Frozen Proteins & Fun in Friartown

Frozen Proteins & Fun in Friartown

Posted by: on July 1, 2015   |Comments (0)|Undergraduate Research

Hello everyone!

jurassic worldIs summer treating everyone well? I hope so! Max and I are having a good time, and I’m learning a lot in the lab. Did you know that you can’t freeze proteins?  It denatures them, and then they’re essentially useless. I learned that one the hard way. Always store your proteins in the fridge, NOT the freezer.

Something else I’ve learned from my summer in Friartown is how much you can do in the city! After the research day, the nerds come out and play because it’s a lot better than sitting around on campus. Don’t get me wrong, I love campus, but your options for fun in the sun are limited when there’s no one around. There isn’t even a line at the Dunkin Donuts in the Slavin Center. That’s when you know it’s empty.

The city certainly isn’t empty. There are a plethora of activities in Providence to keep anyone occupied. My friends and I went to the premiere of Jurassic World in IMAX at the Providence Place Mall. It was awesome. Who wouldn’t want to see Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle alongside velociraptors coming at you? The mall is about a 5-10 minute bus ride from campus on the good ol’ RIPTA 55, and public transportation is free to all PC students as long as you show a student ID! Not only is there a movie theater, but there are three floors worth of great stores and restaurants. There’s even a Dave n’ Busters if you want to get your game on.

A little further away (but still within RIPTA distance) is Thayer Street, which is practically on the Brown University campus. It has a lot of cute shops and unique restaurants along with some crowd pleasers. I mean, there’s a Froyo World and a Chipotle. Chipotle has become at least a once-a-week event for me. The only reason that I haven’t ballooned is that the PC gym is open during the summer.

andreasOne Saturday, we went to Thayer Street for brunch and ended up at Andreas, a cute Greek place that actually serves really good breakfast food. Who knew? I couldn’t decide between a classic Greek meal and chocolate chip pancakes, so I had a gyro with home fries. Both were delicious.

You might be wondering who I’m talking about when I say that “we” did something. When I’m talking about things I’m doing in the lab, I’m usually talking about Max. However, Max can’t come on adventures with me no matter how much he enjoys Greek food–being a machine and all. When I say “we,” I’m talking about the other students here for research in different labs. I’ve decided to introduce you to them and their research to give you a taste of everything going on in our science building, Albertus Magnus (Al Mag), this summer. Also I kind of want to prove to you that I have friends other than a scientific instrument. Let’s get started!

Today, I’m going to introduce you to Dr. Brett Pellock’s lab and some of the research students who work there. Most of his research students are funded by the Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) grant that Dr. Pellock received from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS). Their job is to research the metal-reducing bacterium Shewanella oneidensis.

bio groupBiologists. They always have the strangest names for things. Anyway, what I mean by ‘metal-reducing bacterium’ is that S. oneidensis can take certain metal elements outside of the cytoplasm and change the charge, or oxidation sate, of those metals. Changing or reducing oxidation states in certain elements is actually how batteries are powered (any begrudging AP chemistry student will tell you), so the hope is that one day metal-reducing bacterium could be used as an alternate power source! How cool is that?!

The Pellock lab is also working with Hfq, a protein that interacts with the bacterium. After years of research, the lab created a mutant strain of the bacterium without Hfq. As it turns out, the removal of Hfq leads to a gene that they have nicknamed ‘catastrophic death’ that results in slower growth, slower reduction, and – you guessed it – catastrophic death of the bacterium. Whoops.

After that, the lab focused on the death phenotype. Why does that happen? How can it be fixed? The lab discovered that plating the bacterium on blood agar reverses the catastrophic death and that the mutant death lacked a biomolecule known as HEME a. The lab is hard at work with this information, also looking at how stress may affect the mutant S. oneidensis and trying to figure out what exactly causes the bacterial doom so that it can be prevented.

Now we can meet the team! First up is Matt Cupelo ’17, or “Coops” a biology major with a talent for cooking and a passion for everything super. Then there’s Dan McGrath ’17, another biology major who researches during the weeks and saves lives on the weekends lifeguarding in Worchester, MA. Emma Hodges ’17 is a biology major thinking about going into nursing. She loves the team’s “Friday Lunch Adventures” and has a sever nap addiction. Ally Luongo ’18 is a rising sophomore in the biology department that can often be found at the gym jamming to Luke Bryan. Another member of the Class of 2018, Ryan Silva is another biology major (surprise there) training to get his EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) certification this summer.

And that’s the team! Dr. Pellock is one lucky scientist. They’re all hard workers, and there’s certainly no lack of fun, either. There’s always music blasting in the lab, and I may or may not have seen a few of them take part in a light saber duel the other day.

Earlier in the week, the group took a two day trip to Harvard University to take part in the 21st Annual Boston Bacterial Meeting (BBM) 2015. The BBM brings together researchers working with bacteria in academic or industrial settings from the Boston area. The PC students submitted their poster presentation to the contest that BBM hosts every year. With over 500 scientists present, competition was fierce, and the results are still pending on their final score. Either way, it’s always fun to go on adventures under the pretense of science. Good job, guys! You all looked great!

That’s all I have to say for now. I hope you’re getting plenty of pool time! I can’t say that I’ve spent enough time near the water. I’m too busy drowning in lipids. I think I’ll leave you with that train wreck of a joke, and you’ll hear from me, Max, and everyone else in Al Mag again soon!

Peace and Blessings,

– Bri and Max

Hello everyone! Is summer treating everyone well? I hope so! Max and I are having a good time, and I’m... MORE

A better scientist because of opportunity

Posted by: on May 20, 2015   |Comments (0)|Undergraduate Research

rogersOn April 18th, Matthew Sanborn ’15 and I attended the annual Eastern Colleges Science Conference (ECSC) at Niagara University. The day before, we had taken the long drive to the city of Niagara Falls so we could see the falls. ECSC is a relatively small conference, typically hosting representatives from about 20-30 universities. All of the students in attendance are undergraduates, who give oral platform presentations or poster presentations. It’s a great conference because it’s interesting to see what other undergraduates are doing as research. Also, both the platform presentations and poster presentations are judged as part of a competition. As always, it was fun to meet undergraduates from other schools.

I gave a platform presentation at this conference titled “Characterization of Yeast Bax Inhibitor, bxi1, Function in Cell Death, the Unfolded Protein Response, and Calcium Signaling in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.” The presentation was centered on research done over a number of years by many students. Specifically, our work suggests that the yeast Bax Inhibitor gene has functions both in programmed cell death and the unfolded protein response in yeast. Both programmed cell death and the unfolded protein response are ancient molecular pathways found in organisms from yeast to humans, so learning more about how these processes work is fascinating basic research.

sanborn1I have given a few poster presentations before, but this was my first time ever giving an oral presentation. I was nervous, but I found that I really enjoyed giving my talk. I learned later in the night that I had won an award for the best poster presentation in my group of talks, which I was very happy to receive. The conference was a nice way to round off my senior year in the lab. I’m sad to be leaving PC and the lab soon, but I will always remember what I have learned here. I think that my research in Father Austriaco’s lab has helped me become more competent as a scientist — both in my way of thinking and in my skills at the bench. I hope that many others will have the opportunity for a great undergraduate research experience, just as I have had.

On April 18th, Matthew Sanborn ’15 and I attended the annual Eastern Colleges Science Conference (ECSC) at Niagara University. The... MORE

Slow and Steady: Science Takes Time

Posted by: on April 16, 2015   |Comments (0)|Undergraduate Research

stephenrSince the beginning of the semester, we [some biology students and Father Nic Austriaco] have been working on two research projects with yeast. We are continuing with the work I wrote about last time, in which we are attempting to see how aneuploidy, or the possession of an incorrect number of chromosomes, affects programmed cell death in yeast. As a part of this project, we are still working to knock out the gene YCA1, which is responsible for yeast programmed cell death, from our aneuploid cells. This work has proven to be difficult despite multiple attempts under different conditions. Father Austriaco has been helping us work through the work, but progress has been slow.

Since I started doing research after freshman year, I have come to realize that research almost always seems to proceed slowly like this project, but I have also learned that even the frustrating times are a worthwhile learning experience. In addition to this research, Alexandra Chasse ’17 and I have just begun another project, in which we are attempting to force yeast to clump together using molecular biology. Doing so would, in a sense, make the yeast multicellular. To do so, we will introduce the gene encoding the human protein E-cadherin to our yeast. This protein helps hold human epithelial cells together, so the hope is that it will be able to hold yeast together in the same way. If this project is successful, we will examine any physiological changes in the yeast once they begin clumping.

In a few days, I will travel with Matthew Sanborn ’17 and students from other research labs at PC to the Eastern Colleges Science Conference (ECSC) at Niagara University to deliver an oral presentation about the research that our lab has been doing. I’m excited to get to give a presentation like this for the first time, but I still have some work to do on it before we leave. I’ll give on update on how the conference went once we return.

Until next time,


Since the beginning of the semester, we [some biology students and Father Nic Austriaco] have been working on two research... MORE

Meet a Few of Our Research Students

Posted by: on February 19, 2015   |Comments (0)|Undergraduate Research

Tom McHugh '15

Tom McHugh ’15
Major: English
Minor: Business Studies

Hi everyone – I’m Tom McHugh and I am working on an Honors Independent Study Project that investigates the religious development of the modern American poet, Wallace Stevens, throughout his life, as seen in his poetry. I am personally interested in this project for a number of reasons, but mostly because I find the poetry of Stevens to be fantastic, and his life story to be fascinating.

Stevens worked as a vice-president at The Hartford insurance company for most of his professional career, but he was still able to write some of the best and most well-loved poetry of the 20th century. By all accounts, Wallace Stevens was a good worker and a fair boss, but his talents surely did not stop with the rational, bureaucratic part of his mind. Stevens’ true genius was contained in his wildly creative imagination as seen in his poems. Although he was an agnostic for the majority of his adult life, Stevens converted to Catholicism on his deathbed in a stunning change of heart.

I hope to find some signs of the poet’s longing for religious belief in his early, middle, and later works leading up to conversion. These discoveries will allow me to theorize about what this pivotal moment means about Stevens’ life and what it can teach his reader. As an English major who plans on attending law school in the next few years, I too try to tap into both the rational and creative sides of my brain. And, I am a Catholic, young adult who struggles to maintain my faith as a college senior and as a person of the world, so I hope to grow personally by working on this project.

For the rest of the semester I will be reading Wallace Stevens’ poetic collections Harmonium (1932), Transport to Summer (1947), and Opus Posthumous (1957), along with the Dictionary of National Biography. I also will be supplementing this primary reading with some of Stevens’ other writings and letters, such as The Necessary Angel (1951) and The Contemplated Spouse (2006). Finally, I will be visiting Stevens’ house in Hartford, CT at some point during the semester in order to take his historic three-mile walk to work and experience what the poet did on a daily basis.

Check back soon!


Stephen Rogers '15Stephen Rogers ’15
Major: Biology

Hi – My name is Stephen Rogers, and I’m a here at PC originally from Baldwin, New York. I am a biology major and plan on applying to medical school at the end of this year. I conduct research in Father Nicanor Austriaco’s lab, which primarily studies programmed cell death in yeast. The project that I am working on with a few other students is focused on aneuploid yeast, which is yeast that possesses an incorrect number of chromosomes. Aneuploidy occurs in humans as well and is responsible for a number of genetic disorders, including Down Syndrome. Our group is attempting to better understand the molecular mechanisms of programmed cell death in aneuploid cells using yeast as a model organism.

I look forward to writing more about our research throughout the semester.



Dani Waldron '15Dani Waldron ’15
Major: Health Policy and Management
Hi! My name is Danielle (Dani) Waldron, and I am a senior Health Policy and Management (HPM) major and pre-med student here at PC. I also work as a quality improvement intern at PACE Organization of Rhode Island, an innovative care center for elderly persons. At school, I am on the Habitat for Humanity executive board, enjoy lots of art and ceramics classes, participate in Special Olympics events, and lead retreats through the Campus Ministry Center. One of my favorite activities on campus, however, is my work as undergraduate research assistant to Dr. Bob Hackey, the director of the HPM program.

Dr. Hackey, Dr. Todd Olszewski (also of the HPM Department), and I recently co-authored the “New Hampshire: Baseline Report, A State Level Field Network Study of the Implementation of the Affordable Care Act.” The report is a part the ACA Implementation Research Network Project, sponsored by the Rockefeller Institute of Government State University of New York, The Brookings Institution, and Fels Institute of Government University of Pennsylvania. We began working on the project when I was a junior and from the beginning both professors acknowledged and treated me as a co-author–an equal part of the research team. Me…a co-author at age 20-21?!? I was beyond stoked and put my all into the project immediately! The report, which explores NH’s experiences implementing the exchange and other aspects of the ACA, is only the first portion of our research project. Throughout the semester we are going to be working on a follow-up study and interviewing policymakers, hospital organizations, and others in the state.

In addition, last fall, I submitted a PC Institutional Research Board application and received approval for my independent study research project on insurance and access to care in Rhode Island. My friend and fellow senior HPM major, Alex Rawson, is helping me with the project, and Dr. Olszewski is my independent study advisor for the study. We are starting the experiment in February, so I will update you all on the project itself as the semester goes on!

Lastly, I have begun working on two other pieces. The first is about my unique experience as an undergraduate co-author (rather than a traditional assistantship) along with two professors who hold their Ph.D.’s, and the second piece is on my experience taking the reins on my own IRB approved and independent research as an undergrad.

I am so grateful for these research opportunities here at PC, as they directly shaped my future plans and goals. I am currently applying to Ph.D. programs in health policy and would like to continue researching the ACA, insurance and access to care, as well as reform in elderly healthcare in the future.

Anyways, that’s me! I will keep you posted on these projects as my final semester at PC (YIKES!) rolls on!


Tom McHugh ’15 Major: English Minor: Business Studies Hi everyone – I’m Tom McHugh and I am working on an... MORE