Hannah Prensky | Lopatkin Lab

July 2021

Hannah Prensky in the Lopatkin Lab
This summer, we created an Instagram account for the Lopatkin Lab (follow us @Lopatkinlab!) and I was featured in a story post while doing an experiment.

My time in the Lopatkin Lab at Barnard College has come to a close for the summer as we wrap up Summer A, though I look forward to returning in the fall. At the start of the summer semester, my goal for my project was to finish quantifying the acquisition cost of around 40 plasmids, and I’m proud to say I successfully completed all 39 plasmids in our possession at the Lopatkin Lab. Moreover, I isolated five of those plasmids from their host cells in order to perform DNA sequencing, which will give us insights into possible genes that may be related to the acquisition cost. While the methodology behind these experiments was similar to the type of work I was doing in the spring semester, I had the opportunity to work with pathogenic bacteria strains from the CDC this summer. Many of these multi-drug resistant CDC strains were isolated from patient infections and pose serious risks to public health, making them different from our far tamer domesticated lab strains. This summer, while working with more dangerous strains of bacteria, I developed the skills I needed in order to properly protect the safety of myself and everyone else in the lab.

Beyond the wet-lab skills I developed during the summer, I also grew as a scientist in other ways. I closely worked with a new lab member, Maya, to train her on my project and how to conduct the experiments we need in order to answer our research questions. This summer marks Maya’s first time conducting biological research, and now, just a few weeks later, she has already taken the project into her own hands and is making great progress on collecting more results! The main thing I will take away from that experience is that training new students requires serious attention-to-detail, especially in a microbiology lab where things can easily get contaminated without us knowing until the next day or two. While teaching the steps to an experiment is certainly important, I believe that emphasizing sterile technique is even more important.

In addition to training new students to our lab, I also achieved a new milestone this summer by speaking at my first conference. During the last week of the summer semester, I gave a 20-minute talk about my recent publication at the New York Bacteria Interest Group conference hosted by NYU. Leading up to the talk, I received a lot of support from Professor Lopatkin and my fellow lab members who let me practice with them and gave me detailed feedback. I was also the only undergraduate to speak at the conference which made me proud to represent Barnard! The part I was most nervous for was the Q&A since the audience members were all experienced bacteriologists, but I was excited to hear that all their questions related to things we are already currently addressing in this next part of the project. Unfortunately, I couldn’t reveal too many specifics, but I was glad that I communicated the topic well enough during my talk for the other scientists to understand and think ahead in similar ways to us at the Lopatkin Lab. Communicating science effectively through writing papers and delivering talks is necessary to be a successful scientist, and next year, I look forward to speaking at more conferences and publishing again.

Tamima Sultana | Kissileff Lab

August 2021

As we wrap up for the summer, I’m very enthusiastic about the fall semester since we are hoping classes and labs will be in-person. I plan on continuing my work at the Kissileff Lab for my senior thesis and research seminar. In the fall, we’re aiming to expand our reach into another procedure involving the sipometer and other motivational measures in a group of bariatric surgery patients. In addition to focusing on pinpointing potential pre-operating predictors of success for bariatric surgery, we’re aiming to provide insight on portion sizes and taste in the food and beverage industry.

I’m very grateful for getting the opportunity to present my work at the British Feeding and Drinking Group (BFDG) 45th Annual Meeting and Annual Meeting of the Society for The Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB). My presentation and abstract for BFDG was titled Responsiveness of virtual beverage portion size tasks and prediction of postoperative weight loss in bariatric surgery patients where the food virtual portion creation task (VPCT) was adapted to assess its responsiveness to beverages and contexts in bariatric surgery patients. We found that beverage VPCTs are sensitive to items, surgery, trial, and contexts, and offer potential for clinical assessment. In addition, milk volume in the satisfied context negatively predicted 1-yr weight loss for patients. At SSIB, my abstract was Actual Beverage Intake Is Predicted By A Virtual Portion Creation Task, and the aim was to determine whether this portion-creation task can predict actual intake, such that matched actual and virtual contexts are correlated (convergent validity), and that unmatched contexts are not (divergent validity). VPCTs for beverages are valid and specific proxies of beverage intake for patients but are only partially valid for controls which can be attributed to patients’ differentiation between maximum and comfortably satisfied contexts. Whereas, for the healthy controls, we don’t see any differentiation between those two contexts.

Overall, I have definitely grown from this research experience and am able to appreciate the intricacies of clinical study trials from scheduling, collecting, to data processing. I was also able to learn the SAS programming language sufficiently well to perform essential data analysis tasks. Collaborating with my lab, first rate scientists from the industry and laboratories overseas was a very rewarding experience as it inspired me to pursue a career in biomedical research and raise public awareness regarding our daily consumption and how it can be influenced by mass marketing strategies.

Vivian Zhao | Losonczy Lab

September 2021

Vivian Zhao in the biology lab

As the summer has come to a close and I look back on my research over the past few months, it is amazing to see how much this experience has helped me grow. In addition to building my expertise in episodic memory formation, I have also gained valuable insights into pursuing graduate study, navigating lab dynamics, and finding my place in research. This was the first experience in which I felt like I was able to foster many valuable relationships with peers and mentors who were truly invested in my intellectual and professional development, allowing me to better integrate into my lab community and engage more deeply with the science.

While data collection and analysis are ongoing, the projects we started over the summer have developed exciting trajectories as we continue them throughout the academic year. I myself will be transitioning to a new project for my senior thesis investigating the connectivity between the CA3 and CA1 regions of the hippocampus. Insights into the potential functional significance of different subregions as they relate to this pathway can help us understand the mechanisms underlying spatial memory formation. I am incredibly excited to take on this project, though it will also pose a healthy challenge that will help me grow as a scientist: while my summer research involved multiple people handling multiple, often overlapping aspects of our experiments, my senior thesis will be a chance for me to take full responsibility for a project. This is an opportunity that, after re-reading my first reflection, I realized I had already developed a toolkit for by “learning gradually how to take ownership of and responsibility for my role as a researcher and the process of conducting good science.” Though day-to-day lab work will feel somewhat different, I feel well-prepared given the skills and knowledge I was able to acquire throughout the summer!

Isabella Villa Real Seabra | Experimental Biochemistry and Computational Pharmacology Lab

September 2021

Isabella Villa Real with labmates
Just watching the sunset from "Mirante do Leme" with my SEAS friend and his high school best friend.

As the summer came to an end, so did my research project at FIOCRUZ. My personal project, writing up a deep learning python code for a time series image analysis model, ended up becoming one of the essential steps of the final project. It was an intense summer and even though I also had hands-on bench experiences, this research project really expanded my computational skills and knowledge. In terms of my future plans, this experience gave me the tools to know that doing research that involves computing, bench work, and public health is what I want.

Isabella Villa Real at Praia da Barra

Projects that are public-health focused represent for me a good balance between my STEM and humanities interests. Personally I learned a lot about how important it is to have a support network around you. Even though I was really into my research project and glad I was doing it, it was very hard at times. When your code does not run or a bench experiment goes wrong, it can be very frustrating and you really know that it is okay for you to be upset about it, but you need to know that it is also okay to make mistakes. Especially at my age, I know that I still have a lot to learn and to experience, so I know that making mistakes is part of the process. I realised that you are as much part of the research as the effort you put into it. That does not mean having all the correct results, sometimes you will have spent weeks working on something that will not be relevant in the end, but the most important thing is everything you learned during this time. I spent the first couple of weeks writing a code that turned out to be a bad way to analyse the data, so I had to start all over again with a different approach. But I learned so much when writing these different codes and trying to understand what was wrong.

Isabella Villa Real Seabra with Barnard friend
Going to a boat ride with one my best friends from Barnard in front of the "Bondinho do Pão de Açùcar" (the famous sugarloaf cable car)

My academic goals are to enter a research-based PhD program that focuses on biomedical research, so all the personal and professional experience that I had the opportunity to have during this summer will prepare me a lot for the years to come. As for my next steps at Barnard, I plan on joining a lab that does research on a combination of neuroscience, computational biology, and health. Although I am really excited about start doing research again, I am not in rush exactly (might even start during the fall and only in spring), because I really want to go through all the lab resources that I can access so that I can choose a research project that really fulfills my goals, just like the FIOCRUZ lab that I worked on this summer.

One of the best parts of my summer experience was being able to get to know Rio de Janeiro (I am from São Paulo), and once the pandemic started to get a little better because of the vaccination levels and all, I was able to see a couple of friends that are from Rio that I know through college because they go to SEAS and Barnard. Although I was not allowed to take pictures inside the lab, here is a picture of FIOCRUZ building that I worked in (below).

Castelo fiocruz
Picture of FIOCRUZ (where my lab was).