Meet a Scientist: Brian Chiou

Graduate School

This is the sixth post in our “Meet a Scientist” series. Next up is Brian Chiou, who just began his graduate studies at Penn State College of Medicine this semester.

Meet Brian:

Headshot

Meet Brian!

Let’s get to know you a bit! Where are you from, what did you study in college, and what is your role at Penn State College of Medicine?

Hello! I am from Chicago, IL, but I attended college in the San Francisco Bay Area at the University of California – Berkeley (Go Bears!). I studied Molecular and Cell Biology with an emphasis on Biochemistry. I am a first-year graduate student whose role involves studying, choosing a lab, and passing those pesky tests!

Why did you decide to become a scientist?

I decided to become a scientist because I truly believe the pursuit of (all) knowledge is a wonderful thing. I can’t imagine another profession where one can wholeheartedly chase after a problem and see the benefits of such a pursuit in the world around them. Knowing that the efforts of today will lead to improvement of lives for patients around the world is a powerful motivator, and one that has shown me the importance of research. On a grand scale, it’s gratifying to know that the research and work being done by myself and others will have a lasting impact on future generations.

Headshot 2What do you research at Penn State, and why is it important?

As a first-year graduate student, I have yet to pick a lab, but I have always been interested in the biochemistry of the brain and the interactions that happen between neurons. These interactions manifest themselves in a number of ways that lead to a variety of effects, such as neurodegenerative diseases. I have worked previously with Alzheimer’s Disease, the leading cause of dementia in the elderly, and have become fascinated with the lack of information surrounding the root causes and, indeed, even the pathway that leads to such a disease.

What are some of your hobbies outside the lab?

I love the outdoors! If I don’t get outside at all in a day, I tend to get very restless.

HobbyMore specifically though, I play soccer and tennis pretty regularly as well as general fitness activities such as running and working out at the gym. I also love playing the guitar and singing.

Tell us three random facts about yourself!

  1. I am against the smartphone culture and thus own a flip phone (and an MP3 player)!
  2. My family is from Taiwan.
  3. I absolutely love thunderstorms and rain.

Stay tuned for a new interview next week! And if you’re a Penn State College of Medicine scientist interested in participating, you can sign up here.

Meet a Scientist: Cecilia Bove

Graduate School

This is the fifth post in our “Meet a Scientist” series. Next up is Cecilia Bove, who just began her graduate studies at Penn State College of Medicine this semester.

Meet Cecilia:

When a young scientist meets Instagram

Meet Cecilia!

Let’s get to know you a bit! Where are you from, what did you study in college, and what is your role at Penn State College of Medicine?

I am from Abruzzo, a region in east-central Italy. The city in which I was born is surrounded by mountains, so cold and winter are my best friends! I attended college in the wonderful city of Perugia (go Griffins!). I just graduated in Medical Biotechnology and I am currently a Ph.D. student in the neuroscience program.

Why did you decide to become a scientist?

My very first day in lab!It happened in high school. The teacher I had at that time explained to us how DNA replicates and started talking about Biotechnology. It was love at first sight! I was able to appreciate this field of study only during the first years of university, where I received the confirmation that doing research was my life-long goal.

What do you research at Penn State, and why is it important?

First-year here! I officially became a graduate student at Penn State only ten days ago. I am sure I will not betray electrophysiology during this wonderful experience here, but I still have not worn my brand-new lab coat!

What are some of your hobbies outside the lab?

A quick self-portrait!My hobbies are deeply embedded in arts. The first thing that I learned was how to draw and I still do it in my spare time! Having a father who plays music, I have been stimulated since childhood to listen to music and play it, so I play piano, but I need to re-teach myself. I release stressful thoughts by writing and I recently started to do yoga for that reason. Baking and cooking help a lot too! But, one thing that I really enjoy during my free time is… NERD ALERT…playing board and videogames!

Tell us three random facts about yourself!

1) I am a crazy cat lady.

2) I have perfect pitch.

3) I have such a bad sense of direction that I could easily lose myself in my apartment!

Stay tuned for a new interview next week! And if you’re a Penn State College of Medicine scientist interested in participating, you can sign up here.

Can Wearing Orange-Tinted Glasses before Bed Improve Sleep? Only One Way to Find Out…

Neuroscience

By: Jordan Gaines Lewis, 5th year PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program

In March, I wrote about the terrible sleep habits of the characters in House of Cards. I disapproved of Frank Underwood’s late-night computer work in the Oval Office, his new midnight iPad gaming habit, and Claire taking her laptop to bed with her.

But I must confess my hypocrisy.

Despite my preaching – and despite being a sleep researcher myself – the last thing I do before I flip off the lights and snuggle into my bedsheets is play games on my iPhone.

I know, I’m bad – but I also know I’m not the only guilty person here.

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Chhe (Wikimedia Commons)

Although evidence suggests that the blue light emanating from phones, tablets, laptops, televisions and e-readers can affect the quality of our sleep – in turn affecting our health and well-being – many of us can’t help logging in and tapping away when we should be winding down. A Time/Qualcomm poll of 5,000 people worldwide suggests that nearly a quarter of those between the ages of 18 and 24 generally don’t sleep as well because of technology. Even worse, 40-75% of folks across all age groups report keeping their phones within reach while they sleep at night.

But there might be a solution. Recently, orange-tinted glasses, or “blue blockers,” were touted by the New York Times as a good option for those who simply can’t avoid technology before bed.

As a concerned scientist, I decided to do an experiment on myself. I hopped onto Amazon, bought an $8 pair of orange glasses, and formulated my research plan. Without changing any of my other habits, would wearing these glasses an hour before bed improve the quality of my sleep?

Meet a Scientist: Jaclyn Welles

Graduate School

This is the fourth post in our “Meet a Scientist” series. Next up is Jaclyn Welles, who will be starting her graduate studies at Penn State College of Medicine this fall.

Meet Jaclyn:

j1

Meet Jaclyn!

Let’s get to know you a bit! Where are you from, what did you study in college, and what is your role at Penn State College of Medicine?

I am from Bronx, New York. I went to college in Atlanta, Georgia at Clark Atlanta University where I completed my B.S. in Biology. Afterwards I completed a research post-baccalaureate program at the University of Alabama – Birmingham where I studied transcription factors and metabolism.

Why did you decide to become a scientist?

I have always known that my life would lead me to a career in either medicine or science. It took me two internships and a post-bacc, however, to fully appreciate all that research had to give.  It was at my research pos-bacc that I ended up in a transcriptional genomics lab, and for the first time, I felt at a loss for words. I couldn’t believe that I had never encountered functional genomics, transcription factors, and metabolomics before. Everything clicked into place, and I just knew that molecular genetics was the area toward which I had always been striving.

What do you research at Penn State, and why is it important?

Since I am now entering Penn State this summer as a graduate student, I have yet to actually choose a lab. However, I believe that when I do find a lab, I will aspire to continue pursuing research in molecular genetics. I am also very interested in the personalized medicine facilities here. It is one of the reasons why I fell in love with Penn State to begin with.

The genes found in our bodies are not only fundamentally important because they help make us who we are, but also because many of the diseases in existence today only exist due to slight differentiations within our genetic makeup. I truly feel that the keys to solving most diseases will all be found within the map that is our genome, and that it will be up to scientists like us to discover them one day.

What are some of your hobbies outside the lab?

j2I am first and foremost a huge foodie! I will try any food at least once with pleasure.  I am also a bit of an adrenaline junkie. I just recently tried kayaking & although my arms hated me for it 4 miles later, I loved it! I also love to run. I ran track for four years and the habit never left me.

Tell us three random facts about yourself!

  1. I love scary movies. Come Halloween, I will be your go-to girl!
  2. My entire family is from Ghana, West Africa.
  3. I love to dance!

Stay tuned for a new interview next week! And if you’re a Penn State College of Medicine scientist interested in participating, you can sign up here.

Meet a Scientist: Caitlin McMenamin

Graduate School

This is the third post in our “Meet a Scientist” series. Next up is Caitlin McMenamin, a 3rd-year graduate student in the Anatomy program.

Meet Caitlin:

c1

Meet Caitlin!

Let’s get to know you a bit! Where are you from, what did you study in college, and what is your role at Penn State College of Medicine?

Watch out — Jersey girl coming through! I grew up on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, a place where many people vacation, but I call home year round. For undergrad, I decided to explore below the Mason-Dixon line and attended James Madison University (Go Dukes!). I graduated with a major in Kinesiology and Biology, with a concentration in Exercise Science. I then came to Penn State College of Medicine to pursue a PhD in Human Anatomy. I am a rising 3rd year grad student in a lab in the Neural and Behavioral Sciences Department. So, I really consider myself an anatomist and neuroscientist.

Why did you decide to become a scientist?

c2I’m not going to lie—if I were asked 5 years ago where I thought I would be and what I would be doing, it would not have been this. I thought I wanted to be a physical therapist for the longest time. It turned out I HATED it! After taking Anatomy & Physiology class in undergrad, I fell in love with the human body. It really is the most amazing thing. I then began searching for graduate schools to continue studying this newfound passion. I was not looking forward to doing research when I began the program in Hershey. Little did I know I would fall in love with that too! There are so many questions that have yet to be answered in science and we are sent on a mission to find the missing puzzle pieces. Research really is fun and everyday is one step closer to finding answers.

What do you research at Penn State, and why is it important?

My thesis work is on how a perinatal high fat diet affects central vagal neurocircuits supplying the GI tract. It has been known that a maternal high fat diet predisposes offspring to obesity. Most of these patients have gastrointestinal problems as well, oftentimes exacerbating the outcome of obesity and associated diseases such as Type II diabetes. I focus on the area of the brainstem that supplies motor innervation to the GI tract and how the diet affects the function of these nerves in rats. A typical day in the lab is anywhere from recording membrane properties from neurons via electrophysiology, to performing surgeries and microinjections into areas of the brainstem, to doing immunohistochemistry to examine different markers in the CNS. Gotta keep it interesting, right?

What are some of your hobbies outside the lab?

I’m an avid runner/gym rat who works out really hard to then sit down and eat a whole cake. I love going to the shooting range, then getting a pedicure. Hiking. Paddleboarding/kayaking are activities that living near salt water has instilled in me. I also love dancing anywhere, any time.  Is napping a hobby? If so — then yes, that too.

Tell us three random facts about yourself!

  • I was president of the sewing club in high school—yes, that’s a thing.
  • Pear-scented anything makes me happy.
  • Condiments freak me out.

Stay tuned for a new interview next week! And if you’re a Penn State College of Medicine scientist interested in participating, you can sign up here.

Meet a Scientist: Nathalie Fuentes

Graduate School
Portrait1

Meet Nathalie!

This is the second post in our “Meet a Scientist” series. Next up is Nathalie Fuentes, who will be starting her graduate studies at Penn State College of Medicine this fall. 

Meet Nathalie: 

Let’s get to know you a bit! Where are you from, what did you study in college, and what is your role at Penn State College of Medicine?

¡Hola! I am originally from the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. I did my undergraduate studies in Biochemistry with a minor in Linguistics at Iowa State University. Go Cyclones! I am an upcoming 1st-year graduate student in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program at Penn State College of Medicine.

Why did you decide to become a scientist?

My research started at the age of 5 with my first scientific fair. I have always been very curious; I researched plants, created a motor to produce electricity, analyzed the sound of a frog, and investigated pathogens in caves. It was during high school, and thanks to the NIH-STEP-UP program and to the International Scientific Fair, that I was able to perform molecular research. I fell in love with biochemistry during my first undergraduate internship at Penn State.

Lab PhotoIn an effort to soothe the patients, I also led a group of volunteers to help paint the walls in the Division of Pediatrics. One of the patients looked into my eyes and tried to tell me that she could not paint. This was a pivotal emotional moment that made me want to explore biochemical processes that govern the functioning of diseases. Once again, my desire to commit to the biomedical sciences field was reinforced.

What do you research at Penn State, and why is it important?

Since I am an upcoming graduate student, I have not chosen an official research group yet, but I have an idea of what I would like to do. It was during my internships where I refined my research interest in biochemical and molecular mechanisms in tumor suppression, signal transduction pathways, gene expression and chromatin remodeling. This type of research helps to answer an important question: what is the mechanism behind diseases? Understanding a disease at a molecular level could lead to the development of new drugs and treatments.

What are some of your hobbies outside the lab?

Karate PhotoI think it is necessary to have a balance in life. During my free time, I enjoy providing guidance and mentoring to the next generation of scientists. I have helped high school students in networking with faculty, as well as providing academic support and fellowship to students aspiring to do research. I also LOVE to dance! I am a Salsa/Bachata dancer. I also LOVE to eat, especially cheese pizza!

Tell us three random facts about yourself!

  • I speak Spanish, English and a little bit of American Sign Language and Portuguese!
  • I was raised on an island, but I DON’T know how to swim!
  • I am a yellow belt in Taekwondo!

Stay tuned for a new interview next week! And if you’re a Penn State College of Medicine scientist interested in participating, you can sign up here.

Meet a Scientist: Lina Jamis

Graduate School
lina

Meet Lina!

This is the first post in our “Meet a Scientist” series. First up is Lina Jamis, a graduate student in the Anatomy program at Penn State College of Medicine. If you’re a regular reader here, you’ve probably read many of her posts — most recently, her piece on virtual reality for the blog award.

Without further ado, meet Lina Jamis:

Let’s get to know you a bit! Where are you from, what did you study in college, and what is your role at Penn State College of Medicine?

I hail from Potomac MD, which is a suburb very near Washington, D.C. I grew up with the best of both worlds. I went to Georgetown University (Hoya Saxa!) where I studied Neurobiology. After graduating, I decided to pursue a Masters degree and I ended up at Penn State’s College of Medicine, where I study anatomy and physiology, and work in a molecular motors lab, studying the role of unconventional myosins in human sensory systems.

lab

Working hard…or hardly working?

Why did you decide to become a scientist?

I think my feelings on science can be best summarized by Eugene P. Kennedy, who wrote an article in the Annual Review of Biochemistry in 1992:

“The anonymity that is the fate of nearly every scientist as the work of one generation blends almost without a trace into that of the next is a small price to pay for its unending progress, the great long march of human reason…To feel that one has contributed to this splendid enterprise, on however small a scale, is reward enough for labor at the end of the day.”

What do you research at Penn State, and why is it important?

I study the role of an unconventional class III myosin protein that has been localized to neurosensory epithelia; specifically, the stereocilia of the inner and outer hair cells of the ear. Its presence and function are critical to the process of hearing; without it, deafness ensues.

crossfit

Crossfitting it up!

What are some of your hobbies outside the lab?

  • Crossfit
  • Ultimate Frisbee
  • Reading multiple books at the same time
  • Writing poetry

Tell us three random facts about yourself!

  • I’m an identical triplet (we’re all ladies)
  • I own four direwolves
  • I’m actually an old woman in the body of a 25 year-old

 

Stay tuned for a new interview next week! And if you’re a Penn State College of Medicine scientist interested in participating, you can sign up here.

Meet a Scientist — sign up now!

Graduate School

Contrary to popular belief, not all scientists are balding, bespectacled men in white lab coats holding bubbling green test tubes.

10153767_452242308239083_7237143635612730590_nSo let’s show them who #WeAre!

Sign up here to be featured in an upcoming “Meet a Scientist” interview right here on Lions Talk Science.

We’ll ask some standard questions about your work, why you decided to become a scientist, etc. But what we really want to know is: who are you outside the lab? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Fun photos and videos are a bonus!

And don’t worry — whether or not you’ve contributed to the blog in the past, we’re still interested in telling your story.

Contact us with any questions. We’re looking forward to learning more about you!

 

Congratulations to the Winners of the 2nd Annual Lions Talk Science Blog Award!

Blog Award

The judges’ scores have been tabulated, and we’re thrilled to announce the winners of our annual writing competition!

1st Place: Sadie Steffens – “What is 6 Weeks Worth? The Cost of Cancer Drugs and Extending Life”
2nd Place: Dan Hass – “Where in the Brain Does Deception Lie?”
3rd Place: Lina Jamis – “The Immersive World of Virtual Reality: Why VR is the Ultimate Neuroscience Experiment”

trophy-83115_640All of the entries were of incredibly high quality, and scores were VERY close! Entries were judged based on adherence to the theme, writing quality, scientific accuracy, and appropriateness for readers of the general public.

Thanks to everyone for participating. We’ll be back with a shiny new prompt next year!

We’d also like to extend a huge thanks to Dr. Michael Verderame, Kathy Simon, Kristin Smith, and Jordan Gaines Lewis for judging the competition this year.

Where in the Brain Does Deception Lie?

Neuroscience
640px-Jonathan_G_Meath_portrays_Santa_Claus

Santa’s favorite reindeer is Rudolph, of course. Source: Jonathan G. Meath (Wikimedia Commons)

By: Dan Hass, 2nd year PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program

When my 8-year old niece asks me what Santa Claus’s favorite reindeer is, I do not tell her that Santa does not actually exist. I try to keep her as happy as possible, and I tell a white lie.

Lying is not an uncommon phenomenon. It is estimated that, on average, Americans lie 1.65 times daily.

While most of these are white lies, a study in the United Kingdom found that approximately one out of every two people tells a self-defined ‘big lie’ every day. Although these data are not evenly distributed (a few people who lie a lot may skew the statistics), deception is a part of our every day life [1].