UMass Amherst continues to attract truly remarkable students. The campus’s varied opportunities allow students to challenge convention, think in new ways, and create change instead of waiting for it. This semester we celebrate three College of Natural Sciences students with the Rising Researcher Award in recognition of their demonstrated ingenuity and impact in their fields of study.
Commonwealth Honors College student Morgane Golan ’20, pre-veterinary sciences, joined Dr. Wei Cui’s lab in 2018, and embraced the freedom to dream bigger. She planned on becoming a clinical veterinarian, but her goals shifted to research when she became a fellow in the Lee Science Impact Program (Lee SIP), a donor-funded program in CNS designed to expand and broaden participation in undergraduate research.
As a scholar and member of Dr. Cui’s lab, Golan has contributed to a number of research investigations in embryo culture and genotyping, and animal modeling processes. “We study genes that are required for mammalian embryonic development, by regulating or 'knocking out' their function, to evaluate the developmental progress following this sort of mutation,” says Golan.
Golan adjusted to the lab’s pace quickly. “The more time that I spent in the lab, the more I wanted to be there. I love the personal satisfaction and exhilaration that come with fantastic results...This role has imbued me with a sense of confidence and self-awareness. Because of my experience as a young, female research scientist, I have been offered unique opportunities to work with diverse groups and achieve heightened levels of success,” says Golan.
Her contributions to one particular knockout study of Mediator Complex Subunit 20 (Med20), which plays a role in gene transcription and whose dysregulation has been linked with intellectual disability in humans, resulted in Golan’s co-authorship of a paper in the Journal of Reproduction. Her honors thesis investigates the embryonic role of Replication Factor C1, a subunit factor involved in the catalysis of DNA synthesis that has implications in aging. “It has been determined that cleavage of the subunit adversely affects cellular proliferation, resulting in the phenotypic expression of the genetic disorder Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome,” says Golan. She hopes to publish a paper on her thesis results next spring.
“I love the research that I do in these projects because it bridges the gap between complex scientific theories and real-world implications. This research also presents hope that we might someday be able to minimize the prevalence of these genetic abnormalities and limit their terrible prognoses in human medicine,” says Golan.
Commonwealth Honors College student Zoe Kearney ’20, astronomy and physics, is a natural at research. Working with her advisor Alexandra Pope, astronomy, Kearney has been involved in two galaxy formation and evolution projects where she has worked with big data sets, honing her skills in data synthesis and analysis.
Her two projects at UMass Amherst have been examining the relationship between galaxy properties and the environment of dusty star forming galaxies. Both projects have been computationally involved and have focused on imaging, working with large amounts of data, and learning about the importance of research on dusty sources and obscured star formation. Kearney presented the first project at the American Astronomical Society in 2018 and the second will be developed into her honors thesis.
While studying abroad, Zoe worked with a post-doc at the Max Planck Institute sorting through large amounts of data and abstracts for Damped Lyman alpha systems, large densities of neutral hydrogen gas which are visible in quasar spectra. “This required learning about new science and spectral analysis as well as developing new code in Python to redo analysis previously done in IDL. I plan to present this work at the next American Astronomical Society meeting and write a paper upon conclusion of the analysis,” says Kearney.
“Zoe understands the process of analyzing data and then synthesizing the results before taking the next steps. She asks insightful questions, has strong computational skills and a high-level theoretical understanding of the material,” says Pope.
“Seeing how all components fit together, such as the theory, application, and analysis, has taught me early on to always stay curious and persistent when there is a problem to be solved. I continue to be excited and passionate about physics and astronomy and anxiously anticipate the opportunity to expand my research in the years to come,” says Kearney.
Commonwealth Honors College student Kenneth Lin ’20, astronomy and physics, is also a member of Professor Alexandra Pope’s team. He has been contributing to two groundbreaking projects designed to shed light on the roles of star formation and supermassive black holes as astrophysical processes that drive galaxy evolution.
His first project aims to reveal the link between supermassive black holes and star formation evolution in distant galaxies with the forthcoming NASA James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. “This work enables the diagnosis of active galactic nuclei at high redshifts where the star formation rate peaks in an era called cosmic noon,” says Lin.
The second involves developing diagnostic simulations for TolTEC, an imaging polarimeter to be commissioned on the Large Millimeter Telescope in Mexico at the end of 2019. “This project aims to quantify the effects of multiplicity and confusion in the TolTEC beam on the observations to be made with upcoming large sky surveys. With the three-millimeter wavelengths of TolTEC, this study aims to quantify how well galaxy sources can be selected by redshift by spectral energy distributions and constraining the dust emissivity of these sources,” said Lin.
“Kenneth has received multiple awards and recognitions for his scholarly and research accomplishments including a national Goldwater Scholarship and the 2019 William F. Field Alumni Scholars Award. He was also selected for two competitive external summer research internships: the Nakatani Foundation RIES U.S. Fellowship program and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) REU program. For the Nakatani program, he won the best poster presentation prize among the exceptional cohort of fellows and presented his research at a conference in October 2018. He plans to present his research from his CfA Harvard project at the AAS meeting this winter,” says Pope.
Lin says, “I hope to pursue my interests in astronomical instrumentation, and in particular, optical detectors for next generation space-based observatories. Developing the new technologies in instruments will enable the science to be pushed further, giving us the capabilities to address wide-ranging open questions in astrophysics from galaxy formation and evolution near the beginning of time to the large-scale structure of the universe.”