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Researchers of the Month

May 2021

Here are just some of the graduating seniors we will miss. ... We wish them all well with their future endeavors and pursuits!

Lexin Chen - Biochemistry major - Mentor: Dr. Benjamin Hsiao, Chemistry

Jose Guerra - Biochemistry major - Mentor: Dr. Carlos Simmerling, Chemistry

Neomi Lewis - Physics major - Mentor: Dr. Thomas Allison, Chemistry, Physics & Astronomy

Erika Nemeth - Biology major - Mentors: Dr. Peter Brink, Physiology & Biophysics; Dr. Daniel Canals, Department of Medicine; Dr. Richard Moffitt, Biomedical Informatics

Marisa Petrusky - Physics major - Mentors: Dr. Abhay Deshpande, Dr. Jan Bernauer, Physics & Astronomy

Austin Reed - Atmospheric Science major - Mentor: Dr. Kevin A. Reed, School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences

Sydney Sirota - Biochemistry major - Mentor: Dr. David Matus, Biochemistry & Cell BIology

Tobi Somorin - Biochemistry Major - Mentors: Dr. Mary Kritzer, Neurobiology & Dr.Jennie Williams, Family, Population and Preventive Medicine.

Sean Vierling - Mechanical Engineering major - Mentor: Dr. Anurag Purwar, Mechanical Engineering

Lexin Chen

Lexin Chen
is a Biochemistry major with a minor in Chemistry and China studies. Under the mentorship of Dr. Benjamin Hsiao in the Department of Chemistry, her research interest focuses on the effects and morphology of surfactant-assisted interfacial polymerization on reverse osmosis membranes aim at solving the water scarcity crisis. She presented her work in several conferences and symposiums, such as the American Chemical Society and URECA 2020/2021. She won first place in Polymer and Materials Division in a poster competition at William Patterson Undergraduate Symposium. In addition, Lexin is a member of Vertically Integrated Program (VIP) team, Energized!; vice president of Undergraduate Biochemistry Society; content writer for International Women for Women Association (IWWA); and teaching assistant for Biochemistry I and Organic Chemistry Lab. After graduation, she will be participating in an REU at University of Chicago and pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemistry at University of Florida.

Jose Guerra
Jose Guerra
is a Biochemistry major with minors in Chemistry and Music. He has been doing research in Dr. Carlos Simmerling's lab since his sophomore year. His project in the Simmerling lab centers around understanding the features of the RB69 DNA Polymerase active site that enable it to replicate DNA with high fidelity. The research that he has conducted was done with support from the 2019 URECA summer research award, Eugene Katz Undergraduate Research Award in 2020. He has presented at numerous conferences and symposiums such as the URECA 2020 Symposium and ACS 2020 Fall Conference--with support from the ACS Bridge program.  Outside of the lab, he is involved in the College of Arts and Sciences Dean's Student Council and is the president of the Biochemistry Society.  This coming summer Jose will be participating in the Amgen Scholars program, where he will be conducting research at Columbia University. Furthermore, he will be pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Chicago this coming fall. 


Neomi Lewis

Neomi Lewis
 is a Physics major with a specialization in Optics and a member of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Honors program. Neomi has been working with Prof. Tom Allison on projects relating to cavity-enhanced spectroscopy since her freshman year. In Summer 2019, she won a DAAD-RISE Fellowship through which she worked with the laser spectroscopy group at the Max-Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany.  In Summer 2020, she participated in the PSEG Explorations in STEM program. She has presented her work at several events including the APS-DLS Symposium for Undergraduate Research 2019 and 2020, the APS Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics 2020 and 2021, and Stony Brook's Summer Research Symposium 2020.  Neomi was also a Resident Assistant from 2019-2020,  is a mentor for the WISE Honors Program and a member of the Society of Physics Students at Stony Brook.  She was recently awarded the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence and plans to pursue her PhD 
in Applied Physics  at Stanford University after graduation.

Erika Nemeth
Erika Nemeth
is a senior Biology major in the Honors College. In her freshman year, Erika worked with Dr. Peter Brink in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics to develop a cell-based delivery system for gene-silencing molecules, a project which she began in high school. In Erika’s sophomore year, she transitioned to working with Dr. Daniel Canals in the Department of Medicine, learning new techniques such as mass spectrometry as well as about the role of sphingolipids in diseases, including cancer. Around the same time, Erika joined a project team with Dr. Richard Moffitt, where she helped develop a serverless Web application for filtering and visualization of large-scale cancer transcriptomics data. Erika received the Goldwater Award in 2020, and has worked on research every summer as an undergraduate through the APS UGSRF, Stony Brook’s Explorations in STEM program, SURP at the Icahn School of Medicine, and the NIH Summer Internship Program. Erika is also a member of Phi Beta Kappa, received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award, volunteers as an EMT, and mentors freshmen in the Society of Women Engineers. She will be joining the MD/PhD program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in July 2021.

Marisa Petrusky

Marisa Petrusky
is a Physics major in the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Honors College with an interest in computational plasma dynamics. Her current research under Dr. Navid Vafaei-Najafabadi involves writing a software library that generates trajectories of electron beams sent through electromagnetic fields formed by plasma wakefield accelerators. Previously, she worked on various particle detector analysis and calibration projects under nuclear physics professors Dr. Abhay Deshpande and Dr. Jan Bernauer. Marisa has participated in the SBU Physics REU and Explorations in STEM Programs, and has presented her work at the APS Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics, the Scientista Symposium, and the URECA symposium. She is also a recipient of the Undergraduate Recognition Award for Outstanding Achievement in Community Service for work in improving STEM retention via the WISE mentoring program and the Society of Physics Students. After graduating, Marisa will pursue a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder under the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. 

Austin Reed
Austin Reed
is a senior Atmospheric Science major and Music Theory minor who first got involved in research through the URECA Summer program in 2019. Under the mentorship of Dr. Kevin A. Reed of the Climate Extremes Modeling Group, Austin’s research focuses on quantifying trends in extreme precipitation characteristics on Long Island using gridded observational datasets, and attributing those trends to natural variability, such as ENSO events, as well as tropical cyclones. Extreme precipitation changes have great societal implications such as flooding impacts on ecosystems and infrastructure, crop yields and grazing land, and this work takes a more localized approach to various regional and global precipitation studies. In addition to this experience, Austin has been an active participant in the NASA-IMPACTS field program, working with other undergraduates and graduate students to deploy and analyze sounding observations to better understand banding within winter storms. Austin has also been a very active member of the Stony Brook Meteorology Club, where he currently serves as Public Relations officer, helping to forecast on SBU Weather’s social media pages. After graduation this month, Austin will start his PhD studies at George Mason University, where he will study climate variability and predictability on sub-seasonal and longer time scales.
Sydney Sirota

Sydney Sirota is a senior Biochemistry major and Music minor who will be attending medical school starting in Fall 2021. Under the mentorship of Dr. David Matus and PhD candidate Taylor Medwig-Kinney, her research is focused on studying cell fate decisions in
C. elegans . Sydney is currently investigating the influence of cell cycle on how the terminally differentiated, invasive anchor cell (AC) and its non-invasive sister cell, which goes on to proliferate (ventral uterine cell, VU), decide which cells they are going to become. Her senior thesis research focuses on how the role of cell cycle arrest influences this AC/VU decision, and how the expression of the pro-invasive transcription factor, nhr-67 , might be predictive of AC fate. She has won an award for Outstanding Poster Presentation at the Developmental Biology New York (DBNY) Conference, and plans to present her research at the upcoming URECA symposium. In addition, Sydney is a student leader on campus, working as a Commuter Assistant on campus for two years as well as being a part of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) honors program.

Tobi Somorin
Tobi Somorin
is a biochemistry major from Middletown, NY who has been working on colorectal cancer disparity under the guidance of Dr. Mary Kritzer & Dr. Jennie Williams. He is researching the effects of stress on tumor growth and resistance to chemotherapy treatment in African American (AA) and Non-Hispanic Caucasian American (NH-CA) colorectal cancer cell lines in athymic nude mice. Tobi has also been involved in a number of on-campus projects/experiences, including serving as President of the President's Council of Student Advisors (COSA). Tobi is also a research fellow in the INDUCER program, a research group focused on exploring causes of cancer disparity. In addition, he holds a seat as a student member of the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR). Tobi has been accepted into the Early Medical Education (EME) program with SUNY Downstate Medical Center, a pipeline program with conditional acceptance into SUNY Downstate’s College of Medicine. Tobi plans on pursuing his MD/MPH at Downstate this summer after completion of EME.

Sean VierlingSean Vierling is a senior in Mechanical Engineering who is continuing his education at Stony  Brook University for one additional year to earn his master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering.  Sean has worked under his mentor Dr. Anurag Purwar for four years. During this time, he has  worked on a variety of projects. Most recently he is a National Science Foundation (NSF) fellow  studying walking machines and robotics. His goal is to replicate and create new mechanism for  walking machines and to understand how parameters such as step height, weight, center of mass  and walking gait profiles affect walking capabilities. Sean is also working with his senior design  team to create a device for children with Cerebral Palsy which will assist them in transitioning from a sitting to standing position while maintaining an anatomically correct kinematic hip  curve. This current project will be presenting at URECA’s undergraduate research symposium  and is currenting competing in ASME’s Student Mechanism & Robot Design Competition. Sean has also been the President of the American Society of Mechanical Engineer’s for the last two  years where he has assisted many other students by teaching a variety of workshops related to  Mechanical Engineering. He has also help lead ASME’s “Go Baby Go” project which customizes powered ride on vehicles for children with Cerebral Palsy. Sean will continue his  worked under Dr. Anurag Purwar next year by completing his thesis.



The Interview:

Karen.  How has research prepared you for your future career?

Lexin. Learning more about my research was the motivation to being so involved in research. Research reminds me how much I do not know about the subject and this mindset pushed me to read more papers, go to more talks, and take advanced classes to understand more about the subject. In addition, we have presentations during group meetings and the feedbacks prepared me for how to communicate the sciences to other people in an accurate and cohesive manner.

Karen.   What's your favorite aspect of doing research?

Sydney. My favorite aspect about doing research is being part of something novel. Personally, I will never forget the moment that I was able to generate new strains with different combinations of tagged fluorescent proteins. The feeling of being part of something new, that has not been previously elucidated, is a really exciting feeling.

Neomi. My favorite aspect is probably those moments where complex elements come together in a way you may not expect to help us uncover something new about the physical world. Experimental physics research tends to be quite complicated so it can sometimes take clever tricks to make an experiment feasible. And those innovations are often non-intuitive or come from exploration. So to me, it's always remarkable that we can do that, that those ideas  work and that they allow us to look at something in the world that may not be seen in any other way.

Karen.   How did being involved in research enhance your education?

Jose. As a Biochemistry major, I have learned how to approach presenting results and reading scientific literature. Being a member of the research community at Stony Brook has enabled me to practice what I have learned in my courses. Additionally, I have been able to gain new skills such as learning how to create scripts in various languages. 

Sean. Being involved in research has enhanced my education by allowing me to apply what I learn in the classroom to real world applications. Research truly helps bridge the gaps  between theory and application. Though researching my last four years I feel as though I am  prepared to apply what I have learned to future endeavors. 

Erika. Being involved in science has taught me how to intelligently pursue information, especially when technology presents us with so much media every day. My experiences in research have made me curious to learn more in my field, and more about the whole world around me!

. Describe what you've learned from your interactions with your mentor and colleagues in your lab.

Marisa. What I've learned from my mentors and colleagues is that research is a very human process. There are periods where you accomplish a lot at once and feel super excited about what you're doing, and periods where you're in a slump and don't want to touch your research ever again. And knowing the most about a topic or being the "smartest" doesn't make you the best researcher. Rather, research requires creativity, to imagine all the kinds of solutions that could be out there, and perseverance, to keep moving forward even when it seems impossible. 

 What advice about research do you have for other students?

Austin. The most important piece of advice that I can give to undergrads interested in research is to not be afraid to reach out to any faculty member or research group that interests you in some way! Even if you feel like it is too early to get involved or if you think coursework will limit you, many advisors will look past a lack of experience and admire the interest and passion! Just always be willing to learn and grow! It is these first experiences that will begin to shape the rest of your studies, so if you are even mildly interested in research- reach out!

Tobi. Pursue research that really interests you. It’s important to have a passion behind your project because it makes what you’re doing not feel like actual “work” and will leave you feeling fulfilled each
time you leave the lab. Secondly, be perseverant and hungry for research and opportunities that will help get you to your goals. Constantly make connections and keep in touch with as many people as you can
in your intended field - doors will always open for you!