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Researchers of the Month

May 2023

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

Haisam Amin - Health Science major - Mentor: Dr. Yusuf Hannun, SB Cancer Center
Stephanie Bak
- Linguistics major - Mentors: Dr. Lori Repetti, and Ph. D. candidate Grace B. Wivell, Linguistics

Matthew Belzer- Physics; & Applied Mathematics & Statistics majors- Mentor: Dr. Harold Metcalf & Dr. Eric Jones, Physics & Astronomy
James Caputi - Physics & Astronomy major - Mentor: Dr. Vivian Miranda, Physics & Astronomy
Natacha Castillo - History major - Mentor: Dr. April Masten, History
Stephanie Chu- Biology & Psychology majors- Mentor: Dr. Prerana Shrestha, Neurobiology & Behavior
Audrey Fernandez
- Biology major - Mentor: Dr. Berhane Ghebrehiwet, Medicine

Katherine Hillis - Electrical Engineering major - Mentor: Dr. Matthew Eisaman, Electrical & Computer Engineering
Christelle Jean-Baptiste - Biology major - Mentor: Dr. Maricedes Acosta Martinez, Physiology & Biophysics

Roshan Kenia - Computer Science and Applied Math & Statistics major - Mentor: Dr. Zhaozheng Yin, Computer Science
Joshua Lee - Biochemistry & Economics majors - Mentors: Dr. Bassem Allam & Dr. Emmanuelle Pales Espinosa, School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences
Phillip Mayer - Psychology major - Mentor: Dr Brady Nelson, Psychology
Vindhya Rani Rapelli- Biochemistry & Psychology majors - Mentors: Dr. Irene Solomon, Physiology & Biophysics; Dr. Christine DeLorenzo, Psychiatry, Center for Understanding Biology using Imaging Technology 
Madelyn Wachnuik- Human Evolutionary Biology major - Mentor: Dr. Katharine Thompson, Anthropology
Ian Winkeler - Biochemistry major - Mentor: Dr. Jessica Seeliger, Pharmacological Sciences

Tina Wong - Computer Science major - Mentor:  Dr. Richard McKenna,  Computer Science

Haisam AminHaisam Amin is a Health Science major in the Honors College, with a specialization in Emergency and Critical Care. He began doing research during high school , studying the expression of vascular endothelial growthfactor during monocyte to macrophage differentiation under the supervision by Dr. Anne Hamik (Dept. of Medicine). In his sophomore year at Stony Brook University , he participated in the URECA Program where hevwas awarded the SASS Foundation-Arena Scholars award to research mechanisms of,glycosphingolipid regulation by oncogenic KRAS in colon cancer under the mentorship of Dr. Yusuf Hannun. He then continued this research for his senior honors thesis by exploring the role of glucosylceramide synthase in KRAS transformed rat intestinal epithelial cells. Each of these projects were presented at their respective poster symposiums. He is also an active volunteer in the Long Island Muslim communities as an organizer and speaker. After graduation, Haisam will be pursuing a medical education.

Stephanie Bak

Stephanie Bak is a linguistics major and French minor. Starting in Spring 2021, she became a Research and Education Intern for the Lio Educational Materials Project in the Department of Linguistics. She and her peers have researched Lio, a minority language in Indonesia, and created educational materials which would allow Lio-speaking children to learn Indonesian and English without giving up their native language. Her current work involves the creation of a trilingual story book based on a traditional Lio story, which will be provided to the Lio-speaking community in Wolondopo, Indonesia. Steph and her group have presented their work at Stony Brook at the URECA Symposium in 2022 and 2023, the Asian and Asian American Studies Symposium (2022), and at an invited talk at the Graduate Archaeology Speaker Series (2022). She recently presented her work at the International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation, and plans to have a poster at the Linguistic Society of America Conference in 2024. She is a recipient of the 2023 Provost’s Award for Academic Excellence.

Matthew BelzerMatthew Belzer is an applied math and physics major with a specialization in optics and  a minor in electrical engineering. He was involved in research early on at the College of Staten Island in high school; and has been involved in undergraduate research in Stony Brook’s Laser Teaching Center under Dr. Eric Jones and Prof. Harold Metcalf for the past four years. As a freshman, Matthew built a Michelson Interferometer to measure the refractive index of air and investigated the experiment’s systematic errors. Currently, he is building an experiment to measure the second-order correlation of a light source using photon coincidences. Matthew has also done summer research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology designing a low-level light source for calibration under Dr. Maritoni Litorja. Additionally, Matthew has improved x-ray scattering data analysis under Dr. Ivan Kotov at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he will return in the summer to test electronics for the NASA lunar radio telescope LuSEE-Night. This year, Matthew was awarded an Honorable Mention in the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program competition. In the fall, he will be attending the University of Rochester to pursue a Ph.D. in optics.

James CaputiJames Caputi is a physics and astronomy major in the Honors College. He first became involvedin research over the Summer of 2021 with Professor Jin Koda analyzing a time-evolution spiral galaxy N-body simulation. Since November 2021, he has been working with Professor Vivian Miranda to study models of dark energy beyond a cosmological constant using Markov Chain Monte Carlo methods. This project was supported by the URECA program in 2022 and he presented his work at the URECA symposium in 2023. He has continued expanding on the project throughout his Senior year, and written a thesis paper on the topic. After graduating, James will be pursuing a PhD in Physics at Stony Brook.

Natacha CastilloNatacha Castillo is a History major with European and Asian concentrations. Natacha began her research with Prof. Masten in her 401 class Senior Colloquium. The class's main focus was learning about History through music and dance, which for Natacha, became the perfect class due to her love for dance and music. Natacha's research interests involve the literature of song lyrics and its use as a form of protest. Her current work examines the political and social aspects of the Dominican Republic's History through popular music such as Bachata. Her project retells the injustices experienced by the lower class due to thirty (30) years of dictatorship and social class differences in the Dominican Republic. In her paper, Natacha presents how the literary meaning of a song expresses citizens' discontent with their government. Natacha had the opportunity to present her work at the URECA Symposium this May. After graduation, Natacha will continue her research and explore how deeply music relates to everyday situations. Ultimately, Natacha plans on pursuing a master's in education, primarily teaching at the high school level as a history teacher.

Stephanie ChuStephanie Chu is a biology and psychology major, specializing in neuroscience and minoring in health and wellness. She began her research in May of 2021 under the mentorship of Dr. Prerana Shrestha in the Department of Neurobiology & Behavior. Her research interests involve emotional memories and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). She is currently focused on looking into the translational control of remote consolidation in differential emotional memories, specifically in eIF4E knockdown mice, in the mPFC to the basal lateral amygdala (BLA). She presented her work at the URECA symposium in 2022. Outside of research, she served as the treasurer of the Undergraduate Biochemistry Society club and volunteered her time at the Long Island State Veterans Home. After graduating she hopes to attend medical school, pursuing an MD-PhD.

Audrey FernandezAudrey Fernandez is a biology major with a minor in Africana Studies. She has been doing research in Dr. Ghebrehiwet's lab since her junior year. Her project pertains to the surface expression of a potential therapeutic target, gC1qR, in African American breast cancer to address racial disparities. The research that she has conducted was done with the support of INDUCER (Increasing Diversity in Undergraduate Cancer Biology Education and Research) at Stony Brook Medicine. She has presented at numerous conferences and symposiums such as the URECA 2023 Symposium and ABRCMS (Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists) 2022 Conference this past fall in Anaheim, California. Outside the lab, she is the lead writer for Black World, a media organization dedicated to providing a voice for Black and Latino students at Stony Brook University.  This coming fall, she will be pursuing a Master's in Biophysics and Physiology at Stony Brook University's Graduate and Health Science School.

Katherine HillisKatherine Hillis is an Electrical Engineering major with minors in Physics and Mechanical Engineering, and is a member of the Honors College as well as Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honors Society. During her five years at Stony Brook, she has worked on two different undergraduate research projects under the supervision of Dr. Matthew Eisaman, the first pertaining to graphene thin films and the second to carbon capture via ocean alkalinity enhancement. Her senior design project served as an extension of the second as her team designed and built an automated total alkalinity titrator system. Katherine also worked as an intern for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in summer 2022 with the Radiation Effects and Analysis Group. While her research experience covers a broad range of topics, nothing speaks to her more than the development of renewable energy technologies. Starting in fall, she will be pursuing her Ph.D. in Electrical & Computer Engineering at Princeton University, where she hopes to conduct research on thin film materials and their applications in next generation photovoltaic devices.

Christelle Jean-BaptisteChristelle Jean-Baptiste is a senior majoring in Biology with a specialization in Neuroscience. She is a member of the Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) honors program, and the Increasing Diversity in Undergraduate Cancer Biology
Education and Research (INDUCER) program. She has previously assisted in Gender Disparity research on campus under Dr. Laurie Shroyer and also interned with Pfizer to assist in their data collection and analysis of maternal
immunization studies. For just over a year, Christelle worked for NY’s COVID-19 contact tracing initiative to mitigate the spread of the virus. She enthusiastically works under the mentorship of Dr. Maricedes Acosta-Martinez where she is
conducting exploratory research on the miRNAs from extracellular vesicles in pregnant women with substance use exposure. Christelle presented at URECA’s 2023 spring symposium. Following graduation, Christelle aspires to attend medical school with the hopes of becoming an Obstetrician-Gynecologist.

Roshan KeniaRoshan Kenia is a senior Computer Science and Applied Math & Statistics major within the University Scholars program. He has been advised by Dr. Zhaozheng Yin from the Department of Computer Science since his junior year. His research interests include machine learning, computer vision, and biomedical imaging. Working in collaboration with biochemical and nuclear engineers from Missouri S&T, Roshan has been researching computer vision methods for automatic TRISO-fueled pebble identification as a part of a nuclear energy project for the Department of Energy. His work will help in studying the efficiency of nuclear energy production that will contribute to the development of future Generation IV reactors. During the summer of 2022, he was a participant of the URECA Summer Research program and worked on developing methods for learning with noisy labels within machine learning under Dr. Yin. His first research experience was during his sophomore year in Dr. Peter Koo’s lab at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He worked on investigating the interpretability of convolutional neural networks trained on genomics data using knowledge distillation. After completing his DoE project with Dr. Yin this summer, Roshan will pursue a Master’s degree in Computer Science at Columbia University.

Joshua M LeeJosh Lee is a Biochemistry and Economics double major in the Honors College. Working under the guidance of Dr. Bassem Allam, Dr. Emmanuelle Pales Espinosa, and Ph.D. candidate Christopher Brianik, Josh conducted research on the variation in cellular and immune parameters of triploid and diploid eastern oysters using flow cytometery. His work was supported by the New York Sea Grant and the Marine Animal Disease Laboratory, and he presented his findings at the American Fisheries Society, National Shellfisheries Association, and EarthStock. Beyond academics, Josh is an active volunteer firefighter and EMT in his hometown of Syosset, and enjoys fishing in his free time. Josh is driven to pursue a career in medicine and has plans to attend medical school in the
future. Joshua is a recipient of the Provost's award for Academic Excellence.

Phillip MayerPhillip Mayer is a Psychology major with a minor in Health and Wellness. His involvement at the Laboratory for Clinical and Affective Neuroscience (LabCAN), under the direction of Dr. Brady Nelson, began at the end of his Sophomore year. At LabCAN, Phillip has been involved in a study of neural markers in individuals endorsing psychopathology, a study examining the development of neural markers and psychopathology in adolescents, and a study of neural markers and response to reward in people with ASD. Phillip’s research has examined psychopathology in parents as it relates to neural markers in their children, as well as the relationship between response to emotionally arousing stimuli and psychopathology in adolescents. He presented his work at the URECA symposiums in 2022 and 2023. He is interested in studying the development and diagnosis of psychopathology to improve methods of prevention. Wanting to further his involvement in mental health studies and practice, he worked as a hotline counselor for Response Crisis Center. Following his graduation, he plans to apply to medical schools to pursue a career in psychiatry.  

Vindhya Rani RapelliVindhya Rani Rapelli is a Biochemistry and Psychology double major. Working under Dr. Irene Solomon in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, her research focuses on studying heart rate variability in a rat model of Parkinson’s disease. Vindhya completed the URECA summer fellowship during Summer 2022 and presented at the URECA symposium in May 2023. In addition, she also presented at the American Phsiology Summit in April 2023 in Long Beach California for the Neural Control & Autonomic Regulation Section. On campus, Vindhya is also an active member of the the VIP program and is involved in the Brain Team and the Inclusion in Innovation Team. She is graduating this Spring 2023 and plans to pursue a career in healthcare as a physician. Vindhya is a recipient of the Provost's Award for Academic Excellence.

Madlelyn WachnuikMadelyn Wachnuik is a Human Evolutionary Biology major with a Leadership Development minor. She first got into research in the fall of 2021 working in Dr. Gabrielle Russo’s Functional Morphology Lab where she completed morphometric measurements of primate osteological samples. Currently, her research focuses on factors that predict the animal harvesting decision-making process in Western Madagascar. Under the mentorship of Dr. Katharine Thompson in the Department of Anthropology, Madelyn has presented this research at the 92nd Annual Meeting of the American Association for Biological Anthropology in Reno, NV as well as the URECA 2023 Symposium. Outside of research, Madelyn is also an EMT-b with Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps and an undergraduate teaching assistant for Anatomy Lab. After graduation, she will continue her research under Dr. Katharine Thompson by working towards publishing her research. 

Ian WinkelerIan Winkeler is a senior majoring in Biochemistry through the Honors College. He entered the world of research for the first time in the spring semester of 2020; he enjoyed the challenge and lab atmosphere so much that he has remained with the same lab for his entire time at SBU. For the last three years, he has been developing a method to selectively label proteins on the outer membrane surface of mycobacteria in Dr. Jessica Seeilger’s Lab under the fantastic mentorship of Dr. Neetika Jaisinghani. In 2021, he received the URECA summer research award to help fund his efforts, and served on a panel providing advice to young researchers in the Simons Summer Research program. Later that year, he co-authored a paper describing the protein labeling methods that were optimized by he and his labmates. Earlier this month, he wrote his research into a thesis, titled “APEX Hitchhiking: CpnT and MspA as Our ‘Ride’ to the Mycobacterial Surface Proteome'' and presented his work at the annual Honors College Senior Symposium. Beyond research, Ian is passionate about patient care. He has been volunteering as an EMT at his local fire department since 2019. After completing his undergraduate studies, he plans to matriculate into Renaissance School of Medicine next fall.

Tina WongTina Wong
is a Computer Science major with a minor in History and is a member of the Honors College. Tina first got involved in computational research as a high school sophomore at the American Museum of Natural History, where she studied the evolutionary trends of European starling populations by analyzing genetic data. She then participated in BirdVox, an ongoing NSF-funded collaboration between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the NYU Music and Audio Research Laboratory. Tina worked on comparing the effectiveness of different machine listening techniques in automatically detecting and classifying Common Nighthawk vocalizations under the mentorship of Dr. Vincent Lostanlen. She ultimately became a co-author of "Long-distance Detection of Bioacoustic Events with Per-Channel Energy Normalization," and presented this paper at the 2019 Workshop on Detection and Classification of Acoustic Scenes and Events (DCASE). During her senior year, Tina worked on her honors thesis titled “Regio Vinco: Developing a Geography Game to Increase Student Engagement” under the supervision of Professor Richard McKenna. She contributed to developing an interactive geography-based educational game with the goal of helping elementary and middle school students form a greater understanding of the world around them. Outside of research, she is involved in the Women in Computer Science (WiCS) club as well as a Teaching Assistant for the Department of Computer Science. She creates problem sets that feature real-world applications for labs and assignments in introductory programming classes. After graduation, she will work full-time within Morgan Stanley’s cybersecurity division. Tina is a recipient of the Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence.

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

Stephanie. Being involved in research allowed me to recognize how the concepts I had learned about in my courses applied to my field, which increased my interest in linguistics and helped me succeed in my classes. It also gave me the opportunity to connect with peers and mentors in my department, and introduced me to the academic world of linguistics.

James. Being involved in research allowed me to supplement my classroom learning with a
long-term project with wider implications on the field of astrophysics. It led me to study the
topics I was interested in at a level more in depth than coursework, improve important practical
skills such as coding and student-advisor communication, and gain experience working in the
field on a project that doesn’t have a clearly defined path like many homework problem sets. The prospect of making a valuable contribution to our current understanding of cosmology kept me motivated and always served as a powerful reminder of why I am on this path.

Haisam. Research has allowed me to apply the scientific method to gain a deeper understanding of specialized topics. This has improved my learning method by growing my ability to ask useful questions that help to clarify topics. By asking important questions and exploring the answers, I refined a more efficient and effective way to gain new knowledge.

Katherine.Research has definitely been an integral part of my undergraduate education. It solidified my interest in pursuing graduate school, while giving me hands-on experience that you can't get in a classroom. The diversity of the research projects I've had the opportunity to work on has also expanded the breadth of my knowledge, and each taught me skills that will be invaluable moving forward in my career.

Christelle. I believe my research experience supplemented my education very nicely. I was
able to put into practice so much of what I was learning in many of my core
courses as well as gain some confidence in taking initiative in conducting
research. While under mentorship, I felt that having the comfort of guidance
made it okay to make mistakes and then grow from them productively, and this
was paramount to my college experience as a student in STEM.

Karen. What's your favorite aspect of doing research?
Phillip. Collaboration is my favorite aspect of research. I’m thrilled to share in the discussion of my field of study and to have the opportunity to learn from my peers, my mentors, and other researchers. The more we exchange knowledge from past findings and current studies, the more we inspire future studies and drive science forward.

Audrey. Cancer racial disparity remains a severe medical concern. One major driving factor is the lack of diversity among individuals involved in medical and research interventions. My favorite aspect of doing research is not only contributing to science but allowing me to advocate for minorities.

Natacha.The information and crucial facts obtained via research have no monetary value. I discovered unique details about my country's past through research never taught in school, such as Bachata music used in politics. The writing skills I acquired will be helpful in other aspects of my life. After conducting this investigation, my writing quality considerably increased. The most enjoyable aspect of conducting this research was getting a more in-depth understanding of the history of the country I represent, the Dominican Republic. This also includes learning from primary sources such as my grandmother. 

Madelyn. My favorite aspect of doing research has been the connections I have made with other like-minded academics. Whether it is through collaborations, lab meetings, or conferences, I have met countless inspiring individuals in the field of anthropology.

Roshan. My favorite aspect of doing research is constantly expanding upon what we know is possible through boundless questions and answers. It is exciting to be a part of an ongoing process to advance your respective field. The uncertainty and novelty of research is always providing new opportunities and ideas to explore along the way.

Vindhya. My favorite aspect of doing research is that you are able to actively use the knowledge I learned in my science courses to solve problems and learn more about different medical conditions. In my classes at Stony Brook, I always enjoyed learning more about physiology and cell biology, however it wasn’t until I started doing research in my lab and in my VIP team, I was able appreciate the intricacies involved in scientific discoveries and being able to learn more about these biological mechanisms in a hand on way. 

Stephanie. My favorite aspect of doing research in neurobiology is the constant learning of new ideas, lab techniques, and protocols. These different techniques and protocols hone not just my lab skills but skills that I use outside of the lab such as attention to detail and problem solving. There is always something new I learn everytime I go into the lab.

Karen. What advice about research do you have for other undergrads?

I know that research can be very daunting since it can be hard to know where to even start. It is a lot easier to break down your project into a bunch of smaller tasks to do. That way, each day you go into the lab, you have something you can work towards achieving. It is also totally ok if you don’t finish the tasks you set out for yourself! Research is nonlinear and it is important to take the bumps in the road in stride.

Tina: Don't be afraid to reach out to professors if you're interested in their work! You don't have to wait until you think you have the exact skills they are looking for—a lot of professors are very willing to have research be a learning experience for you.

Ian. If your lab holds regular journal clubs, get involved as much as possible! The key to getting better at reading scientific literature is practice, and knowing what is out there will help inform your own research strategies. If journal clubs are not a regular thing for your lab, ask your PI/mentor to forward you any new articles they come across and do not be afraid to ask them questions.

Josh: For undergraduates interested in research, my advice is to start early and embrace the
possibility of failure. Research is a process that requires persistence, a willingness to learn from
mistakes, and a constant drive to improve. By getting involved early, students can gain valuable
experience and refine their skills over time. Don’t be afraid to experiment, take risks, and learn
from unexpected outcomes. With hard work and dedication, research can be a truly rewarding
and fulfilling experience!