Summer Research in the O'Hara Lab

Summer is such a great time to get research done at Amherst College.  The town returns to a small New England town, the streets are not crowded, you can ride your bike, there is a Saturday market downtown and nearby Puffer's Pond to go for a swim.  Plus, you get 8-10 weeks to concentrate on your research in the company of other dedicated and talented people.  If you come to Amherst, definitely consider spending a summer in town.  You won't regret it!

Check below for what's happening in the O'Hara lab this summer and past summers.

2014 and 2015 Summer Research

Given my sabbatical schedule for 2014-2015, I will not be taking any students in my lab while I prepare for a year in Istanbul, Turkey (Fall 2014) and Stellenbosch, South Africa (Spring 2015).  To find out what I will be doing, check the tab at left, "A Taste for Olives."

2013 Summer Research

Summer 2013 we welcomed Raysa Cabrejo '14 and Shazad Anwar '14 who are both working on their theses and Alexander Pearlman '13 is completing a prestigious post-graduate Hughes funded project before taking up a job at the NIH.  Raysa and Alex are old timers in the lab and Shazad is working with us for the first time.  They join Jim and I in a busy summer of work in single molecule spectroscopy, light scattering, molecular biology, and protein and genetic engineering.  

2012 Summer Research

This summer is a big one for us.  We are actively working on two projects, one on the chaperone function of alpha crystalling and the second on the estrogen receptor and developing fluorescent methods for measuring functional assays. 

Our estrogen project goals are to bring to closure one project on in vitro binding of estrogen analogues to ER alpha and ER beta.  Meanwhile we will explore new ways to see if in vivo assays can succesfully monitor binding. Jacqueline Watson '12 will be working with us on this as a Hughes post baccalaureate scholar as will Nia James '15 as a Hitchcock Scholar

Our alpha crystallin project goals are to further our understanding of this protein's ability to maintain lens clarity by its action as both a small heat shock protein as well as its role in forming diverse and stable protein aggragates.  Alex Pearlman '13, a summer thesis student, will begin a project this summer using single molecule techniques to investigate the structural interfaces responsible for oligomerization in Alpha Crystallin B.  Karen Cheng '14, HHMI summer student, will also be working with Alpha Crystallin B.  She will be continuing the work of Raysa Cabrejo '14 who has been studying the chaperone function aspects of this important human lens protein.

2011 Summer Research

This summer there are close to 300 students on campus, 100 of whom are doing research in various labs on campus.  I'll introduce you to the folks working in my lab: Walker Jorgenson '11, from Chicago, Jackie Watson '12, from Jamaica, Jean Santos '12, from Boston, and Raysa Cabrajo '14 from Miami.  We will have a few visitors over the summer as well including Rachel Bisiewicz'14  from Brown University.  I am ably assisted by Dr. Jim Hebda, who is a Teaching Postdoctoral Fellow in my lab for the duration of my term as Dean of New Students.  Without him, my work could not get done. Richmond Ampiah-Bonney, the Academic Manager in General Chemistry, is also a research member of the team.

Jim is from Yale University and is interested in alpha crystallin proteins in the eye.  He wants to understand how these proteins work to prevent aggregation of other proteins.  This protective aspect enables one unique feature of eyes, that of having proteins in your eye that last an entire lifetime without degrading.  By comparison, proteins in red blood cells are recycled every few months.  When through disease, trauma, or environmental conditions these proteins are damaged, cataracts form and blindness ensues.  Raysa and Jean are working with Jim on this project.  Raysa is an HHMI undergraduate Fellow funded through the Hughes Program for Undergraduate Research.  Jim is a rising Chemistry major and this will be the subject of his year long analysis for his honors thesis.

Both Jackie and Walker are working on different aspects of cellular signaling through the estrogen receptor.  Walker has received a prestigious post-baccalaureate award to continue his thesis work through the summer to analyze the interactions of a second signaling molecule, calmodulin, with the estrogen receptor.  He will work with Richmond to scrutinize this interaction using single molecule spectroscopy.  Jackie is just starting her thesis work to study how different small molecules might act as mimics to induce expression of downstream genes.  We have a really neat yeast expression system which has been altered to contain the gene for the estrogen receptor as well as a estrogen reseponse element that controls expression of a fluorescent molecule, GFP.  She has received a White Award that will enable her to travel to the Netherlands later in the summer to learn some of the finer points of yeast cell expression.   

Rachel is working the first six weeks at a lab in Columbia University with a former professor of mine, Nick Turro.  She is working to help develop a non-invasive fluorescent based assay of circulating insulin.  She will finish up her summer in our lab.