News Highlights

Gilman and colleagues investigate springy mechanics of gecko toe pad adhesion

Gecko composite

Geckos employ dry adhesion, using a combination of microscopic hairs on their toe pads, as well as other aspects of internal anatomy, to climb vertical walls and run across ceilings, a skill that has long fascinated scientists. In particular, it’s a mystery how some species as much as 100 times heavier than others can use adhesion so effectively. Casey Gilman, OEB doctoral candidate, and colleagues have found that geckos have a spring-like mechanism in their bodies to enhance adhesion as they become larger. Gilman is first author on Geckos as Springs: Mechanics Explain Across-Species Scaling of Adhesion in PLOS One. In 2012, four of the authors, including Gilman's advisor Duncan Irschick, invented the flexible adhesive Geckskin. It mimics a gecko’s ability to strongly yet easily attach and detach their feet to walk on walls and ceilings.

Stengle Leading Nine-State Study of Fungus Deadly to Snakes

Rattlenake in den

OEB Ph.D. candidate Anne Stengle, is overseeing a federal grant in nine states that studies a mysterious fungus killing snakes in the Northeast. In less than a decade, the fungus has been identified in at least nine Eastern states, and although it affects a number of species, it's especially threatening to rattlesnakes that live in small, isolated populations with little genetic diversity, such as those found in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York. According to Stengle, the fungus has been found in all five rattlesnake populations in Massachusetts, but it doesn't appear to have had the high mortality rate reported elsewhere. Stengle's dissertation research is on habitat selection, connectivity and viability of the timber rattlesnake metapopulation in southwestern Massachusetts.

Clarifying Prefrontal Neurons' Roles in Flexible Behavior

David Moorman, right, and graduate student John Hernandez in the neuroscience and behavior program lab at UMass Amherst.

Results of a new study reported by David Moorman of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Gary Aston-Jones of Rutgers University suggest that adjusting behavior based on previous events involves an unexpected mix of neurons working together in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. Findings appear in the online version of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read more

Evan Palmer-Young Awarded DDIG

Evan Palmer-Young, OEB doctoral candidate in Lynn Adler's lab, has been awarded a $20,735 Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from NSF's DEB for his project "Inter-strain variation and evolution of resistance to phytochemicals in the bumblebee trypanosome parasite, Crithidia bombi." Congratulations to Evan and Lynn!

Curtis recieves NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship

OEB Ph.D. Candidate Caroline Curtis has been awarded a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship for her proposal Using Time Series of Remotely Sensed Imagery to Understand Invasive Pine Dispersal. The $30,000 fellowship, renewable for up to three years, allows Curtis to study the temporal patterns of pine invasion in South America. Congratulations to Caroline and her advisor, Bethany Bradley.

Sandra Petersen to receive Presidential Award for STEM mentoring

NSB faculty member Sandra Petersen is set to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering.  She will receive her award at a White House ceremony later this year.  According to a press release, the White House presents the awards "to individuals and organizations to recognize the crucial role that mentoring plays in the academic and personal development of students studying science and engineering--particularly those who belong to groups underrepresented in these fields."   Dr. Petersen is one of only 14 individuals and one organization to receive this award this year.  In addition to being honored at the White House, Dr. Petersen will also receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.  Congratulations to Dr. Petersen!

Ajay Kumar is runner up in Innovation Challenge

Current Neuroscience & Behavior Program student Ajay Kumar (Bittman lab) was a runner up in UMass' Innovation Challenge MinutePitch competition.  Ajay (as a member of Team GeneRisk) proposed a software and web database combination that allows clinicians to deposit raw genetic data to obtain a risk score for Autism Spectrum or related disorders.  Congratulations to Ajay!

Park paper published in Cerebral Cortex

NSB faculty member Joonkoo Park's paper titled "Rapid and Direct Encoding of Numerosity in the Visual Stream" was recently published in Cerebral Cortex.

Amanda Cremone received travel award from CRF

NSB student Amanda Cremone (Spencer lab) received a travel award from the University of Massachusetts Center for Research on Families (CRF).  CRF provided funding to Amanda to present Influence of a Mid-Day Nap on Response Inhibition in Preschool-Aged Children at the Society for Research in Child Development’s conference in Philadelphia.

Janna Mantua recipient of Sleep Research Society Abstract Merit Based Award

NSB student Janna Mantua (Spencer lab) is a recipient of a Sleep Research Society Abstract Merit Based Award. This award is based on the scientific merit of the abstract that she submitted for presentation at SLEEP 2015, the 29th Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies that will be held June 6-10, 2015 in Seattle, WA. Janna received a Meritorius Award of $500.  Congratulations to Janna!

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