Heather Hook Receives Charles Terner Award

By Jen CorreiaMay 20th, 2022in Grad Student News

Heather Hook, Biology PhD candidate of the Siggers Lab, is this year’s recipient of the Charles Terner Award. In the Siggers lab, Heather has been working on the development of a novel, high-throughput technique to profile transcription factor – cofactor complex recruitment to DNA to determine a cell’s key regulators. Heather has applied this technique to several applications, including mapping cofactor recruitment to disease associated single nucleotide polymorphisms. This approach can be broadly applied to many biological systems to map transcription factor – cofactor complexes to genomic regions to uncover cell specific complexes and their DNA sequence dependence.

This award provides support for a CM or MCBB PhD candidate who has made significant contributions to their field. Charles Terner was a Professor of Biology at Boston University for over 20 years before he retired in 1985. Dr. Terner specialized in biochemistry and focused his research on the metabolic properties of male reproductive cells. The award was established in his memory after he passed away in 1998.

Congratulations, Heather!

Nicola Kriefall Receives Belamarich Dissertation Writing Award

By Jen CorreiaMay 19th, 2022in Grad Student News

Nicola Kriefall of the Davies Lab is the recipient of the 2022 Belamarich Dissertation Writing Award. This award complements the Belamarich Award, and is given to support an outstanding PhD student through the dissertation writing stage.

Nicola is interested in understanding how reef environments affect corals and their symbioses with microscopic organisms. Conditions on the reef change depending on the scale that you examine – sites just a few meters apart can have vastly different temperatures and salinity changes day to day. The first and second chapter of her dissertation compare the algal and bacterial communities hosted by corals across environments located closer to shore (typically more variable in terms of conditions like temperature) and further from shore (typically more stable) in French Polynesia and in Florida (USA). Her third chapter is a tank experiment that isolates daily thermal variability from other factors that differ across reef environments and asks how this variation structures coral microorganismal communities. By asking these types of questions, she aims to better understand whether microbes can play an important role in coral acclimatization to environmental shifts under climate change.

Congratulations, Nicola!

Frank Azorsa Receives Long-term GRAF

By Jen CorreiaMay 10th, 2022in Grad Student News

Biology PhD student Frank Azorsa of the Traniello Lab recently received a Long-term Graduate Research Abroad Fellowship (GRAF). This fellowship program supports foreign-based research by doctoral students whose field-based or archival research requires an extended period of residence in another country or countries. . Frank’s research on brain evolution requires collecting in Amazonian Peru and at other neotropical sites. Read about Frank's research below.

Brain size varies dramatically across animals of different body size, but why? Diet and the complexity of social life are hypothesized to drive brain evolution, but support for either model has been inconsistent. To advance the analysis of brain evolution, Frank uses predatory ants as a model because the influences of body size, sociality, and diet can be separated. Workers forage as solitary huntresses or collective swarms, like army ants. Worker body ranges from minute to “huge,” which for ants is 2.8 cm, and colony sizes range from less than 10 workers to several million. Preliminary results suggest brain size is predicted by both diet and sociality. Species with a generalist diet (a broad range or arthropod prey) and specialist diet (spider eggs, for example) differ in brain architecture.

During the summer, Frank is planning to expand sampling to include predatory species from different ant subfamilies so neuroanatomical scaling can be mapped phylogenetically to identify patterns of brain evolution. GRAF funding will allow him to collect ants in central and northern Peru where Dinoponera gigantea, one of the largest species of ants, and Thaumatomyrmex, one of the rarest of predatory ant species with a specialist diet and bizarre pitchfork-like mandibles, are found. Collecting a wide array of species will allow him to more effectively test hypotheses of brain evolution.

Congratulations, Frank!

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Recipient and Honorable Mentions

By Jen CorreiaMay 9th, 2022in Grad Student News

The awardees and honorable mentions for the 2022 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) competition were recently posted and several Biology graduate students were recognized. Biology PhD student Emma Conrad-Rooney of the Templer Lab was awarded with a 3-year graduate research fellowship. Biology PhD student Christine Carroll of the Fiszbein Lab and Biology MS student Benjamin Recchia of the Spilios Lab received honorable mentions.

Emma Conrad-Rooney

Human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and land-use change release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, leading to climate change. Across North America, carbon dioxide uptake by terrestrial ecosystems offsets ~40% of these annual carbon (C) emissions, but this C sink may be threatened by climate change. It is unknown how the combination of increased growing season temperatures and a smaller snowpack in winter impacts rates of net C sequestration by forests. Emma will utilize the Climate Change Across Seasons Experiment (CCASE), which was established at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire in 2012, to study the effects of climate change across both the growing season and winter on temperate forest ecosystems. This experiment includes two reference plots, two plots that are warmed 5°C during the growing season with buried heating cables, and two plots that are warmed during the growing season and experience soil freeze/thaw cycles caused by removal of snow in winter. She will utilize dendrometer bands (metal bands loaded with a spring and placed around trees) to measure radial growth of trees and, using allometric equations, will scale up radial growth to total aboveground biomass and ecosystem level C in tree biomass over time. Together, her work will allow her to determine whether there is a significant effect of changing temperatures in the growing season and winter on net C sequestration in temperate forests over time.

Christine Carroll

In the Fiszbein lab, Christine aims to understand how a multi-promoter architecture evolved and what rules govern its mechanisms of regulation. The lab has produced data across many cell lines that show downstream promoters having a higher relative usage than upstream promoters. In the lab, she uses CRISPR-based technology and related genetic engineering methods to perturb promoters both endogenously and exogenously in order to assess the effects on transcription at surrounding promoters. Using a combination of experimental and computational tools, she works to define new mechanisms governing AP usage.

Benjamin Recchia with Rico, a Green Aracari Toucan native to the rainforests of South America

Zoos and aquariums have a sordid history, but modern zoological centers are striving to fulfill newfound missions focused on conserving endangered species. Many zoos and aquariums promote conservation through signs, videos, and live presentations. These passive learning opportunities have become staples of the zoo/aquarium experience, but they have limited educational value. While many active learning opportunities already exist in zoos and aquariums (e.g. observing foraging behaviors, developing enrichment, deciphering animal communication), they have not yet been curated for visitors, which has thus far prevented studies of their educational value. Benjamin's research focuses on assessing the educational value of online zoology modules that connect learners to these unique active learning opportunities at zoos and aquariums. He is currently working with Dr. Kathryn Spilios of BU's Instructional Biology Office to design four online animal behavior modules connected to active learning opportunities at the New England Aquarium and Zoo New England. Their goal is to give BU students taking Biology I and Animal Behavior opportunities to engage with these modules prior to completing an animal behavior laboratory challenge. He will be analyzing student engagement with the modules with respect to their mastery of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for his master's thesis.

Congratulations to the awardees and honorable mentions on your hard work and this well-deserved honor.

Cheryl Knott Receives US Fish and Wildlife Service Grant

By sprudhviMay 3rd, 2022in Faculty News, News

Congratulations to Cheryl Knott, Professor of Anthropology, Biology, and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, for being awarded a five-year grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service for her research on the conservation of wild orangutans on the island of Borneo. Dr. Knott and her team will be applying new technology to assess orangutan behavioral and physiological adaptations in anthropogenically-altered forests. 

Additionally, at Yale University, Dr. Knott has been named the Edward 

P. Bass Distinguished Visiting Scholar. During the Fall 2022 semester, Dr. Knott will be participating in this Yale program to collaborate with Yale’s academic community regarding environmental studies.

Congratulations to Cheryl!

American Association of Anthropological Genetics Elects Christopher Schmitt as Vice President

By sprudhviMay 3rd, 2022in Faculty News, News

Congratulations to Assistant Professor Christopher Schmitt for being elected Vice President for the American Association of Anthropological Genetics (AAAG). As Vice President, Dr. Schmitt will organize a joint symposium for AAAG with the American Association of Biological Anthropologists for their 2023 annual meeting in Reno, after which he will transition to serving as President.

Congratulations to Chris!

Sean Mullen Promoted to Professor of Biology

By sprudhviMay 3rd, 2022in Faculty News, News

Congratulations to Sean Mullen for his promotion to Professor of Biology. Dr. Mullen is an evolutionary biologist who utilizes genomic tools to investigate the origin and maintenance of the diversity of species. He has garnered significant attention in his field for seminal research on speciation genomics and the adaptive evolution of butterfly wing color, pattern, and mimicry. In his recent work, Mullen has concentrated on the role ecological interactions play in shaping adaptive diversification among neotropical adelpha butterflies. Some of his many achievements include being awarded major NSF grants and publishing over 40 articles in highly-recognized biology journals.

Congratulations Sean!

Richard Primack Presents to the National Science Teachers Association

By sprudhviMay 3rd, 2022in Faculty News, News

In Houston, Texas, Dr. Richard Primack presented a keynote address at the National Science Teachers Association for their annual meeting regarding his research. His talk, Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau’s Concord, provided an overview of the research that he and his students have been doing over the past 20 years with support from the National Science Foundation. 


Dr. Primack discusses how climate change contributes to the plants of Concord, Massachusetts to flower and leaf out earlier now than in the time of Henry David Thoreau in the 1850s. As he describes, “I spoke about how a warming climate is causing the plants of Concord, MA, to flower and leaf out earlier now than in the time of Henry David Thoreau in the 1850s. I tailored my talk to emphasize projects that science teachers could use to help their students investigate the biological effects of climate change, such as the use of twig experiments.”

Richard Primack at the conference along with David Foord and Lisa Janeway from the Brandwein Institute.

Because of the pandemic, this was the first time in three years that the NSTA conference had been held in person.  While the conference normally has around 10,000 attendees, this year there were just 4,000 people. Primack’s talk was sponsored by the Brandwein Institute, an environmental foundation.

Boston University undergrads Selby Vaughn (left) and Taylor Reagan evaluating twig experiments in the Primack lab.


Cindy Bradford Receives 2022 John S. Perkins Award

By Jen CorreiaMay 3rd, 2022in News


Every year, the Boston University Faculty Council honors members of the University community who have served BU with great distinction. We are delighted to announce that Biology staff Cyndi Bradford is a recipient of the 2022 John S. Perkins Award for Distinguished Service. Read the BU Today article here.

The distinguished service awards were established in 1981 by the Faculty Council and since 1984 have been sponsored by the estate of John S. Perkins, who served the University for over fifty years in various capacities as faculty member, member of the administration, Trustee, and Treasurer.

The award ceremony will be on Tuesday, May 3, 2022 in the Metcalf Trustee Center Ballroom, 1 Silber Way, 9th floor.

Congratulations, Cindy!

Yuan Tian Receives Brenton R. Lutz Award

By Jen CorreiaMay 2nd, 2022in Grad Student News

Yuan Tian of the Man Lab is the recipient of this year’s Brenton R. Lutz Award. Yuan studies the UBE3A-dependent autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is one of the most common genetic factors in ASD etiology. Using transgenic mouse models, her research focuses on characterizing the sexually dimorphic behaviors, neuronal activity, gene expression and cellular features, as well as investigating the molecular mechanisms underlying sexually dimorphic changes in UBE3A-dependent ASD.

This award provides support for PhD candidates conducting research in neurobiology or neuroscience and have made significant contributions to their field. Brenton R. Lutz was the first person to receive an MD/PhD at Boston University, receiving his PhD in 1916. He later became a Professor and Chairman of BU’s Department of Biology. Dr. Lutz also gave the first University Lecture at BU on December 11, 1950 “The Living Blood Vessels.”

Congratulations, Yuan!