[video] Dr. Naider accepts President’s Medal at Celestial Ball

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Dr. Fred Naider, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at CSI, and Member of the Doctoral Faculty at The Graduate Center/CUNY, highlighted student achievements and the importance of scholarships during his acceptance speech of the President’s Medal at the second annual Celestial Ball.

After thanking the Ball committee and his family, friends, and colleagues, Dr. Naider told the attendees about his father, Leonard, known to his children as “The Old Sarge,” who fought at Normandy in World War II. Although Leonard never received a college degree, he valued education and worked hard to ensure that his children benefited from a good education. He also taught his children to recognize kindness and express their gratitude. With those sentiments in mind, Dr. Naider thanked CSI President Dr. Tomás D. Morales and Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. William Fritz for the honor of receiving the President’s Medal.

Dr. Naider then explained that he has “lived a privileged life…I am one of those people who just never left school. I have spent virtually all of my life learning, teaching, or doing research.” His main focus, however, was on the wonderful students at CSI with whom he has had the pleasure of working, including Dr. Leah Cohen, who recently attended a Nobel symposium in Germany. “At CSI, our students receive an education that is second to none, and they have the opportunity to inspire their teachers and, in turn, to hopefully absorb some of the passion that we have for our disciplines,” he added. Dr. Naider concluded his remarks with stories of CSI students who beat almost insurmountable odds to graduate and eventually become very successful in their scientific careers, noting that scholarship funds help to create more stories with happy endings like these.

View the CSI Today Photo Gallery and read the Celestial Ball article.

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NIH awards researcher with history of Alzheimer’s in family determined to find a cure

Dr. Alejandra Alonso, Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at the College of Staten Island, was recently awarded grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Alzheimer’s Association for the study of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. The grants total approximately $330,000. With 5.3 million people afflicted with Alzheimer’s, Dr. Alonso will lead a team of researchers to develop novel model systems and therapeutics to cure or delay the onset of this devastating disease.

Her laboratory on the CSI campus bustles with student activity. From PhD students and post-doctoral researchers studying slides of brain tissue through a microscope to Master’s students jotting down notes at their lab stations, there is a sense of purpose in Dr. Alonso’s lab that can only be accomplished when everyone involved believes they are doing something truly important.

“It is important to look at problems from a researcher’s perspective,” Dr. Alonso said when asked about her students’ roles in her research. “This is a chance to do important hands-on-research.”

A protein called TAU plays a significant role in the neurodegenerative process leading to Alzheimer’s disease. The study of this protein was neglected in the past, but Dr. Alonso has continued working on the role of TAU for more than a decade, along with her former mentors, Drs. Khalid Iqbal and Inge Grundke-Iqbal, at the New York Institute for Basic Research.

Dr. Alonso plans to examine the effects of Tau hyperphosphorylation on the microtubules in the brain. The TAU proteins stabilize microtubules which, in turn are the scaffolding of the cytoskeleton, or cellular skeleton. Through her research, Dr. Alonso hopes to determine what impact hyperphosphorylation (oversaturation of phosphate to a protein) has on a cell’s structure.

The NIH grant will focus on how TAU protein is modified in diseased brains to cause neurodegeneration. The goal of the Alzheimer’s Association grant, entitled “Tau-Induced Neurodegeneration,” is to generate new experimental models of neurofibrillary degeneration of the brain.

Dr. Alonso has experienced the impacts of Alzheimer’s disease in her own family, and hopes to develop the research tools and model systems to make strides for a cure. “If we know the mechanisms, we can work toward preventing or delaying the onset of this devastating disease.”

Dr. Alonso received her PhD at the University of Cordoba, Argentina. She began her work in the U.S. at the Institute for Basic Research, where she focused on biochemical characterization neuronal dysfunction in the brain. She began her work at CSI in 2007, and now has over 40 publications in peer-reviewed journals.

Dr. Alejandra Alonso, Associate Professor at the Department of Biology at CSI

NSF Awards Faculty Member for Moving at the Speed of 40 Gigabits per Second

CSI was awarded a $210,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Research Instrumentation (MRI) program in order to acquire state-of the-art signal generation and detection instruments for an automated, versatile, programmable, experimental platform that will enable cutting-edge research and multidisciplinary engineering training on advanced communication technologies. These signal generators and detectors are instruments that generate and test arbitrary wide-band electronic signals. The experimental platform will transfer electronic signals into optical signals for research in optical communication systems and networking.

The principal investigator of the grant was Dr. Xin Jiang, Associate Professor of Engineering Science and Physics at CSI. Dr. Jiang received her PhD in Electronics, Physics, and Opto-Electronics in 1995 from Tsinghua University, Beijing, China where she received two national awards for excellent research on optical amplifiers and multiple-wavelength optical communications. Prior to joining CSI, Dr. Jiang has worked in R & D and engineering organizations of several high-tech companies. Since coming to CSI she has been working on building a first-class modern experimental laboratory on optical communication. “Advanced experimental equipment is the foundation of high-quality experimental research in (the) science and engineering field,” she said during a recent interview. The proposal, which was initially rejected (but with good reviews) in the summer of 2009, is Dr. Jiang’s first NSF grant. She calls the grant a “boost to my research” and believes that it will “lay the foundation of our first-class optical communication experimental laboratory.”

Dr. Jiang hopes that the experimental platform will take advantage of the High-Performance Computing Center (HPCC) to enable research on high-speed communications with improved performance on many applications. One such application that Dr. Jiang is envisioning is to provide experimental, state-of-the-art testing equipment for researchers and engineers in the optical communications field “to meet the insatiable demand for data communication at a faster speed and higher quality,” according to Dr. Jiang. The grant will provide funding for major research instruments to build a state-of-the-art experimental test bed, which will enable a broad variety of research activities.

A broader impact of the acquisition of the equipment is that it will greatly enhance the current experimental facilities in telecommunications at CSI/CUNY. Seminars, workshops, and graduate and undergraduate classes will be developed to produce young engineers with a wide skill-set, able to do innovative work in all broadband communication fields. Dr. Jiang and her colleagues plan on recruiting “underrepresented minorities or (female) students for lab management, equipment operation, development, and research using the experimental platform, continuing CSI’s tradition of being a leader in on- and off-campus research in CUNY and all of New York City.

The National Science Foundation is a Congressional agency created in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare…” With an annual budget of about $6.9 billion, the NSF is the funding source for approximately 20 percent of all federally supported research conducted by this country’s colleges and universities.

By Carlo Alaimo

Berger Wins Fulbright Scholarship

CSI Associate Professor of Psychology Sarah Berger has won a coveted Fulbright scholarship to work abroad examining how locomotor development in infancy affects other types of development taking place at the same time.

Professor Berger will work for ten months at Haifa University in Israel, in collaboration with Professor Anat Scher, chair of that university’s Department of Counseling and Human Development. They meet at international conferences and share overlapping research interests, so it’s a “natural fit,” Professor Berger says.

Studying “typically developing” infants and toddlers, Dr. Berger will concentrate on projects to determine the effect of locomotor expertise on the ability of infants to carry out goal-directed plans, the effect of sleep on their motor learning, and the relationship between the onset of motor milestones and sleep quality.

She’s interested, too, in the effect of older siblings on younger siblings’ motor development, and the impact of the onset of motor milestones on the development of lateralization (footedness) in infancy.

Examining the interaction between different developmental domains, Dr. Berger feels, “will provide a more realistic depiction of how development occurs in infancy than what is usually portrayed in the literature.

“Most research tends to isolate psychological domains for study for the sake of convenience, but in reality infants are experiencing change in many ways (cognitive, motor, language, emotion, etc.) all at once. I hope to gain a better understanding of the nature and trajectory of typical development.”

At CSI since the fall of 2004, Professor Berger teaches Developmental Psychology and other specialty child development courses such as Motor Development, Infancy, and a lab course in experimental psychology that emphasizes developmental methodology.

Her primary research investigates typically developing infants’ cognitive development in the context of locomotion. “Specifically, I look at the development of problem-solving skills in the context of infants figuring out how to reach a goal, particularly when there is an obstacle in their way.”

She became interested in psychology when she worked in a psychology research lab as an undergraduate at the University of Texas-Austin (where she received BAs in Psychology and Spanish). “I loved the whole research enterprise, so I went to graduate school to continue my education. She earned MA and PhD degrees in Psychology, Cognition and Perception, with a Developmental concentration, at New York University.

She finds conducting research satisfying “because it requires so many different types of skills… the intellectual demands of collecting and analyzing data, figuring out the relationship between my own findings and the field in general, writing about my work for different audiences.”

There are other aspects of research as well, she says, aspects with which people may be unfamiliar. “For example, it requires a lot of creativity, such as designing equipment, figuring out effective visual communication of information to tell the story of the data, and writing in a style that is clear and even entertaining.”

Her research also requires technical skill: “Most of my data is coded from videotape, so my research assistants and I use a special video coding software that allows frame-by-frame analyses of movements. I also enjoy the collaborative nature of research. Most research cannot be done alone. It requires multiple people for data collection and analysis, brainstorming, and, for me, mentoring of students.”

Professor Berger says that she was “thrilled” to win the Fulbright, “honored to receive recognition for my work and support so that I can carry it out and have a productive and exciting sabbatical year.” Her students (undergraduate independent study students) were so proud of her, they nominated her for a Dolphin Award for Outstanding Scholarly Achievement.

She didn’t win that honor, but this year won the CSI Provost’s Research Fellowship from the college. Previously, she has won an American Association for University Women fellowship to conduct postdoctoral research at New York University and, as a graduate student, won the Martin D. Braine Memorial Award for Excellence in Research from the NYU Psychology Department.

In addition to providing a monthly stipend to conduct research collaboratively in a foreign country, the Fulbright scholarship also facilitates travel by “Fulbrighters” during their fellowship. So, while based in Haifa, Professor Berger will present two or three talks about her research in Istanbul, Turkey, and will travel within Israel to other universities for collaboration and presentation of her research.

The mission of the Council for the International Exchange of Scholars (CIES), the program that oversees the Fulbright, is to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” This program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

By Joel Cohen