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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

December 2019

Trainees present posters, exchange ideas during Science Days

Day 2 featured almost 90 poster presentations and a workshop on navigating the research grant application process.

The second day of the 17th Annual NIEHS Science Days, held Nov. 8, continued the institute’s celebration of its trainees’ scientific achievements. It featured 87 poster presentations by postdoctoral, predoctoral, and postbaccalaureate research fellows. There also was a workshop about the grant application process, aimed at helping fellows advance in their careers.

According to NIEHS Assistant Scientific Director Hans Luecke, Ph.D., a major goal of the event is to give young researchers a platform to discuss their work, a sometimes rare opportunity for early-career scientists. He said another objective is to maintain ties with grantees at nearby universities, who are invited to view the posters and explore potential collaboration opportunities.

Hans Luecke, Ph.D., asking a question during the presentation “I’m of the opinion that every chance you get to present your work orally or on poster is valuable,” said Luecke, shown here asking a question during a presentation on Day 1. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Arsenic, Parkinson’s, abnormal fetal growth

Trainees presented their latest research, which covered a range of topics. Some posters discussed in utero exposure to arsenic, treatment for Parkinson’s disease, health implications of hair product use in African-American women, and effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Barrett Welch, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Perinatal and Early Life Epidemiology Group, joined NIEHS in July after finishing his doctorate degree at Oregon State University. Already, he has conducted research that could increase knowledge of the causes of abnormal fetal growth.

“We’re really interested in trying to differentiate potential ways oxidative stress and inflammation might be different between different types of growth outcomes in pregnancy,” Welch said. “So, basically, if a baby is too small, is there more inflammation or more oxidative stress compared to a normal-sized baby?”

Barrett Welch, Ph.D. and Anton Jetten, Ph.D. engaging in a conversation “I originally come from a more molecular toxicology background, and then in graduate school, I did environmental epidemiology. And this is just so cool to me because it feels like it’s merging those two [fields],” said Welch, right. Left, Anton Jetten, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Cell Biology Group. (Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)

NIEHS principal investigators and staff scientists, as well as outside researchers, judged the poster presentations. The top nine presenters (see sidebar) each won a $1,500 travel award to attend a scientific conference of their choosing.

Seeing the trees — and the forest

One of the winners, Cassandra Hayne, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Nucleolar Integrity Group, reflected on the broader significance of her research.

“Part of what I’m studying is a basic understanding of the mechanisms behind RNA [ribonucleic acid] processing,” she said. “There are a lot of diseases that we don’t understand how to treat yet, and sometimes, basic science leads us a lot further into understanding that.”

Cassandra Hayne, Ph.D. Hayne stressed the importance of basic research, noting that it has led to the discovery of medicines such as antibiotics. (Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)

“I’m interested in how eukaryotic cells make ribosomes, which are the mega-machines that produce all of the protein in our cells,” said Monica Pillon, Ph.D., another winner of the poster competition. “So, they are absolutely essential for our lives.”

“What I think is great about Science Days is you have all of these people with different backgrounds coming in and chatting with you about your project, and it makes you think about your [research] in different ways,” Pillon added.

All about the Benjamins

Day 2 ended with a session titled “Fund My Science!” that was organized by Michael Humble, Ph.D., a health scientist administrator in the Genes, Environment, and Health Branch.

As scientists leave the institute and begin their own labs at universities or elsewhere, it is critical for them to understand how to apply for grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

During her overview of the application process, Health Scientist Administrator Anika Dzierlenga, Ph.D., explained that NIH provides almost $40 billion of research funding annually.

Anika Dzierlenga, Ph.D at the podium Before her current role, Dzierlenga was a postdoctoral fellow at the institute. “I’m especially happy to give back after all the support I received from [the Office of Fellows’ Career Development] and NIEHS in general,” she told trainees. Dzierlenga also volunteered as a writer for the Environmental Factor. (Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)

“Eighty percent of those funds are distributed through competitive grants,” she said.

Trainees learned about available funding, what to expect along the way, and how to present research ideas to program administrators, among other information.

(Jesse Saffron, J.D., is a technical writer-editor in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)


Bob Wang, Ph.D. and Sharon Soucek, Ph.D. Bob Wang, Ph.D., right, of the Neuropharmacology Group, explained his research to Sharon Soucek, Ph.D., director of the Office of Technology Transfer. Wang said that before joining NIEHS, he was an infectious disease physician in China. He currently studies how sepsis-associated acute brain inflammation can lead to neurodegeneration. (Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)
Tori Placentra and Eric Sullivan, Ph.D. Tori Placentra, right, of the Mutagenesis and DNA Repair Regulation Group, said that she is working to understand how oxidative stress can lead to cancer and genomic instability. Left, Eric Sullivan, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Mitochondrial DNA Replication Group. (Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)
A view of the posters in the halls Posters were presented throughout the halls of the Rall Building on the NIEHS campus. (Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)
Darryl Zeldin, M.D. and Florencia Pascual, Ph.D. engaging in a conversation NIEHS Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D., right, listened to a poster presentation by Florencia Pascual, Ph.D., of the NIEHS Pediatric Neuroendocrinology Group. (Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)
Jacob Gordon speaking with an attendee Postbaccalaureate fellow Jacob Gordon, of the Nucleolar Integrity Group, won first place in the poster competition. (Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)
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