Mentors

Kenneth Burch
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Spectroscopic studies of novel solids, interfaces and nano-materials. Materials of interest include: Topological Insulators, Unconventional Superconductors, Spin/Valleytronics, thermoelectrics and 2D atomic crystals.
Laura Anne Lowery
2
Cytoskeletal dynamics during cell migration, axon outgrowth, development of the nervous system. One of the most remarkable feats in early neural development occurs when each neuron sends out an axon tipped with a growth cone, which navigates through the embryonic terrain and interprets guidance cues to find and connect with its final target. Abnormalities in axon guidance are associated with a multitude of neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism and schizophrenia. Many decades of axon guidance research have defined key extracellular cues and signaling pathways for this process, yet we still do not understand how these cues translate into the coordinated cytoskeletal dynamics that drive the morphological responses (advance, retraction, and turning) of the growth cone.

A long-term goal of our lab is to understand how cytoskeletal coordination occurs in the embryonic growth cone. Specifically, we focus on the regulation of the plus-ends of microtubules (MTs), which play a key role in growth cone steering. An important feature of MT plus-ends is the presence of a conserved set of proteins called 'plus-end tracking proteins' (+TIPs) that localize to the plus-ends and regulate their behavior. Evidence suggests that +TIPs act in response to upstream guidance cues by coordinating the downstream MT response.

Our research utilizes high-resolution live imaging and computational analysis of cytoskeletal behavior in cultured Xenopus laevis embryonic neurons to answer the question of how +TIPs interact and function within the growth cone to drive directed cell motility.
Eranthie Weerapana
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Our research program applies chemical probes and mass spectrometry-based proteomics to investigate and perturb protein activities in complex proteomes. In particular, we focus on understanding the role of cysteine-mediated protein activities in cancer and degenerative diseases associated with aging. These activities comprise proteases, oxidoreductases and metabolic enzymes that rely on cysteine residues for catalysis and regulation. Functional cysteine residues demonstrate heightened reactivity relative to non-functional cysteines, and are sensitive to a myriad of oxidative protein modifications that serve to regulate protein activity in vivo. In cancer and age-related degenerative diseases, the cellular redox homeostasis is severely disrupted and the resulting oxidative stress can have dramatic consequences on cysteine-mediated protein activities. Through a multidisciplinary approach that encompasses aspects of synthetic chemistry, cell biology, proteomics and mass spectrometry, we will investigate the dysregulation of cysteine-mediated protein activities to identify therapeutic targets and small-molecule drug-leads for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer.
Michael Naughton
4
Experimental condensed matter and materials physics and nanoscale integrated science; nanoscale manipulation of light, for high efficiency photovoltaics, subwavelength waveguides, optical metamedia, and nanoscale coaxial optical microscopy; nanoscale devices for biochemical sensing and neural optrode interfaces; molecular organic superconductivity; magnetometry in large magnetic fields. Support provided by NSF, NIH, and the W.M. Keck Foundation.
Thomas C. Chiles
5
The laboratory is interested in understanding how extrinsic signals influence B lymphocyte growth and survival. We are currently focused on investigating the regulation and function of D-type cyclins in splenic B-2 and peritoneal B-1a cells in response to B-cell antigen receptor engagement. Effort is also directed toward investigating the bioenergetics underlying B-2 lymphocyte survival, specifically identifying signaling and nutrient energy metabolic pathways linked to IL-4 receptors. Specifically, we are using 13C-glucose/13C-glutamine together with 2D-NMR and mass spectrometry to elucidate metabolic pathways that support lymphocyte survival. We are also designing novel carbon nanotube structures in order to efficiently introduce macromolecules (e.g., siRNAs, genes, proteins) into primary B lymphocytes. Additional interests are directed toward developing nanosensors for multiplex detection of disease biomarkers (e.g., cancer and infectious diseases).
Dunwei Wang
6
Photosynthesis harvests solar energy and stores it in chemical forms. When used to produce fuels, this process promises a solution to challenges associated with the intermittent nature of sunlight. Theoretical studies show that photosynthesis can be efficient and inexpensive. To achieve this goal, we need materials with suitable properties of light absorption, charge separation, chemical stability, and catalytic activity. For large-scale implementations, the materials should also be made of earth abundant elements. Due to the intricacy of these considerations, a material that meets all requirements simultaneously is absent and, as a result, existing photosynthesis is either inefficient or costly or both, creating a critical challenge in solar energy research. At Boston College, we have developed strategies to combat this challenge through rational material design and precise synthesis control. Guided by an insight that complex functionalities may be obtained by combining multiple material components through homo- or hetero-junctions, we have produced a number of material combinations aimed at solving fundamental challenges common in inorganic semiconductors such as poor charge collection, mismatch of energy levels, and weak light absorption. Much of our effort is focused on using these materials for solar water splitting. More recently we have started devising highly specific reaction routes for carbon dioxide photofixation. Exciting new progress in a technologically relevant field of rechargeable batteries has been made by us, as well.
John Christianson
7
The focus of John Christianson's research is to determine how stress interacts with the neural systems that permit individuals to adapt to potentially dangerous and changing environments. The current emphasis is on the neural mechanisms that underly safety learning. The laboratory employs a multidisciplinary approach to study brain circuits and behavior including sophisticated behavioral paradigms, electrophysiology and optogenetics. The overall goal is to provide new insight into the organization of the brain and behavior and improve treatment for psychological illness.
Marc-Jan Gubbels
8
Genetic approaches towards the cell biology of Toxoplasma gondii. The protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii is a member of the phylum Apicomplexa and can cause severe disease in humans. This parasite is easily grown and manipulated in vitro and has in recent years developed as a safe and versatile model for other apicomplexan parasites (e.g. malaria). We are using and developing forward, reverse and functional genetic tools using enzymatic as well as fluorescent protein reporter assays in combination with cell sorting and fluorescence microscopy to learn more about the parasite’s cell biology.

Parasite replication is conserved, yet are variations on a theme in different apicomplexan parasites. Toxoplasma divides by an internal budding process called endodyogeny where two daughters are being assembled inside the mother, which is significantly different from mammalian cell division. The parasite’s cytoskeleton, consisting of microtubules as well as a membrane skeleton in combination with intermediate protein filaments (the inner membrane complex or IMC) serves as a scaffold for daughter assembly. Recently, we identified several components that act in the cytoskeleton assembly as well as daughter formation which are currently being characterized in detail.

Host cell invasion is an essential step in the life cycle of Apicomplexa and identifying essential steps and/or molecules in the process would provide attractive potential therapeutic targets. To identify key molecules in invasion, a set of conditional parasite invasion mutants has been generated through chemical as well as insertional (conditional) mutagenesis. Mutants are being analyzed through a set of cell biological assays while at the same time the mutated genes are being identified using cosmid library complementations as well as plasmid rescues.
Jan Engelbrecht
9
Theory of strongly correlated electron systems, including pairing correlations in high-temperature superconductors, Fermi Liquid vs. non-Fermi Liquid metals, local Fermi liquids and the metal-insulator transition.
Renato Mirollo
10
Nonlinear dynamical systems and applications, with an emphasis on coupled oscillator networks, synchronization and other collective phenomena.
Timothy van Opijnen
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We work on microbial systems biology and try to understand a bacterium as a complete system by applying a combination of high-throughput robotics, next generation sequencing and computational biology. The goal of the lab is to develop new antibiotics and engineer bacteria with new properties that can aid in curing disease. To make our research go lightning fast we are the proud owner of a unique state-of-the-art robotics system, which we use extensively to focus on three subjects:

Antibiotics, Genome-wide strategies and Engineering bacteria.