5 scholars awarded Aramont Fund Fellowships

Harvard Crest

Kris Snibbe/Harvard file photo

4 min read

The Office of the Vice Provost for Research recently made awards to five early career science scholars comprising the 2019 cohort of the Aramont Fund for Emerging Science Research fellows.

The research fund is made possible by a generous gift from the Aramont Charitable Foundation and provides critical funding to advance high-risk, high reward science conducted by graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty at Harvard Medical School, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

“We are grateful to the Aramont Charitable Foundation for their understanding of the importance of supporting exceptional scholars at the start of their scientific careers” said Rick McCullough, vice provost for research and professor of materials science and engineering. “This year’s fellows, as well as those awarded last year, are pursuing the most innovative frontiers of their respective disciplines. We are very excited to see this work come to fruition through this fellowship.”

This year’s fellows are:

Jia Liu, assistant professor of bioengineering at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, for his project “Soft nanoelectronics implantation through animal embryo development for whole-brain electro physiology mapping.”

Real-time and high-speed recording of brain-wide cellular activities in behaving animals is important to understand brain functions. Liu intends to use “soft stretchable nanoelectronics” to build a whole-brain-electronics interface to study the developing brain. He believes this radical new technology will have a great impact not only on neuroscience but also on extended/enhanced sensing and cognition.

Elizabeth May, fourth year doctoral student in molecular and cellular biology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, for her project “Molecular mechanisms for establishing neuronal connectivity.”

Neurological disorders such as autism, bipolar disorders, and schizophrenia are conditions that result from processes going awry during the development or maintenance of nervous system circuits. May’s project studies a family of proteins called clustered protocadherins and their role in establishing neuronal connectivity, specifically how they are organized on the cell membrane and how their movements contribute to establishing neuronal connectivity.

Hao Sheng, second year doctoral student in bioengineering at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, for his project “In vivo assembly of conductive polymer with stretchable cuff electrode array as cellspecific intrafascicular bioelectrical interface for peripheral nerves.”

Bioelectronics that enable high-resolution, bidirectional recording and controlling of the peripheral nervous system (PNS) are important for neuroscience, human-machine interfaces, and prosthetics. Sheng’s project proposes a novel method to address the challenge of building interfaces capable of addressing each type of cell within the PNS precisely. He aims to design and demonstrate a self-assembly of conductive polymer electrodes in a biocompatible manner, which could further function as bioelectronic interfaces to specific types of nerves within the PNS at single-cell resolution.

Jiunn Song, fourth year doctoral student in genetics and complex diseases at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, for his project “Protein transport to lipid droplets and implications in lipid storage and metabolic diseases.”

Diseases of excess fat accumulation such as obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are an enormous public health problem that affects over 100 million people in the United States. Despite the importance of intracellular enzyme transport in fat storage and metabolic diseases, little is known how the transport occurs. The overarching goal of Song’s research is to define this mechanism and to investigate its role in metabolic diseases.

Lynn Yap, sixth year Ph.D. student in neuroscience at Harvard Medical School, for her project “Activity-regulated neuropeptides in the control of inhibitory synaptic plasticity in the brain.”

Neurons are continuously responding to signals from an organism’s internal and external environments. Activation of a transcriptional program in each neuron ensures that these signals are properly converted into long-lasting changes in neuronal structure and function. Defects in this process underlie a host of neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric pathologies, including schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, and epilepsy. Yap proposes to combine genomics and electrophysiological approaches to uncover the function of secreted molecules in a specific type of neuronal transmission.