(l to r) Mackenzie Amoroso, Dan Rokni, Carolina Salguero and Christina Saak
Awards for outstanding work were presented at the 2014 MCB research retreat in September, including the very first winners of the inaugural Bjorkman-Strominger-Wiley Prize for Collaboration and the Doty-Losick Prize for Exceptional Service.
Bjorkman-Strominger-Wiley Prize for Collaboration
The Bjorkman-Strominger-Wiley Prize was established this year to encourage inter-lab cooperation, in honor of Pamela Bjorkman and Jack Strominger and the late Don Wiley. While all three were working at Harvard in the 1980s, they collaborated on research into the MHC protein’s crystal structure and antigen presentation. The first winners of this award are Samara Reck-Peterson and Andres Leschziner for their labs’ work on the motor protein dynein. According to MCB Chair Alex Schier, “the two labs combined their expertise in structural biology, biophysics, biochemistry and cell biology to be much more than the sum of their parts.”
Doty-Losick Prize for Exceptional Service
The first Doty-Losick Prize was awarded to MCO graduate students Carolina Salguero from the D’Souza lab and Christina Saak from the Gibbs lab for their work on behalf of the MCO summer internship program. The award was established to reward outstanding community service efforts by members of the MCB, in honor of professors Paul Doty and Rich Losick. Losick himself said of this years winners, “(the intern program) aims to help diversify science and our MCO graduate program by engaging and mentoring underrepresented minority students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds in host laboratories at Harvard. Carolina and Christina drafted a plan for improving the program and threw themselves into its execution with an overwhelming level of commitment.”
Ernest Peralta Fund Award
This year’s Peralta Fund Award was presented to third year graduate student Mackenzie Amoroso from the Uchida lab for her qualifying exam proposal “The Neural Basis of Sensorimotor Learning by Reward and Sensory Prediction Error.” Amoroso’s proposal and subsequent defense impressed the faculty committee for her willingness to enter new fields of research and her ability to cover diverse neurobiological disciplines with self-assured accuracy. Amoroso was also recently published in the March 2014 issue of the journal Neuron.
Meselson Prize for the Most Beautiful Experiment
Dan Rokni, postdoctoral fellow in the Murthy Lab, won the Meselson Prize for most beautiful experiment for his work on the neurological aspects of an animal’s ability to isolate odors in a crowded olfactory environment. In his experiment, which was featured on the August 2014 cover of Nature Neuroscience, mice were trained to seek out specific odors from random chemical mixtures. The experiment demonstrated some similarities between the senses when the mice had difficulty distinguishing between odors from chemicals with the same functional group, just as people with similar voices are difficult to pick apart in a crowded room. Professor Catherine Dulac said that “(Rokni’s) experiments were beautiful because of the clarity of the design, the very clever analysis, and the ability to draw simple, yet paradigm-shifting conclusions.”