bioinformatics Lead at Solarea Bio
In the U.S., about 10 million Americans are currently living with osteoporosis or osteopenia and the majority are women. For Maria Soto-Giron, that statistic is personal. Her motivation for working in biotech looking for treatments to reduce chronic inflammation is her mother who has rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. “For more than 30 years she has suffered the serious side effects of the current drugs,” Maria says. In her pursuit at Solarea Bio, a biotech startup, she’s searching for a preventative approach using probiotics and plant fibers from fruits and vegetables as a treatment to reduce chronic inflammation without the negative side effects from drugs currently on the market. In her role leading the bioinformatics team, she created a computational platform to analyze hundreds of microbial genomic components to identify microbial candidates that could result in human health applications. As a Colombian, female scientist, she’s also passionate about increasing access and building STEM opportunities for young girls in Colombia.
Fun fact: She used to play underwater hockey (yes, you can play hockey underwater) back in Colombia.
Nseabasi Ufot (Psy 02)
CEO of the New Georgia Project
From corporate lawyer to labor lawyer to lobbyist to community organizer and now nonprofit executive, Nseabasi Ufot has taken an unconventional path. No matter the endeavor though, she never forgot what she learned at Tech—notably, how to apply the scientific method to solve any challenge she faced. “While my formal GT education prepared me to understand cognition and how the human brain works, it also forged my habit of Questioning, Researching, Hypothesizing, Experimenting, Observing, and Communicating Results,” she says. She uses it to answer the smaller questions in life like what haircare products to use, and to answer the larger ones, like what messaging and engagement tactics are most likely to turn a first-time voter into a super voter? At New Georgia Project, Nseabasi leads a team of more than 125 to build campaigns and technology to register, educate, and mobilize citizens from underserved and underrepresented communities. The organization has helped nearly 450,000 Georgians register to vote through face-to-face conversations, mobile apps, and video games.
Fun fact: She’s an avid gamer and speaks four languages.
About the Georgia Tech Alumni Association
The Georgia Tech Alumni Association, chartered in 1908, is an exclusive network of more than 172,000 worldwide tied together by their experience at Georgia Tech. Through the Association, Tech alumni gain immediate access to its extensive, global alumni network, as well as numerous alumni programs and services designed to enrich both careers and lives. The Georgia Tech Alumni Association is a participation-driven non-profit corporation governed by a board of alumni volunteers. Since 1947, the Association’s Roll Call program has raised money to financially support Tech’s academic mission, a tradition that has transformed the Institute into the place it is today. Learn more at gtalumni.org.
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Neuroscience major Cristina Baker and biochemistry major Michelle Schroeder have been selected to receive the Beckman Scholarship, a highly competitive scholarship that provides top undergraduate students with research stipends, as well as funds for travel and research materials. The Scholarship will support Baker and Schroeder in conducting research from summer 2020 through to the end of summer 2021.
Baker's research with Todd Streelman, professor and chair of the School of Biological Sciences, addresses the genetic variance and differential gene expression of cichlids, a type of fish, and how these elements affect behavior.
Schroeder works with M.G. Finn, professor and chair of the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, who is also the James A. Carlos Family Chair for Pediatric Technology. Finn also holds a joint appointment in the School of Biological Sciences. Schroeder’s research focuses on the discovery of monoclonal antibodies, which are antibodies made by identical immune cells that are all clones of a unique parent cell. By coupling antigens to virus-like particles, Shroeder’s research uses monoclonal antibodies against toxins, bacteria, viruses, and designer drugs (synthetic analogs of controlled substances, devised to circumvent drug laws).
"Both Cristina and Michelle have impressive research records so far, and an intensive program like the Beckman Scholarship will give them the support to make significant scientific impacts over the next year," says Jennifer Leavey, principal academic professional and faculty director of EXPLORE Living Learning Community in the College of Sciences, who served on the selection committee.
"A number of exceptional applications for the Beckham Scholarship were received this year. Kudos to Cristina and Michelle for rising to the top following a rigorous review process," adds Cameron Tyson, assistant dean for Academic Programs in the College of Sciences, who also reviewed the applications.
Baker and Schroeder join biology majors Alicia Caughman and Kathleen Imbach in receiving the honor. The pair were appointed Beckman Scholars in summer 2019 and will continue their research with support from the scholarship through summer 2020.
"The Beckman Scholars program provides us with the opportunity to engage our very best students in extended research experiences — with faculty members who have strong track records of mentoring undergraduates in the research laboratory," says David Collard, associate dean in the College of Sciences and professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, who directs the program at Georgia Tech. "Alicia, Michelle, Cristina and Kathleen certainly embody Arnold Beckman's "Rules for Success", which include, ‘There is no satisfactory substitute for excellence '."
The Beckman Scholars Program at Georgia Tech is supported by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. The program provides grants to institutions throughout the nation to support undergraduate research in chemistry and life sciences.
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College of Sciences at Georgia Tech