Thursday Afternoon Breakouts and Experiential Sessions - Hard Sciences

 Breakout sessions in the Hard Sciences
1:45 – 2:45 pm

When you register for the Assembly, please indicate which one of the following sessions you are likely to attend.


Weighing Galaxies and Watching Them Grow Up
Rachel Bezanson, PhD '13

Leitner Family Observatory & Planetarium, 355 Prospect Street
Bus leaves at 1:25 p.m. from High Street next to Old Campus (near Harkness Tower)

The most massive galaxies in the universe are huge collections of very old stars. The galaxies were initially thought to have formed their stars billions of years ago and then passively retired, leaving the arrangement of stars in each galaxy largely unchanged until the present. Recent evidence, however, has shown that when we glimpse these galaxies at an earlier time they appear to be structurally different, which is inconsistent with the accepted picture of gradual aging.

In this session we will learn how these galaxies are studied at Yale, and discuss why researchers here are suggesting that these galaxies have in fact been much more active, merging with and incorporating the stars from other, smaller galaxies until they better resemble the galaxies we see today. The presentation will include a visit to the Yale Planetarium.


Cellular Biology:
Engineering Better Drugs
Jacob Appelbaum, PhD '12

Grace Murray Hopper Auditorium, Building B25, West Campus
Bus leaves at 1:20 p.m. from High Street next to Old Campus (near Harkness Tower).

Note: Because of the time required to bus delegates to and from the West Campus, those who wish to attend this session will also need to attend the humanities breakout “Introduction to Egyptology at Yale," being held on the West Campus following this session. Round-trip bus transport will be provided only once, prior to and following the combined time for both sessions.

Researchers who design and test modern drugs have to negotiate a balance between scale and cellular access. “Small” drugs — those relying on small molecules — tend to permeate tissues and cells, which “large” drugs cannot do. On the other hand, large drugs provide bigger surface areas that can interact with their molecular targets and may be easier to design. How can we increase the ability of large molecules to reach the inside of cells?

In this session, held at the West Campus’s new Institute for High-Throughput Cell Biology, we will review the basic challenges in this type of research and see how Yale scientists are tackling them. For example, in one class of molecules, they have learned how to incorporate a particular amino acid to dramatically increase the number of molecules capable of entering cells. We will see how they screen knockdowns of every gene and test whether they are involved in peptide release, in order to better understand what works and what doesn’t.


Producing Fuels from Sunlight and Water
Laura Allen, PhD '12; James Blakemore, PhD '12; Rebecca Milot, PhD '13

Room 110, Sterling Chemistry Laboratory, 225 Prospect Street
Bus leaves at 1:25 p.m. from High Street next to Old Campus (near Harkness Tower)

The dream of converting sunlight and water into usable fuel is centuries old. Now, the dream is moving closer to reality, thanks to research being done through the Yale Green Energy Consortium — an effort in which four Yale chemistry professors and their graduate researchers have teamed up to explore the possibility of creating “solar fuels” by using photons to produce clean, efficient, renewable energy.

In this presentation, three of these graduate students will talk about PhD life at Yale, how they came to be motivated to do the research they’re currently doing, and how their work is advancing the search for solar fuels. We will see portions of experiments in synthetic reactions, laser spectroscopy, and hydrogen/oxygen generation. The session will include a demonstration of how a solar cell can convert light into energy.


Ecology & Evolutionary Biology:
The Evolution of Feathers
Jake Musser, PhD '14

Room 157, Class of 1954 Environmental Science Center, 21 Sachem Street
Bus leaves at 1:25 p.m. from High Street next to Old Campus (near Harkness Tower)

Complex and alluring, feathers endow birds with the capacity for flight, precise control over body temperature, and a showy plumage for use in displays of aggression and affection. Doing these jobs often requires the coordinated action of numerous feathers of greatly differing size and shape. But how did feathers, and their considerable capacity to vary, evolve?

In this interactive session, which will make use of the collections in the Peabody Museum and the Class of 1954 Environmental Science Center, a Yale graduate student will show us how he has been investigating the evolutionary history that brought about feathers. He will show us how we can explore the evolution of feathers by studying the underlying genetics behind building different types of skin, including feathers, scales, and claws, and how the pursuit of this research lead him from the comfortable confines of his Yale laboratory to the wilds of emu farms and alligator-filled swamps in Louisiana.


Ecology & Evolutionary Biology:
The Co-Evolution of Hosts and Parasites
Jason Shapiro, PhD '14

Room 201, Osborn Memorial Laboratories, 165 Prospect Street
Bus leaves at 1:25 p.m. from High Street next to Old Campus (near Harkness Tower)

Most of Earth’s organisms are parasites, but it is unclear whether parasites can readily evolve to become mutualists — organisms that biologically interact in such a way that each individual benefits — and vice versa. This presentation will cover the various research approaches for examining host-parasite interactions and how they evolve. The focus will be on methods employed by students in the Turner Lab in Yale’s Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, where mathematical, experimental, and genomic approaches are used to examine co-evolution in hosts and parasites.

In this session we will hear about the basics of microbial evolution and how Yale researchers are using laboratory experiments to explore model systems, adaptive dynamics modeling, and studies of “evolution-in-action” using both traditional and next-generation methods, such as liquid-handling robotics. The talk will include a live demonstration of the robotics system.


Environmental Studies:
Preserving the Periodic Table for Posterity
Nedal Nassar, PhD '17

Room 123, Kline Geology Laboratory, 210 Whitney Avenue
Bus leaves at 1:25 p.m. from High Street next to Old Campus (near Harkness Tower)

Metals are vital to modern society, in everything from shelter and transportation to communications and manufacturing. Our reliance on metals is not new. What is new, however, is the rate at which humans are extracting, processing and using them. This ever-increasing level of consumption raises important questions: Should we be concerned about the long-term availability of metals? Is it possible to recycle our way to sustainability?

To begin addressing these concerns, scientists have developed a methodology to assess the “criticality” of metals, focusing on those having a high risk of supply restriction where there is no adequate substitute. In this session, we will learn why this methodology was needed, how it has developed, and how it can help guide strategic decision-making. We will test our knowledge of how we participate in metal consumption, handle samples of some “at-risk” metals, and hear how researchers at Yale plan to take their discoveries in specific groups of metals and apply them across the periodic table.


Experimental Pathology:
Improving Melanoma Treatment
Kathryn Tworkoski, PhD '13

Room 216, Hope Memorial Building, 315 Cedar Street
Bus leaves at 1:25 p.m. from High Street next to Old Campus (near Harkness Tower)

The incidence of melanoma — a malignant tumor in the pigment-producing cells responsible for the color of your skin — has been steadily rising over the past 30 years. Novel therapeutics are needed to improve the treatment of this disease. Researchers at Yale are working to shed new light on the way melanoma grows, in order to clear the way for the introduction of these therapies.

In this session, illustrated by medical slides, a Yale graduate student will explain how her research has shown that targeting receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) can mediate the progression of cancer. Her lab focuses on identifying which RTKs are activated in melanoma, how these RTKs influence melanoma cellular behavior, and which RTKs might represent viable targets for therapeutic intervention. The session will conclude with a brief lab tour.


Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science:
Visualizing the Nanoworld
Mehmet Baykara, PhD '12

Room A002, 77 Prospect Street (near corner of Trumbull Street)
Bus leaves at 1:25 p.m. from High Street next to Old Campus (near Harkness Tower)

Yale is currently developing a new type of microscopy that is unique in the United States. In this session, we will hear from a Yale researcher who specializes in visualizing the atomic structure of surfaces using a highly sophisticated, lab-built microscope. With the help of this incredible instrument, one can not only observe the real atomic structure of surfaces, but also measure forces and energies associated with these atoms, opening the way to study many important scientific and technological phenomena such as friction and chemical reactivity on a very fundamental scale.

In a very real sense, this is paving the way for scientists to “visualize the nanoworld” in ways never before possible. This session will include a tour of the Yale physics laboratory where this research is currently underway.


Laser Cooling of Diatomic Molecules
John Barry, PhD '12

Room 57, Sloane Physics Laboratory, 217 Prospect Street
Bus leaves at 1:25 p.m. from High Street next to Old Campus (near Harkness Tower)

The cooling of atoms by use of lasers has been possible for decades. The process of cooling atoms to temperatures of near absolute zero has moved from the realm of experimentation in quantum physics to the achievement of real-word advancements in practical applications, such as improvements in GPS systems and atomic clocks. But until recently, no one had ever been able to laser-cool entire molecules. Now, thanks to research at Yale and elsewhere, the laser-cooling of diatomic molecules — molecules composed of two atoms — has become a reality.

In this session, a Yale physicist will step us through the challenges that had to be undertaken before diatomic molecules could be laser-cooled. We will hear about the state of current research in this area, illustrated in a video, and learn of future directions and applications for this fascinating tool that will make it possible to explore new areas of science. We will also see a demonstration of how a laser works, and tour one of Yale’s physics laboratories.