iba world champions
nepal: a time of need
zika virus: the art of the bite
marc b. cox: texas inventor award
Robert A. Kirken, Ph.D. Dean College of Science
message from the dean
Amid the burgeoning mosquito-borne Zika virus (ZIKV) crisis UTEP's Doug Watts, Ph.D., Dept. of Biological Sciencesis a local expert on the biology and control of the mosquito vector, Aedes aegypti of Zika virus which he has studied for over 40 years. Since last year Zika has instilled global fears in people due in part to the frequent attention given to this virus by new reporters. Ever since its emergence in South America in 2015, the virus has taken center stage and is currently affecting people all over the world from Brazil to Singapore and as far north as Northern Ireland. There is no approved vaccine or treatment for the virus.
Zika is a rare tropical disease associated with mild symptoms. The Zika virus is spread by bites by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the main transmitter, and Aedes Albopictus the Asian tiger mosquito in Africa. The name Zika stems from the Zika forest in Uganda where in the local language Luganda Zika means, “overgrown”. Zika virus was originally isolated from sentinel rhesus monkeys while scientists were studying yellow fever in the late 1940’s in the ZIKA forest. As a mosquito-borne virus, Zika is classified as an arthropod-borne virus or “arbovirus”, and belong to the same family as West Nile and dengue fever. Only a handful of Zika cases had ever been documented before the first documented outbreak during 2007 in Yap Island and then the virus spread eastward to cause a major outbreak of about 20,000 human cases during 2013 in French Polynesia and then the virus emerged in Brazil in 2015 to cause a devastating outbreak of more than a million cases and has since has spread throughout South and Central America and more recently to the Caribbean and Mexico The pattern of emergence and spread of Zika virus is very much like that of Chikungunya virus that recently emerged in the same region of the America. The main difference is that Zika virus causes one in five infected people to get sick whereas Chikungunya virus causes more like 4 of 5 people to have disease. The large-scale outbreak in Brazil led virologists to link the virus to a birth defect called microcephaly among pregnant women, the medical term for abnormally small heads, for the first time. The World Health Organization said that no deaths have been attributed to Zika virus infection, but microcephaly and other neurological disorders are grave concerns as a public health problem. Also, the virus has been linked to sexual transmission and there have been blood transfusion associated cases.
Watts has history to draw from with the Aedes aegypti mosquito with over forty years in which he is most certainly considered an expert. He currently along with his team are studying this mosquito species which is also the vector for dengue viruses and Chikungunya viruses, and his experience and reason for studying Aedes aegypti has been mainly because of his numerous years of research on the ecology and epidemiology of dengue viruses. Until the recent pandemic of Zika virus that started in the Northwest Pacific Islands in 2007 and 2013 and then spread to Brazil in 2015 and since then throughout South and Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico, Zika virus was not recognized as a public health problem and therefore, very few studies had been conducted on the virus.
With Watts’ expertise and expansive research, he hopes his research will help scientists understand more about the vector and the virus.
He talks about Zika and his research here in El Paso, “Like most researchers, my experience with Zika virus is limited to my and my staff’s more recent work to establish diagnostic assays. We are using these assays to test Ae. aegypti that we collect here in El Paso for Zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses, and soon will have a diagnostic assay to test human blood samples for these viruses.” These findings will help scientists in the future learn more about the virus.
Watts adds, “One of my research projects here in El Paso and Juarez is to conduct surveillance to collect and determine the population density of Aedes aegypti and to test the Ae. aegypti for dengue, Zika and chikungunya viruses – if we detect these viruses before they spread by Ae. aegypti, we can prevent transmission of the viruses to humans by informing the El Paso Dept. of Public Health’s vector control program personnel who can target the vector mosquito, Ae. aegypti with insecticides, and therefore prevent transmission of the viruses.”
Photos Credit: Albert Soliz
Zika: The spread and origin of the mosquito-borne virus and what you need to know about it.
Dear Members of the College of Science Community:
This summer was an exciting one in the College of Science and I am happy to be able to share some of our latest accomplishments with you. In the Department of Geological Sciences, a group of students and their faculty advisor took first place in the Worldwide Imperial Barrel competition of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Dr. Marc Cox from the Department of Biological Sciences was the first academic faculty member ever to receive the Texas Inventor Award. Faculty and students traveled halfway around the world to Nepal to engage in basic and community-engaged research, led by Dr. Marianne Karplus of the Department of Geological Sciences, on earthquake prediction and safety. These recognitions highlight what we already know - that science is critical for our future and for understanding the world around us. The pursuit of academic excellence remains our primary aim as we educate and train the next generation of scientists.
This year we launched the Dean’s List Plus program comprised of students from across the College who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, and 467 students currently hold this distinction. The stories and journeys of our students and faculty shared within these pages define us, and support us in our continued efforts to explore and expand the frontiers of modern science research and education. This newsletter acknowledges the tremendous commitment and successes of our students and faculty. For our followers, I look forward to keeping you posted on our work and progression here at the College of Science.
zikV: the art of the bite
Dr. Doug Watts
As the US is stigmatized by the ZIKV virus, do you think it is now the US’s scary virus?
Watts: I believe the new media have done a pretty good job of not making Zika sound like a scary virus, but then I am a scientist who has worked with the most dangerous viruses in the world, such as Ebola virus. I believe that Zika virus is likely to be scary for pregnant women or for those who plan to become pregnant, especially in an area where Zika virus is endemic like Miami, and for those who have traveled or plan to travel to a Zika virus endemic region.
What could potentially be the future of ZIKV in the United States if it is not contained in an expedient fashion?
Watts: In an area with the climate being semi tropical, like Miami, that favors the survival and reproduction of Ae. aegypti, the vector of Zika virus, and with temperature that supports virus replication in this mosquito species, and a susceptible human population, one could have continuous transmission of the virus, much like southern Mexico and more southern regions. In contrast, in more northern regions of the U.S. with less favorable climate, it is likely that if a traveler was infected with Zika virus in an endemic region, say Puerto Rico, and returned to the U.S., say El Paso, that this person could serve as a source of virus to infect mosquitoes, but the transmission would most likely be limited to a few people because we know from the introduction dengue by infected people in Brownsville Texas, only a handful of people were infected before the transmission ceased due to vector control and other reasons.
What is your opinion on the mosquito eradication, with the different types of sprays used to get rid of ZIKV that have been used and its possible effects on other animal ecosystems/non-target insects that can easily die off?
Watts: Should be mosquito control not eradication, I am not at all an expert on mosquito control using chemicals, however, I am not in favor of using chemicals that are toxic too animals and insects. Furthermore, we know from many years of use of these chemicals that they do not work very well, if at all for Ae aegypti because the biology and behavior of this mosquito makes it very difficult to have the chemical make contact with the mosquitoes.
Case in point the killing of many honeybees in Dorchester County, SC-where they used NALED.
What is the name of the spray that use here in El Paso, County to control our mosquito population?
Watts: Scourge spray.
Learn more about scourge here: https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/2739/
1. What is Scourge?
Scourge is a pesticide product that is used to control mosquitoes in outdoor residential and recreational areas. It contains resmethrin and piperonyl butoxide as active ingredients. Resmethrin is a man-made pyrethroid insecticide that can also be found in other pesticide products used indoors and on pets to control ticks and insects, such as fleas and ants. Piperonyl butoxide does not directly kill insects on its own, but acts to increase the ability of resmethrin to kill insects. These active ingredients are dissolved in a petroleum solvent. Petroleum solvents are similar to paint thinner or kerosene. Scourge may be applied as is or may be diluted with other petroleum-based products, such as mineral oil, before application.
In conclusion, it seems lately in the past few years there have been more and more mosquito-borne outbreaks, perhaps now we can expect them to be more frequent. Now, what will the future with Zika only time will tell? There are new developments from every corner of the globe involving Zika and new places where people have been affected.
Photos courtesy of Albert Soliz from the (MESL) Mosquito Ecology and Surveillance lab
So far, have there been any reported cases of ZIKV here in EL Paso?
Watts: One traveler associated Zika case, so far, there have not been any cases associated with transmission by local mosquito vectors.
How can the ZIKV virus be spread?
Watts: The virus is spread primarily by the bite of infected female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and more recently, there is convincing evidence that the virus is spread through sexual transmission; infection can also be acquired through blood transfusions.
What about lab exposure?
Watts: Could be possible through an accidental stick with a needle that has virus on it. Here is one example:
“Pittsburgh Researcher Infected with Zika in Lab Accident”
June 10, 2016 by Mike Stobbe
The University of Pittsburgh says one of its researchers became infected with the Zika virus in a lab accident. The scientist accidentally stuck herself with a needle last month during a Zika experiment. She developed Zika symptoms last week and lab tests confirmed the infection. Pitt officials on Thursday said the researcher has recovered and returned to work. The virus is spread mainly through the bite of a tropical mosquito. It causes only a mild and brief illness, at worst, in most people. But it can cause fetal deaths and severe birth defects in the children of women infected during pregnancy. Nearly 700 infections have been reported in the 50 states. All were people who had traveled abroad, or who had sex with someone who did.
Zika’s symptoms according to the World Health Organization (WHO) include fever, red and bumpy rash, joint pain and pink eye. Hospitalization rates are low and according to the WHO, the good news as mentioned above is that no deaths have been reported from Zika. But still, even though a “high rate” of patients with Zika has no symptoms at all, according to the WHO, the word Zika is a scary thought to many people.
There have been some very interesting noteworthy discoveries at US universities that have developed for Zika such as diagnostic testing kits, mosquitoes traps and candidate therapeutics that are promising for treating especially infected pregnant women, and some candidate vaccines that may be able to prevent Zika viral infection.
learn more about their research
Photos courtesy of University Communications
Dr. Marc B. Cox
“We are very excited about our continued collaboration with Dr. Cox. Since we have shown that the androgen receptor is important in breast cancer and demonstrated that his compound MJC13 inhibits the proliferation of breast cancer cells in vitro, we will now proceed to test its efficacy in vivo in preclinical models of the various subtypes of breast cancer.”
“These novel drug technologies and their development toward commercialization attract funding that benefits the University, the University of Texas System and the regional economy through increased research expenditures and the creation of jobs,” said Melissa Silverstein, Director of UTEP’s Office of Technology Commercialization.”
Dr. Jennifer K. Richer from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus states,
Dr. Richer’s work has demonstrated that, in breast cancer, androgen receptor is even more widely expressed than estrogen receptor and progesterone receptor, and can be used to refine breast cancer classification. In addition, her work has firmly established androgen receptor as a relevant drug target in breast cancer, and has set the stage for the development of anti-androgen receptor targeted therapies as novel strategies for the treatment of breast cancer. Thus, the drug candidates developed by Dr. Cox at UTEP hold great promise for the treatment of subsets of breast cancers for which no treatments currently exist.
DR. MARC B. COX: a biologist and an inventor
Photo courtesy of the National Cancer Institute.
Marc. B. Cox, Ph.D., is an associate professor, within the RCMI-funded Border Biomedical Research Center (BBRC). Recently, Cox significantly contributed to UTEP’s College of Science by being chosen as the top inventor in Texas by the Intellectual Property Committee of the State Bar of Texas; they selected Cox from a highly competitive field of nominees. New technologies from Cox’s lab could have far-reaching impact on patient quality of life. UTEP’s College of Science is very proud to have him named as 2016 State Bar of Texas Inventor of the Year.
Robert Kirken, Ph.D., Dean College of Science elaborates on his thoughts on Cox’s coveted award, “I was thrilled to learn that Dr. Cox received the Texas Bar Inventor of the Year award. He really deserves this honor and I am always happy when the outstanding work of our faculty is recognized at higher levels. What makes this award extra special is that it required Dr. Cox to move out of his comfort zone and take his basic research program to the next level of patenting and commercializing his discoveries. This process takes time, vision, and the ability to learn and grow in an area that is seldom addressed in our scientific training.”
Kirken adds, “I am proud of the significant effort he put into this and his determination to one day see his discoveries used in the clinic to help people with cancer. I think Dr. Cox strongly represents the new breed of scientist that walks a line between academia and industry and supports scientific development and application in a way that benefits society as a whole. This type of thinking will create more opportunities and high tech jobs for our region, which is an important goal for the College of Science. I can’t wait to see what he does next!”
A graduate of Tulane University, Dr. Cox is a molecular endocrinologist with expertise in intracellular receptor signaling pathways. In addition to identifying, characterizing, and therapeutically targeting steroid hormone receptor regulatory proteins for the treatment of prostate cancer, he also offers expertise in various model systems, including yeast, that prove useful in large-scale toxicity screens, as well as for high throughput screens for novel drug candidates.
His current research at UTEP focuses on the development of novel androgen receptor inhibiting drugs for the treatment of prostate cancer. In addition, Cox and his colleagues are targeting androgen signaling pathways aimed at treating triple negative breast cancer patients.
UTEP’s Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) has helped Cox’s research reach new heights and he has worked closely with them to move these new technologies through the commercialization process. The OTC plays a vital role in the UTEP’s public service mission helping to propel emerging science technologies out of the lab and into the marketplace where they can be put to use. The OTC files patent applications for UTEP inventions, while educating faculty and student inventors on the complex patent process in the U.S. and around the world. These inventions are developed from $90 million worth of yearly research expenditures. On the commercialization side, the OTC performs patent searches and market analysis for the inventions to help locate possible industry partners to license the UTEP inventions. OTC then reaches out to actively market the inventions to hundreds of companies around the globe. Universities are essentially idea factories and industry partners utilize those ideas to help develop products to sell to the public. OTC also drafts and negotiates many contracts related to UTEP intellectual property to help protect and promote the ideas from the very beginning.
“These novel drug technologies and their development toward commercialization attract funding that benefits the University, the University of Texas System and the regional economy through increased research expenditures and the creation of jobs,” said Melissa Silverstein, Director of UTEP’s Office of Technology Commercialization.”
Department of geological sciences: INTERNATIONAL IBA AWARD MAKING HISTORY
Photos courtesy of IBA team
This year’s UTEP Imperial Barrel Award (IBA) team has beat other teams from across the globe to emerge victorious in a worldwide competition this June going up against 176 institutions from 41 countries at the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Annual Convention and Exhibition. The historical moment was lived by the IBA team in Calgary, Canada. This outstanding team has certainly achieved something very distinct and is very proud that they went against teams from global sections stemming from Africa, Asia/Pacific, Canada, Europe, Latin America, and The Middle East. After months and months of preparation the team finally struck gold in Canada. The UTEP team collectively felt many emotions when they were calling out the names of the winners then it came down to the last universities name they all shrieked with excitement.
This year’s team are M.S. students: Andy Anderson, Eric Bergersen, Andre Llanos, Patrick Rea, and Alan Vennemann. The team is mentored by Dr. Richard (Rip) Langford. UTEP has been participating in this competition since it first began in 2007. The 2016 competition is the 6th time the UTEP team has taken first place in the regional competition and go on to compete in the worldwide competition. This is the first time UTEP, or any other team from the southwest section, has won the worldwide competition, this prize comes with a $20,000 award.
This a very significant achievement for the department along with the university as a whole, this win will most definitely impact future teams who go and compete for this same prize. Faculty mentor Richard (Rip) Langford, Ph.D., stated, “I hope it gives our students more confidence in their ability to perform at the highest level. UTEP students work the hardest. This win should give them the confidence that work is directed in ways that lead to winning.”
The teams studied and worked together on analyzing a real dataset that includes a multitude of information relevant for oil exploration, covering aspects such as geology, geophysics, and production infrastructure. For their tasks, the students are given access to state of the art technology. The teams report the results to a panel of industry experts, who select the winning team based on technical quality, clarity and originality of presentation.
James Kubicki, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Geological Sciences has commented about the great success of these students with these words, “The Department of Geological Sciences is extremely proud of the accomplishments of Andrew Anderson, Eric Bergersen, Andre Llanos, Patrick Rea and Alan Vennemann along with their faculty advisor Professor Richard Langford. Their hard work and dedication proves that UTEP students can compete against students from across the globe. Congratulations to them and thanks for representing us Miners in this international competition!”
Alan Vennemann, M.S. candidate, Geophysics:
“Acting as an exploration geologist and evaluating the hydrocarbon potential of a region by using industry standard software helped me build my leadership and teamwork skills, as well as introducing me to what it is like working in the petroleum industry and presenting what we worked on day in and day out to upper-management. Traveling to Calgary to compete in the international competition allowed me to build my network and set me on the best path possible to achieve my goal of working in the petroleum industry. However, none of this would have been possible without the support of the geoscience's department, our advisor and mentor. So to everyone involved, I would like to say thank you.”
Andre Llanos, M.S. candidate, Geophysics:
“Competition is fierce and we have to rise to the challenge of making a name for ourselves. Therefore, we knew what was at stake, and worked towards achieving this accomplishment and recognition to stand apart from other the other competing schools and students. We sought out to show potential future employers that our team from UTEP is serious about being exceptional Exploration Geologists. We were determined to unravel the complexity of the geologic data and understand it well enough to present our findings with precise certainty. We all believed without a shred of doubt in the science behind all of our work. This experience is the most rewarding in my life. I hope to have a long reputable career working within the Oil & Gas industry to innovate and strengthen the Energy needs of the future. Whatever happens from now towards that future will certainly be driven by accomplishing this world class achievement and being a proud El Pasoan and UTEP Miner.”
Andy Anderson, M.S. candidate, Geophysics:
“It was a great experience to build a project from the ground up in just 8 weeks using similar workflows that are utilized in the oil and gas industry. Winning the competition has given me a ton of confidence in my abilities to compete against students from more petroleum focused programs in the job market.”
Patrick Rea, M.S. candidate, Geophysics:
“This experience in IBA helped me develop my presentation and software skills in various programs to an entirely different level. I am transferring these abilities and standards for performance in what I do and have seen marked improvement in overall products and efficiency. My time management and ability to work with others from varying backgrounds and perspectives has improved, and I now will approach problems differently and in a more structured manner. I now know in a big way how to use my geologic background to apply to practical problems, and what I should prioritize and how to research issues within these practical problems for the betterment of my methodology and eventual product.”
Eric Bergersen, M.S. candidate, Geology:
“I think we are all still in shock that a school from West Texas can go into a global competition consisting of 176 schools from 41 different countries and not only compete but win. It is a true testament to the team we had this year, I have never been part of a group that functioned with such synergy as our IBA team. We didn't set out to win anything but rather to gain as much insight about the energy industry, and what better way than using state of the art software provided by the AAPG and real life oil and gas datasets. This was hands down the most exciting experience of our academic careers, although the hours were long and strenuous, we had a lot of fun together. Winning IBA does not guarantee us jobs as petroleum geologists but hopefully it will open doors to interviews and opportunities that we may otherwise have not been privy to. Based on the reaction of alumni and other industry personnel, the win has definitely not gone unnoticed. I hope it also shows future employers that UTEP puts out talented geoscientists, that not only can thrive at delivering highly technical results but also excel at articulating those results, as we were required to as part of the IBA competition.”
what are some thoughts you would like to share with the UTEP community?
What are your thoughts on UTEP and its research facilities?
DR. CHU KIM CHEMISTRY FACULTY spotlight
We currently have the facilities needed to conduct cutting edge research. It will be important to continuously maintain and upgrade our facilities to remain competitive in the future.
Furthermore, Kim shows a tremendous amount of promise with his research with celiac disease along with his teaching position with the College of Pharmacy in 2017. He is another rising star within the College of Science.
I am involved in building and launching the new UTEP School of Pharmacy. It is very exciting and rewarding to play a role in creating something so new and important.
Photo courtesy of Theresa Valenzuela
We have recently collaborated with research groups in the US, Japan, Singapore, and UK. We plan to form new collaborations at UTEP and at other US institutions.
What has been your most significant accomplishment as a scientist?
Learn more about Dr. kim
Define your area of expertise/research.
We are building a cell based chemical factory. Our goal is to use living cells rather than test tubes to synthesize complex molecules. We use synthetic biology and structural biology techniques to study and to alter enzymes and biosynthetic pathways.
We also are investigating celiac disease, an autoimmune-like disorder caused by dietary gluten, which affects 1 in 100 people in the U.S. We are studying the disease mechanism at the molecular level, and trying to develop a pill that will allow celiac disease patients to safely consume gluten containing food and an inexpensive home test kit to help people test for celiac disease at home. Once achieved this will tremendously help numerous people to manage this disease. Read more about celiac disease at: https://celiac.org/celiac-disease/understanding-celiac-disease-2/what-is-celiac-disease/
What is your scientific background?
I have a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, master’s degree in Bioengineering, and a Ph.D. degree in Chemistry.
We have figured out, in collaboration with Professor Kendall Houk’s group in the Chemistry Department at UCLA, how a bacterial enzyme catalyzes anti-Baldwin ring closure reaction. (Nature, 2012, 483, 355-358) The enzymatic mechanism had been a mystery for several decades.
Are you involved in any collaborations? Explain.
Dr. Chu KIM
Coming from National University of Singapore an institution half way around the world, new member to the College of Science Chu-Young Kim Ph.D., associate professor in the department of chemistry has hit the ground running. As of now he was awarded the STARS award, along with being published in a journal and recruited 7 group members to his lab. Currently, Kim is close to fully setting-up his lab space at the CCSB ground floor he hopes it will be ready soon with its new state of the art instrumentation. Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department of chemistry is eager to see what Kim does in the future. He states, "Dr. Kim has brought so much to our department, so far he has submitted two grant applications, along with being published in a prestigious journal, I am sure he will do even more for our department and the university as a whole in due time.”
Please provide any additional information to be included in the write-up.
HECTOR DEL CASTILLO: A BUDDING SCIENTIST
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Having graduated in May, 2016 with a B.S. in Chemistry and having been awarded the prestigious CENEVAL prize of excellence from the Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico, Hector Del Castillo is now part of a new cohort of students accepted into the Chemistry Ph.D. program this fall.
Hector is currently a pupil of Katja Michael, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of chemistry and feels Michael has played a pivotal role in him becoming a student here. Michael states, “I am encouraging Hector to take full advantage of the many educational and training opportunities available to him here at UTEP. Specifically, through his research training in the chemistry laboratory and the use of departmental instrumentation, attending lecture courses, seminars, professional development workshops, and his active participation in conferences on campus and at the National level, I would like to see him develop into an excellent organic chemist with several publications in reputable journals by the time he graduates. This will make him highly competitive for a career in chemistry or a related field.”
Hector is enthusiastic about his first semester as a Ph.D., student and expects great things from UTEP. He said, “From what I have seen and heard from many friends and colleagues UTEP provides excellent opportunities for students. I hope to acquire a good education that will grant me the opportunity to work in research, for example in the Research & Development division of a company. I want to become a successful synthetic organic chemist, with strong and solid knowledge and skills required to perform organic syntheses.”
Hector was born in Naucalpan de Juarez, Edo. México, México and at the tender age of seven Hector was introduced to science by his older brother. Soon thereafter, he got familiar with the basics in biology, chemistry and math and ever since then he has loved it! He was still in high school when he made the decision to pursue science. While being an undergraduate student at the Tech de Monterrey he had to fulfill a degree plan requirement, i.e., to conduct research and write and defend an undergraduate thesis. Hector had heard about UTEP and its amazing offerings from friends from the Tech de Monterrey who were previously students at UTEP with summer internships in the laboratories of Dr. Villagran and Dr. Echegoyen within the Department of Chemistry. His friends also mentioned that while studying here they had the opportunity to present their research at conferences, and also heard of all the other opportunities that UTEP gives their students. He had heard so much about El Paso and UTEP that he decided to dig around and look up some information about possible programs, professors and their research expertise. He found out about Michael and her research, made contact with her, which resulted in an invitation to participate in her laboratory.
Hector explains how he contacted Michael in August 2015 from the Tecnológico de Monterrey to ask if he can conduct research in her laboratory as part of the fulfillment of his BS degree in Chemistry in Mexico. Michael didn’t know him personally, but she was impressed with his initiative and enthusiasm, and decided to give him a chance. He then arrived and spent the entire spring semester 2016 in her research group pursuing a photochemical method development project applied to peptide chemistry. Then he returned to the Tecnológico de Monterrey to finish his studies and graduate this past May. She said, “I believe Hector had an excellent experience here at UTEP because he gained important hands-on technical skills such as setting up and monitoring organic reactions by thin layer chromatography and UV-VIS spectrophotometry, compound purification by silica chromatography, and compound characterization by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.”
Michael adds, “As Hector’s mentor and research advisor I met with him regularly, and I made sure he was not only a ‘guest’ in our laboratory, but a full group member with the same privileges and responsibilities as everyone else. By the end of the semester Hector had obtained exciting research results that are close to being publishable. I had the honor of serving on his undergraduate thesis committee via Skype and witnessed an excellent thesis defense that made me very proud of him. At the Tecnológico de Monterrey he was one of theirs, but I considered him one of ours. I am extremely pleased that Hector returned to us in August 2016, this time as a graduate student at UTEP’s College of Science Chemistry PhD program.”
Furthermore, UTEP is comprised of students who work hard and achieve excellence; Hector is a prime example of someone who strives to be the best and get where he wants to be. He talks about Michael being a catalyst in his future here at UTEP. “Since day 1, Dr. Michael has been really supportive with everything from getting the keys to access the lab, or by having discussions on strategies towards the synthesis of a compound, she has really helped me with every single step in the process. At the same time, she has trusted me and let me have some independence in the lab. The success in my thesis project, and the possibility to publish my work as the first author gave me the confidence to picture myself in the world of research.”
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More about mohan and his time with the utep team:
What is the best thing you think can come from doing what you did in Nepal?
My PhD research focuses on the seismicity of the Himalayas. We are working on the data collected from the NAMASTE project. This will definitely help us to understand the earthquake hazards, faults, seismicity, and tectonic features of the area.
What has been done with Nepal’s reconstruction efforts? Have things changed, been rebuilt? The Nepalese government and non-government agencies are involved in the reconstruction process. People have started reconstruction work themselves with financial support from government and non-government organizations. Few non-profit organizations are building community houses for the affected people.
DR. MARIANNE KARPLUS GEOLOGICAL SCIENCES
Photos Courtesy of
Dr. Marianne Karplus.
Topographic map showing the locations of the 45 seismic stations (blue triangles) deployed across the rupture area of the April 25, 2015 M7.8 Gorkha earthquake. Orange stars: M7.8 April 25 (west) and M7.3 May 12 (east) earthquake epicenters. Yellow circles: Aftershocks greater than M4.0 that occurred from the first few months of our deployment, as reported by the National Seismological Centre, Nepal. Black triangles: HiCLIMB seismic stations deployed 2002-2005.
The April 25, 2015, magnitude 7.8 Gorkha earthquake in Nepal was one of the worst natural disasters to hit the Himalayan nation in nearly a century killing over 8,000 people and injuring over 21,000. It also triggered a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest. This earthquake caused severe damage to thousands of homes and temples throughout Nepal, and the country is still struggling to recover and rebuild more than a year later.
During 2015-2016, Marianne Karplus, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Geological Sciences at UTEP, and colleagues were awarded two National Science Foundation grants to study the Gorkha earthquake, its aftershocks, and the fault zones responsible for large earthquakes in the Himalaya. Their project is known as the Nepal Array Measuring Aftershock Seismicity Trailing Earthquake (NAMASTE) project. Karplus researches earth motions and earth structure by investigating seismic waves traveling through the Earth’s subsurface. She uses recordings of earthquakes on seismometers to determine the speeds that waves are propagating as well as the earthquake’s location.
Together with scientists at the Department of Mines and Geology in Nepal, U.S. collaborators at Stanford University, Oregon State University, and the University of California – Riverside, and her UTEP team, Karplus led the deployment, maintainence, and demobilization of a network of 45 seismometers across the rupture area of the 2015 earthquake to record aftershocks for 11 months. The seismometers measure the ground motion and allow us to determine information about the aftershocks such as magnitude, precise locations, and the speed that waves travel from the earthquake to the seismometer. Karplus’ team has relocated and studied thousands of small aftershocks recorded by their network. The UTEP Geological Sciences team includes Aaron Velasco, Ph.D., Professor of Geological Sciences at UTEP, Ezer Patlan, UTEP Ph.D. 2016, Mohan Pant, Ph.D. student, Galen Kaip, Special Research Associate, and Agustin Barajas, UTEP alumnus.
James Kubicki, Ph.D., chair of Geological Sciences is excited about the NAMASTE project and stated; “Dr. Karplus’ research trip to Nepal shortly after last summer’s earthquake demonstrates her dedication and concern. Often, many people think of scientists as detached because of their objective approach, but we should always remind them that the true purpose of Science is the betterment of humanity.”
Mohan Pant is a UTEP Ph.D. student in the Department of Geological Sciences who is from Nepal. He also received his Masters degree in Physics from UTEP in May of 2015 under the direction of Dr. Velasco. Pant traveled to Nepal four times to work on the NAMASTE seismic network. While in Nepal the UTEP team trained Nepalese students and government staff to work with the instrumentation. The NAMASTE team also contributed to other geophysical projects from different universities and organizations in Nepal while working there.
Pant explains about how he enjoyed working with his mentor Karplus, “It was great working with Dr. Karplus on this NAMASTE project and learning a lot about the seismometers and arranging deployment projects. As a seismologist, I am passionate to study the tectonics and seismicity of the Himalayas. This project gave me an opportunity to work in my research area. It is important research that has helped me to understand more about earthquake risks in my country.”
Q&A with Dr. Karplus
Where were you in Nepal, and how much time did you spend there? My most recent field work trip to Nepal during May 2016 included approximately 2.5 weeks of demobilizing the 45 seismic stations in central Nepal and preparing them to be shipped back to the U.S. We had four teams demobilizing stations at the same time. We drove to the stations, offloaded the data from the instruments, carefully disconnected the power and turned off the seismometers, and then we cleaned and packed up the seismometers and data loggers and solar panels. Many days we were on the road or working in the field for 12-14 hours.
Will you elaborate on what you have done in Nepal? We set up a network of seismometers at 45 different locations across the regions of Nepal that are experiencing aftershocks of the April 2015 earthquake. The seismometers measure the ground motion and allow us to determine information about the aftershocks such as magnitude, precise locations, and the speed that waves travel from the earthquake to the seismometer.
How did you get to go to Nepal? We received a National Science Foundation RAPID grant together with Stanford University to deploy a temporary seismic network to record and study aftershocks in Nepal.
Do you feel Nepal will again face a larger deadlier earthquake, even after this magnitude of 7.8? The Himalaya are a very active mountain range. There have been many large earthquakes in the past, and there will inevitably be many large earthquakes in the future.
Dr. Karplus's take on possible environmental impacts in nepal:
What are some possible environmental effects that have occurred in the region, please explain. There have been many landslides and rock falls associated with the earthquake. The ground shaking also affected the drinking water and sanitation systems in many villages.
What are some scenarios that you have seen there? How has this affected the quality of life there? When I was in Nepal in June, there were many people displaced from their homes due to earthquake damage. Many people were living in tents near their former homes. Many others moved from the small mountain villages into larger nearby urban areas or to Kathmandu. Bridges and roads were damaged or washed out. Resources for rebuilding were in short supply in some areas. We spoke with some families who lost their homes and were trying to raise funds to rebuild. Also, we spoke to some families who lost family members to injuries due to rock fall or landslides.
In your opinion, what exactly caused this earthquake to happen? The earthquake occurred on a fault known as the Main Himalayan Thrust. This thrust fault runs along the boundary between the Indian plate and the Eurasian plate, where India is colliding with Eurasia and pushing underneath it, compressing and uplifting the crust around the Himalayan Mountains. India has been colliding with Eurasia uplifting these mountains for approximately 55 million years. As India moves towards Eurasia, the stress builds up along the Main Himalayan Thrust and is periodically relieved by motion along the fault in the form of earthquakes (sometimes very large earthquakes such as the Gorkha earthquake).
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Lela Vuković, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of Chemistry has many things to look forward to; she has new lab space with a new group of budding scientists in hopes of sharing her computational chemistry expertise with the College of Science and external scientific community. Vuković came from being a postdoctoral fellow in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Center for the Physics of Living Cells at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she worked on research in biophysical chemistry. She has a broad area of expertise in theoretical/computational biophysical and materials chemistry, in the areas of nucleic acid biology, RNA and protein quality control in cells, self-assembly of nano-scale systems, hybrid materials and their applications, and new computational chemistry methodologies.
Vuković is glad she has been successful in setting up her lab with her students and teaching her first class and maintaining a certain level of success thus far. She stated, “So far, my experience at UTEP has been very positive. The research expectations of success are high, and UTEP is working on providing the right conditions to succeed. I am also teaching my first class at UTEP, physical chemistry. I am enjoying in getting to know UTEP's undergraduates, recognizing their talents and seeing them grow.”
Vuković adds, “I greatly enjoy the beauty of the campus and the wider El Paso region in general. I believe it is very conducive to having new scientific ideas. There is a feeling of growth on the campus and the research seems to be expanding. It is exciting to participate and contribute to this process.”
Her scientific background includes her Ph.D. training/research in physical chemistry. She has performed theoretical and computational investigations of nanomaterials, focusing on understanding their properties and optimizing their applications. At the end of the second year of her Ph.D., she decided to gain expertise in biophysical chemistry research, focusing on understanding how biomolecules operate on molecular level.
Now as assistant professor the goal of her research is to continue her research projects that are carried out in collaboration with experimentalists. Working together with experimentalists ensures that she is addressing the most important questions that are of interest to the wide scientific community. Vuković’s significant collaborations are with Dr. Elena Conti (Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry) on the functional mechanisms of RNA degradation machine called RNA exosome, Dr. Markita Landry (UC Berkeley) on carbon nanotube-based optical sensors of neurotransmitter molecules, and Yuri Lyubchenko (U Nebraska) on APOBEC proteins, that can provide innate immunity against HIV virus.
Vuković has been very successful in executing her research and communicating it to a wider audience. This year she published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society a publication based on her research in elucidating how RNA exosome protein complex is designed to cleave RNA molecules in cells.
Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, Ph.D., chair and professor department of chemistry states,“Dr. Vuković has brought to our department great chemical computational skills. In 2016, she has published three manuscripts in the top journals in the chemical field. She is currently working on several grant applications. We are so happy to have her in our department.”
She feels her research group is very productive and understands the aims of her research endeavors. She has been fortunate to have an interdisciplinary research group who includes:
Aliasghar Alizadeh-Mojarad, who studied chemical engineering, Parth Chaturvedi, who studied physics, and Dr. Suresh Gorle who has a Ph.D. in chemistry. Vuković is trying to take advantage of their different viewpoints and abilities to study the different systems in detail.
Aliasghar Alizadeh-Mojarad with his chemical engineering background is learning a lot from Vuković and the team. He knows that by participating in her group and working on the simulations daily alongside with her he will be better prepared for his future career goals. He said “I am interested in interdisciplinary research, which has potential applications in other fields, from science to engineering fields. For this reason, I feel that Dr. Vuković’s research group can help me achieve my future career goals.”
DR. LELA VUKOVIC CHEMISTRY