GSC Academic Chair Hosts Nerd Nite

On April 28, 2014 by Grad Forum

Graduate students learning origami.

Anna Prescott, academic chair of the Graduate Student Council (GSC), hosted her third Nerd Nite event this year on April 3. The event was attended by more than 25 graduate students and featured 6 speakers.

Austin Boesch, a PhD graduate student in Professor Margie Ackerman’s laboratory at Thayer School of Engineering, gave an impressive talk describing a new technology he developed that helps purify life-enhancing antibodies. Antibodies are powerful molecules that can be “engineered” to help combat different diseases, including cancer, but developing generic versions (biosimilars) is tedious and inefficient. With Boesch’s new technology, biosimilar companies can develop and manufacture off-patent antibodies in a much more efficient way to defeat different life-threatening diseases.

Yike Jiang, an MD/PhD graduate student, was second to speak. Jiang described her passion for roller derby, a sport she enjoys participating in. Roller derby is a contact sport in which two opposing teams roller skate around a track in a pack trying to outscore one another. Roller derby, which started in the 1930s, declined in popularity around the 1970s, but became popular again at the start of this century in Austin, Texas. Jiang mentioned that while roller derby started as a female sport and is still mostly dominated by women, male teams do exist. Jiang encouraged everyone to support the Upper Valley Vixens, a local roller derby team.

Next up to speak, Julia Bradley-Cook, the previous GSC president and a PhD graduate student in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) program, compared the Arctic and Antarctica. Bradley-Cook quizzed the audience on their knowledge of both areas of the world. She mentioned that more than 3.5 million people live in the Arctic region, while there are no permanent residents in Antarctica. She also discussed the many different animals that live in both regions, including penguins, which live in Antarctica, and polar bears, which live in the Arctic.

Olivia Kang, a PhD graduate student in the Psychological and Brain Sciences (PBS) program, described her research on how information can be extrapolated from the eyes. Specifically, Kang focuses on pupil dilation patterns. The pupil is the black spot in the center of the eye that dilates and constricts— usually in response to light, but also in response to norepinephrine, a neurohormone that modulates attention and arousal. Kang spoke about the potential of using these dilation patterns as a signal of attention and engagement.

Next, Bryn Adams, a student at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, discussed the scarcity of lesbian characters in comic books. She went on to explain that, historically, when lesbian and gay characters have been introduced into comics, these characters have often been cast as social miscreants and denigrated. Adams described how the socio-political backdrop of the past decades influenced this unjust maligning of the LGBT lifestyle in comic book stories.

Lastly, Lisa Jackson, current public health master’s student at TDI, gave a presentation on the Japanese tradition of paper folding, or origami. The art of origami, first developed in Japan almost 2000 years ago, later became popular worldwide in the mid-nineteenth century. Today, artists make complex and intricate designs that can be very valuable. The most popular (and perhaps the easiest) origami creation is the paper crane, thus Jackson handed out origami paper and gave a short tutorial showing the audience how to make their very own!

The presenters did a great job describing their passions, and very much involved the audience in their presentations. The Graduate Forum congratulates Prescott on her success in making Nerd Nite a memorable, successful, and frequent event that enhances graduate student life. We look forward to the next Nerd Nite!

by Gilbert Rahme

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