Bulletin Updates

Allegheny College Professor and Students to Explore Whether Alternative Form of Life Can Be Created

Allegheny College has received a two-year, $100,000 grant to help train Allegheny students in laboratory research that will explore whether a minimal form of life can be created beyond the confines of DNA, the central building block for all life on Earth.

Funding for the research project, titled “Toward Creating Alien Life: A Genetic Self-Replicating System Using Chalcogen Bonds,” was provided by the Charles E. Kaufman Foundation of The Pittsburgh Foundation. The grant will help pay for salaries, equipment and supplies, and conference travel starting in the summer of 2021. Associate Professor of Chemistry Mark Ams is the principal investigator for the project.

Allegheny Associate Professor of Chemistry Mark Ams.
Allegheny Associate Professor of Chemistry Mark Ams

While the project’s title sounds rather unconventional, the project has serious scientific goals.

“Alien life sounds pretty exotic and dramatic,” said Ams. “I place high emphasis on the word ‘toward,’ though, that comes before alien life in the title of the proposal. The main ‘product’ will be the high-quality laboratory training of undergraduate students in chemistry research at Allegheny, in addition to the experiences they will gain by interacting at professional conferences. This will happen throughout the summer months and academic year as students join the lab and start their projects.”

All of the project’s experiments will be conducted by Allegheny students under the close mentorship of Ams. In terms of a final scientific product, Ams said that the goal is to publish the results. The grant covers two years, which will be spent primarily on conducting laboratory experiments. “If the research goes smoothly, a publication will follow,” he said.

At the heart of this project is the fundamental question of whether life can exist without DNA — “the only blueprint for life humans know,” Ams explained. “However, the invention of an alternative chemical template to DNA, one that is radically different and not based on biotic building blocks (i.e., exobiotic), would represent a seismic shift of our own understanding of DNA’s uniqueness and origins, as well as open the door for potentially new advances in biotechnology.”

The research outline proposes an alternative chemical architecture to DNA, using chalcogen atoms as part of a new chemical template. The goal is to determine whether the proposed template can carry out the two basic functions of self-replication as well as carry a genetic code, a combination that is unprecedented in current exobiotic designs. Unlike DNA, the proposed minimal design does not require help from enzymes to operate, and thus is engineered to function in the early stages of its evolutionary development.

To achieve the research goal, Ams and the student researchers plan to demonstrate the “proof-of-concept” that the chalcogen template can undergo autocatalytic self-replication. Thus, the “big picture” of this proposal is to stimulate open-ended evolution at the molecular level, moving researchers a step closer to realizing a synthetic cell of alien origins.

“As a long-term consequence, that would be an exciting breakthrough and could have many implications for our fundamental understanding of the origins of life on Earth,” said Ams, who has been a professor at Allegheny since 2009. “On the technological advancement side, there may also be many benefits to having an alternative life form available to humankind. Its success at mimicking DNA’s core roles of replication and information storage, yet without enzymatic help, has direct implications for molecular computing and sensor technologies, as well as expanding our conception of life beyond DNA or even biotic chemicals.”

He added that other long-term benefits include a potential new source of natural products, therapeutics and synthetic reagents.

“The goal is to find a pathway toward life that uses new chemicals in solution, much like our biology works, but without anything DNA- or even biotic-based. The eventual creation of alien life that is only cellular in size or intelligence is a monumental achievement. It does not need to be intelligent or high functioning in order to demonstrate the fundamental proof-of-principle that life may be possible without DNA,” Ams said.

As an interesting aside, Ams notes that several current space initiatives have been inspirations for this project. “For instance, NASA has made groundbreaking discoveries in recent years on the moons Europa (Jupiter), Enceladus and Titan (Saturn), showing that they contain complex carbon molecules as well as liquid oceans of water or methane in which to dissolve them,” he said.

Ams also points to the 2024 Europa Clipper mission, a $4.25 billion NASA project that will send a spacecraft to orbit Europa for the primary purpose of determining its viability for harboring life, whether DNA-based or otherwise. “And collaborations with companies such as SpaceX are making human space travel much more feasible, as seen by the exciting rocket launches and landings this year,” he said.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Recent Allegheny College Graduate Receives Prestigious Teaching Fellowship

Joseph P. Hayes, a 2020 Allegheny College graduate from Jamestown, New York, has received a $32,000 Pennsylvania Teaching Fellowship from the WW Foundation to fund his master’s degree studies at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, where he also will teach in high-need schools.

“I’m really looking forward to getting into the classroom and building relationships with my students as well as all of the faculty I will be working with at Duquesne,” said Hayes, who was a chemistry major and education studies minor at Allegheny.

Joseph P. Hayes, a 2020 Allegheny College graduate.
Joseph P. Hayes, a 2020 Allegheny College graduate.

The highly competitive WW Foundation program recruits recent graduates and career changers with strong backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math — the STEM fields — and prepares them specifically to teach in high-need secondary schools. It is the second year of the program, and this year 28 individuals were awarded Pennsylvania Teaching Fellowships. Each Fellow receives a grant to complete a specially designed master’s degree program based on a yearlong classroom experience. In return, Fellows commit to teach for three years in high-need Pennsylvania schools. Throughout the three-year commitment as a teacher of record at a public school, Fellows receive ongoing support and mentoring.

“We are thrilled that Joe Hayes has been named a WW Foundation Teaching Fellow,” said Susan Slote, assistant professor of English and director of education studies at Allegheny. “The Foundation has long sought to identify and support excellence in teaching, particularly in rural and urban schools that have traditionally struggled to attract and retain highly qualified teachers. While Joe felt a call to becoming a high-school chemistry teacher ever since he first arrived at Allegheny, he increasingly turned his focus to understanding educational inequities in our public schools, and to serving where his teaching will be most needed.”

“The relationships I had at Allegheny are hands down the most valuable part of my college experience,” said Hayes, who played football for the Gators for four years as a wide receiver. “The relationships I built with my professors at Allegheny helped support me academically and even helped me look forward to my future. I would not have even known about the fellowship if my professors hadn’t reached out to me and suggested that I look into it.”

Hayes thanked Professor Slote; Director of Fellowship Advising Patrick Jackson; Elizabeth Guldan, his academic advisor and assistant professor of chemistry; and Autumn Parker, a career advisor in the Allegheny Gateway, for helping him prepare for his recruitment into the fellowship. “The support I had from Allegheny staff throughout the entire process was huge,” he said.

Hayes has previous classroom experience, he said, having worked as a teacher’s aide in a special education classroom in his hometown during the summers. Also, the ability to study and participate in athletics inspired Hayes during his four years at the College, he said. “The opportunity to play football while receiving a great education at the same time was critical for me,” Hayes said. “At Allegheny you are actually able to be both a student and an athlete, which is very important.”

The WW Teaching Fellowship connects STEM experts with the students who need them the most, WW Foundation President Rajiv Vinnakota said. “Not only will the program prepare each Fellow to be an excellent educator, it will also give them the practice, support, and network of peers needed to succeed throughout their careers in the classroom,” he said. “And for our university partners, the Fellowship supports their continued efforts to recruit, prepare, and mentor STEM teachers in the high-need schools that need them most.”

The WW Teaching Fellowship launched in Pennsylvania in 2018. All three participating universities — Duquesne, West Chester and the University of Pennsylvania — received $400,000 matching grants to develop their teacher-preparation programs based on standards set by the WW Foundation. Over the program’s three years, the participating Pennsylvania universities will enroll 108 Fellows.

The Pennsylvania program is supported by the William Penn Foundation, Highmark, AT&T, the Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union, M&T Bank, the Weiss Family Foundation, Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education Foundation, and several other major individual donors. Given the state’s shortage of secondary-level STEM teachers, the foundation is looking for additional partners and funders to expand the program.

Founded in 1945, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation identifies and develops the nation’s best students to meet the most critical challenges. The Foundation supports its Fellows as the next generation of leaders shaping American society. In June 2020, the Foundation’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to rename the organization and to remove Woodrow Wilson from its name; a new name will be announced in the fall of 2020.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Allegheny Graduate Greg Merz Helps Track Down Coronavirus Therapies

Dr. Greg Merz is hot on the trail of a killer. He spends most of his workday watching proteins interact with one another, usually eavesdropping on this give-and-take on his computer screen with the help of a cryo-electron microscope.

Merz, a 2010 Allegheny College graduate, conducts his observations and research at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), and the killer he’s trying to put under wraps is the novel coronavirus.

Dr. Greg Merz, a 2010 Allegheny graduate, conducts coronavirus research at the University of California at San Francisco.
Dr. Greg Merz, a 2010 Allegheny graduate, conducts coronavirus research at the University of California at San Francisco.

Merz originally headed west after completing his Ph.D. at Cornell University. He wanted to get involved in research to develop therapies for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. That was until this past March when he was called in to help develop medicines to curtail COVID-19. He is now a member of the Quantitative Biosciences Institute Coronavirus Research Group, which is a task force led by more than 20 faculty members and their research groups at UCSF. It includes experts in virology, cell biology, structural biology, computational biology and drug discovery.

“As a whole, we are focused on finding therapeutics for COVID-19, specifically by disrupting the replication cycle of the virus,” says Merz.

A virus replicates by forcing its genetic material into a host (human) cell, which is followed by the synthesis of viral proteins, Merz explains. Viral proteins interact with human proteins, and these interactions allow the virus to hijack host cells, which in turn allows the virus to replicate and spread. So far, the research group has mapped over 300 of these viral/human protein interactions.

“One main goal of the group is to design and develop compounds which disrupt key viral-host protein interactions, thereby prohibiting the virus from replicating and eliminating COVID from the body,” says Merz, who was a double major in chemistry and economics at Allegheny.

The group’s work was featured in an April 30 article in the San Francisco Chronicle that focused on the team’s valuable discoveries related to COVID-19 therapies.

“My specific research is in the Structural Biology Consortium or the structural biology subgroup. Our aim is two-fold: First, we want to understand in detail the structures of the viral and human proteins and how they interact at the atomic level — that is, which parts of each protein are interacting, and how are the individual atoms arranged in these interactions,” Merz explains. “Once we understand how these proteins interact structurally, we can design potential drugs to break those interactions and thus disrupt the life cycle of the virus. The second aim is to structurally characterize already developed potential drugs, in order to understand how they bind to their targets. This information is very useful for those designing and optimizing therapeutics, and can lead to greatly increased potency for already promising drug candidates.”

Merz is a member of one of the teams expressing proteins (protein expression refers to the way in which proteins are synthesized, modified and regulated in living organisms), and he also is on a group that oversees the collection and data processing for cryo-electron microscopy. “So I’m able to contribute at the beginning of the process and then again at the end,” he says.

Says Merz, who is originally from Rochester, New York: “On a very basic level, I wouldn’t be working on COVID research today if it wasn’t for my experiences at Allegheny. I developed my passion for lab work while doing summer research and then my comp under Dr. Marty Serra, and this set me on my way toward graduate school and ultimately my current post-doctoral position. One of the many insights that Dr. Serra taught me during my time in his lab was that it’s important to be able to communicate to a wide range of audiences. He was always adamant that we not only present to scientific audiences, but to the general public as well, and I really think this has served me well during the pandemic. (Watch Merz talk about how his Allegheny education has aided in his research by clicking here.)

“On a very basic level, I wouldn’t be working on COVID research today if it wasn’t for my experiences at Allegheny,
“On a very basic level, I wouldn’t be working on COVID research today if it wasn’t for my experiences at Allegheny,” says Greg Merz.

“Being a double major also helped me to understand the non-medical factors surrounding the pandemic,” says Merz. “People aren’t only suffering because they are sick or know someone who is sick. Many have lost their jobs or are fearful about losing their job, are worried about paying the rent or providing for their families. Having a background in economics gives me a good platform to analyze the non-medical impacts COVID has had on our world, and analyze the balancing act of social distancing and keeping things shut down against getting folks back to work and the economy up and running again.”

Merz says that on most days he goes to work at the UCSF laboratory. “Obviously going to work is less safe than working remotely, but with lab work this is not an option,” he says.

Each person has to complete a daily health screen before coming to work on the UCSF campus, he says. “For transportation to work, we are not allowed to take any form of transportation where we might come into close contact with people outside of our own homes, such as public transportation, rideshare or carpooling. I have been biking to work, others drive themselves, and those who live close by walk,” says Merz. “I also think that maintaining mental health during this time is just as important as maintaining physical health, so I’ve been mindful of that as well. I’ve really been focusing on trying to get enough sleep and exercising on the days when I’m not biking to work.”

Merz says perhaps his toughest challenge is being able to “shut off my brain,” to stop focusing on work. “There is so much exciting research to be done, so many interesting ideas to follow up on, that you really want to be involved in all of it, when that’s not really possible. And there are so many talented scientists, from areas that I don’t know too much about, who push me by asking questions about my areas of expertise, or challenge me to learn new concepts, that I feel that I need to do a lot of learning to keep up. Not that I need any more of a push to work, but every day I’m trying to keep up with current events, and it’s been dominated by COVID coverage.”

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Max E. and Mary Roha Found the Right Chemistry for Successful Lives

Max E. Roha will tell you that, throughout his career, critical thinking played a major role in his success as a research chemist. Look beyond the obvious and consider in detail the underlying assumptions of what is considered to be true, the 1944 Allegheny College graduate advises today’s students.

“Pursue goals which are important to solve, even when others may ‘know’ that there is no solution,” Roha says. “Bring all of your knowledge, from college, from scientific literature, from life, and from your associates, to bear to solve your problems.”

Max Roha, a 1944 Allegheny graduate, has established a scholarship for chemistry students at the College.
Max Roha, a 1944 Allegheny graduate, has established a scholarship for chemistry students at the College.

While attending Allegheny, Roha received several scholarships that encouraged him in the study of chemistry. And as fate would have it, those scholarships also led Roha to meet the love of his life, the late Mary Chapman, in the College’s chemistry labs. They would form a lifelong partnership that brought happiness and success to them both.

As a way of paying it forward, Roha has established the Max E. Roha and Mary Chapman Roha, Class of 1944, Chemistry Scholarship to inspire new generations of chemists at Allegheny College. The scholarship provides support for rising juniors and seniors majoring in chemistry.

“I enjoy supporting worthwhile causes and helping solve worthwhile problems,” Roha says of his decision to fund the scholarship. “I hope the Roha Scholarship will reaffirm students’ pursuit of chemistry, in research, in education, or in some other area that needs creative chemical input.”

He urges students especially to question what they are told, especially in the field of chemistry. “It’s important to know that other people draw chemical conclusions based on things that are not so. Be sure you are not misled by these erroneous conclusions,” says Roha, who lives in retirement in suburban Cleveland.

In 1940, Roha was considering going away to school, but his parents needed help on their dairy farm in Meadville, so he chose to stay and enroll at Allegheny. Luckily for him, there was another first-year student, Mary Chapman from Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, who had to take a course in chemistry to fulfill her science requirement. Mary eventually became a chemistry major as well, partly to prove she could hold her own with the men.

Mary took a summer job at H.J. Heinz in Pittsburgh in their lab to monitor the mold content in ketchup. But Heinz would hire her only if she agreed to stay on until the tomato crop was finished. She worried about missing classes and finding a lab partner at Allegheny, but the late Professor Herbert Rhinesmith had a plan and matched Max and Mary. It was instant chemistry, as they say. Max and Mary began dating and remained lab partners throughout their Allegheny years and beyond. They prepared for advanced study in chemistry at Harvard after graduating from Allegheny in 1944.

However, with World War II raging, Max joined the Navy and headed to the Pacific, where his ship supported the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. After Max returned stateside, they were married. Both then enrolled at Harvard, where Max pursued his doctoral studies in organic chemistry and Mary continued to work on a sponsored graduate-level chemistry project until the birth of the first of their three children.

After receiving his Ph.D. in 1949, Max started work at BF Goodrich as a research chemist in Brecksville, Ohio. He stayed with Goodrich his entire career with increasingly responsible roles involving innovative processes, mostly in Ohio but including four years in the Netherlands as a scientific liaison to European universities and chemical companies. Mary taught chemistry at the American High School in The Hague and at Hathaway Brown School for Girls in Shaker Heights, tutored chemistry at a community college in the Cleveland area, and was involved with science education until her death in 2001.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Lord Lecture: Richard Eisenberg

Monday, September 23 at 7:30pm

Ford Memorial Chapel

Distinguished 2019 Lord Lecturer is Richard Eisenberg from the University of Rochester. His topic is: “A Promise and Challenge for a Carbon-free Energy Future: Artificial Photosynthesis and Solar Generation of Hydrogen.”

Now in its 25th year, the Lord Lecture at Allegheny College is made possible by a grant from the Thomas Lord Charitable Trust. The annual event brings to northwestern Pennsylvania the nation’s most distinguished chemists and practitioners of related disciplines for residencies of up to one week.

The Lord lecturer’s principal public address is intended to engage many segments of the greater Erie community, from the basic and higher education sectors to the corporate and industrial spheres. In addition, the lecturer spends considerable time with Allegheny students and faculty members, formally and informally, sharing special expertise and perspective. As a consequence, undergraduates at Allegheny have gained broad exposure to emerging fields of inquiry.

The Lord Lecture Series

Allegheny Welcomes New Faculty

From a native of Italy who speaks five languages to a motocross enthusiast, Allegheny’s new faculty members bring many unique backgrounds and qualities to the campus classrooms in the fall of 2019. Let’s meet each of them briefly:

Kathryn BenderKathryn Bender
Assistant Professor of Economics

Kathryn Bender joins the Economics Department this fall and is helping students discover the economics of natural resources. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Centre College and her master’s and doctorate from the Ohio State University.

“I’m excited to start at Allegheny this fall,” says Bender. “I’m involved in several projects on consumer food-waste behavior and hope to find new avenues to explore at Allegheny around this topic.”

Her dissertation, “Date Labels and Food Waste: A study of the effect of label characteristics on food waste in the United States,” studies the confluence of environmental science, economics, and marketing in the food distribution ecosystem in the United States. She is also interested in exploring the effect of feminine hygiene programs in developing countries on the environment along with women’s empowerment, health, and education.

In her free time, Bender enjoys playing soccer, riding horses, and hanging out with her two dogs, Huck and Nala.

Bradley Burroughs '02Bradley Burroughs ’02
Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies

After graduating from Allegheny in 2002, Bradley Burroughs earned his master’s degree from Duke University Divinity School and his Ph.D. from Emory University. His first teaching job was at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. After resigning that position to attend to family needs, he taught for four years at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. “But I am thrilled to be back in Meadville and reconnecting to the Allegheny community,” he says.

His academic interests span a variety of theological and ethical thought. His most recent work has been in two areas. The first is Christian political ethics, which led to his first book, Christianity, Politics, and the Predicament of Evil: A Constructive Theological Ethic of Soulcraft and Statecraft. It has also led to other published pieces that assess practices of contemporary warfare. The second area of his recent work has been in how Christian thinkers have understood the concept of evil, which is the subject of his next book project.

Burroughs enjoys mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, and being outdoors generally, “or at least as much as I can do now with two kids in tow. Although not entirely unusual, one of my more surprising talents is juggling, which I learned from a hallmate in Baldwin during my first year at Allegheny.”

He also is proud that he was the first in his family to graduate from college.

Moira FlanaganMoira Flanagan
Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Moira Flanagan is a lifelong morris dancer, a form of traditional English folk/pub dancing. She is also the newest chemistry professor at Allegheny.

She has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City and a Ph.D. in biophysical sciences from the University of Chicago. Most recently, she was a postdoctoral research fellow in the Chemistry Department at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Currently, her research combines biochemistry and physical chemistry techniques to understand the physical and photoprotective properties of heterogeneous biological pigments like melanin.

“My interest in the chemistry of biological systems also shapes how I teach,” Flanagan says. “I get excited to bring biological contexts into other fields of chemistry (as often as I can), but also emphasize the physical chemistry concepts (like entropy) in biochemistry topics.

“My teaching is based on the idea that everyone can learn science if they want to and I am here to help. I reject the idea that some people ‘get’ science and math and some people don’t,” Flanagan says. “One doesn’t need to be an expert in chemistry to critically analyze and problem-solve in a new context.”

Besides her affinity for chemistry, teaching and morris dancing, Flanagan enjoys cooking, especially fish and fresh pasta. “I also won a coloring contest in my local paper when I was 4, and actually still consider myself an amateur artist in drawing and cartooning.

Jessica Harris
Visiting Assistant Professor of History

Jessica Harris received her bachelor’s in history, master’s in Afro-American Studies, master’s in history, and Ph.D. in history, all from UCLA. She also held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto in the Department of Italian Studies. She taught at Santa Monica College as well as at the University of Toronto during her fellowship.

Her research focus is on the history of the 20th century United States and the World, Modern Italy, and Black Europe, “and I am particularly interested in gender and race, their intersection with material culture, and the subsequent effect on group identities,” Harris says.

Since she studies Italian culture, “I like to watch Italian films and listen to Italian pop music,” says Harris.

Her five minutes of fame occurred as a teenager, Harris says, “when my club soccer team and I appeared on an episode of Bette Midler’s sitcom ‘Bette’.”

Mahita KadmielMahita Kadmiel
Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology

Mahita Kadmiel has spent most of her life learning about human diseases, and she enjoys teaching students about how the human body works — or fails to work — in the event of a disease.

Kadmiel taught for two years as a visiting assistant professor at Colgate University. She is trained in biomedical sciences, completing postdoctoral training in molecular endocrinology at the National Institutes of Health. In addition, she holds a Ph.D. in cell and molecular physiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a master’s degree in biology from Michigan Technological University, and a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and biochemistry and medical lab technology from Andhra University in India.

“My academic interest has always been in improving our understanding of the molecular basis of human diseases,” Kadmiel says. “Too little or too much of stress hormones (glucocorticoids) and changes in sex hormone levels (estrogen and testosterone) have been linked to vision problems.”

She is investigating the function of these hormones in the cornea and retina using rodent models and cells derived from human eyes. Kadmiel also is interested in studying the role of hormone-mimicking chemicals (more commonly called endocrine-disrupting chemicals) on ocular cells and tissues and how they might influence eye health.

Kadmiel incorporates her interest in various forms of art not only in the biology courses that she teaches, but also in her time outside the classroom and laboratory.

“I enjoy working on art projects and DIY projects along with my two kids,” she says. “This is my trick to get mom-time and hobby time in one shot!”

Douglas LumanDouglas Luman
Assistant Professor of Computer Science

Douglas Luman joins the Computer Science Department from a background in creative writing and composition. He earned a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts from Bradley University and his MFA is from George Mason University, where he studied poetry and was the Heritage Student Fellow in 2017. He taught in the University Writing Program at George Washington University.

“So, suffice to say, I am an interesting fit in computer science. The way I usually explain it is that all of my work is computational, even though it is done in a humanities-leaning context,” he says.

His MFA thesis, “Prodigy House,” was a computational investigation of an early literary algorithm (“Travesty”). His other work is all computationally based. “I essentially ‘write’ aided by software that I write and others (like Google Cloud tools — Translate, Speech to Text) that I use in conjunction with writing. During graduate school, I developed a computational constraint platform that I continue to run at www.appliedpoetics.org.

“One might say that my work is less from an academic background and more out of a discipline or practice,” Luman says.

Luman is also interested in approaches to computational pedagogy: that is, what do the humanities, writ-large, have to say about teaching computer science? “Is there some way that we can use humanities-based concepts/data to teach students what it means to be responsible for their code? I wonder if there’s some distinction here to remind both students and ourselves of the perennial lesson that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should,” he says.

He and his partner, the poet Jenni B. Baker, also run a book arts press called Container, where they produce other artists’ work in three-dimensional, novel forms, “which is to say as a gem tray of origami paper gems, etched glass bottles, or as cross-stitch kits, for example,” Luman says.

Rebecca OliverRebecca Oliver
Assistant Professor of Political Science

Rebecca Oliver received her bachelor’s degree from the Université de Montréal and her Ph.D. from Northwestern University. She arrives at Allegheny after teaching most recently at Murray State University in Kentucky and, prior to that, the University of Southern California.

Oliver’s research examines the politics of inequality with respect to labor markets and social policy in Europe. Substantive topics of her work include labor union strategies, collective bargaining institutions, public opinion, childcare policy and territorial inequalities in social policy.

She is currently completing revisions for her book, “Negotiating Differences: The Politics of Egalitarian Bargaining Institutions.” The book examines the following question: Why, in the face of common growing pressures toward greater liberalization and pay dispersion, are egalitarian bargaining institutions sustained or reconfigured in some instances and bluntly dismantled in others? Employing the cases of Italy and Sweden, the book studies developments in egalitarian collective bargaining institutions.

Oliver recently adopted a puppy named Griffin. “My interests of hiking, canoe camping, exploring and getting lost in new cities/towns, making cupcakes, skiing, playing tennis, attending live jazz concerts and visiting art galleries are currently taking a back seat to dog training,” she says.

Kelly PearceKelly Pearce
Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Sustainability and Biology

Kelly Pearce is a graduate of Juniata College, where she majored in wildlife conservation and minored in education. She received her master’s degree in applied ecology and conservation biology from Frostburg State University, and earned her Ph.D. in ecology from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Appalachian Laboratory.

She is a wildlife ecologist and conservationist with research interests at the intersection of ecological and social science, including the field of human dimensions of wildlife conservation. “I use quantitative and qualitative approaches to study how environmental, social, and policy factors influence wildlife populations and species distributions. I also strive to better understand approaches that mitigate conflict and encourage coexistence between people and wildlife,” she says. Pearce also serves on the Outreach and Conflict Resolution Task Force as a member of the IUCN Otter Specialist Group.

“My research has taken me to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, where I evaluated the ability of the river otter to serve as an aquatic flagship species for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” she says. “I have also been involved in a variety of wildlife ecology projects focused in western Maryland and West Virginia, including a study on eastern spotted skunks, Allegheny woodrats, and a variety of bat species.”

Pearce enjoys live music and spends much of her free time watching and traveling for shows, she says. Pearce also enjoys motorcycle journeys. “I rode my first motorcycle when I was 3 right into the back of the garage. I still love to ride on my parents’ farm in central Pennsylvania, and this past summer I earned three first-place finishes in a vintage cross-country motorcycle race series.”

Gaia RancatiGaia Rancati
Assistant Professor of Marketing and Neuromarketing in Economics

Gaia Rancati joins the Economics Department and will teach Principles of Marketing and Business and Managerial Economics during the fall semester.

Rancati is an experienced trainer and coach in both sales and customer experience specializing in retail, sales, team building, and management. She earned her Ph.D. in marketing and neuroeconomics as well as a bachelor’s degree in marketing from IULM University, and a master’s of leadership and management from Il Sole 24ORE Business School in Milan, Italy. She is a sought-after researcher and speaker in the field of neuromarketing where she applies the science of neuroeconomics for improving customer experience in the retail field with a focus on service encounters, sales transformation and artificial intelligence.

Lauren RudolphLauren Rudolph
Assistant Professor of Biology

Lauren Rudolph joins the Biology Department with undergraduate and graduate degrees as double-majors in neuroscience and psychology. She attended Washington and Lee University for her undergraduate education and Indiana University for her Ph.D. She completed her postdoctoral studies at the University of California, Los Angeles in neurobiology and neuroendocrinology, and then taught neuroscience as a visiting professor at Pomona College.

Rudolph’s research is generally focused on steroid hormones and how they act to drive certain behaviors, such as mammalian reproduction. Her wider interests include neuroendocrinology, hormones, reproduction, sex differences, and physiology.

“I am continually impressed with the ever-expanding range of steroid hormone effects,” says Rudolph, “and how hormones can alter behaviors. I study how hormones act in ‘non-traditional’ ways to change the shape and function of cells, tissues, and organisms.”

When traveling on planes, Rudolph says she tends to get into interesting conversations because she is often working on presentations about reproduction. She sees those discussions as part of her “unofficial outreach”: sharing her research with other people.

During her time at Washington and Lee University, Rudolph played volleyball on a team which won conference champions each year, earning a place in the NCAA tournament during her four years as an undergraduate. Besides volleyball, Rudolph also enjoys the outdoors, cheese, sarcasm, making up forced acronyms, animal fun facts, and March Madness.

“I am also skilled at removing the gonads of rodents (for research!),” she adds.

Rosita ScerboRosita Scerbo
Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish

Rosita Scerbo joins the Department of Modern and Classical Languages as a Spanish instructor. Her research interests include Latin American and Chicanx visual autobiography. This includes photography, cinema, paintings, murals, and digital art. She is also a specialist in Digital Humanities and Hispanic digital pedagogy tools.

Scerbo was born in Italy but has spent most of her life studying and working abroad. “I’m a heritage speaker of Spanish, as I learned Spanish in my community as a child before I dedicated my life to the Hispanic language and culture academically in school and in college.”

She taught Spanish and Italian language, literature, and culture at West Virginia University during her pursuit of a master’s degree and at Arizona State University while earning her doctorate. She also has taught Spanish in Sevilla, Spain, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, during study abroad and Spanish immersion programs. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Calabria in Italy.

“I speak five languages,” says Scerbo. “I went to dance school for many years, and I’m particularly passionate about Latin dances, including salsa, bachata, and merengue. My two daughters’ names — one is human and one is canine — are Sol and Luna, that is Spanish for sun and moon.”

Sarah StangerSarah Stanger
Assistant Professor of Psychology

Sarah Stanger joins Allegheny’s Psychology Department and also plans to provide assessment and treatment services to children and families in Meadville as she works toward clinical licensure. Stanger attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She says her time there “ignited my passion for contributing to a learning community like Allegheny.” Stanger then traveled cross-country to attend the University of Vermont, where she taught undergraduate courses and earned a joint Ph.D. in clinical and developmental psychology.

Most recently, Stanger was in Portland, Oregon, completing her predoctoral clinical internship. While there, she provided assessment, consultation, and treatment services for children and families in a hospital-based setting.

Stanger hopes to observe interactions between families and children in a laboratory setting while at Allegheny. “I am interested in understanding the development of adaptive stress responses — both physiological and behavioral — in children and adolescents,” says Stanger. “This includes examining how parenting and other contextual factors, such as family socioeconomic status, contribute to this development.”

Outside of her professional life, Stanger has competed in horseback riding, enjoys skiing and snowboarding, and has a love for college sports and theater. She anticipates learning to cross-country ski while in Meadville, as well as attending her students’ productions and sporting events.

Asmus TrautschAsmus Trautsch
Writer in Residence

Asmus Trautsch studied philosophy as a major and German literature (modern and medieval) as a minor at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, and at the University College London in Great Britain. In addition, he studied composition/music theory at the University of the Arts in Berlin. He earned his Ph.D. in philosophy at Humboldt University, spending a term as a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York City. He has taught philosophy at the University of Dresden and has been a guest lecturer at other universities.

His research interests include contemporary poetry, philosophy of tragedy, philosophy of literature, philosophy of music, ancient Greek philosophy, aesthetics, and ethics.

“My interests lie in the arts, including fine arts, film and dance and in the ways in which the sciences and the arts work together for enabling understanding and new knowledge,” says Trautsch. “Also I’m passionately interested in how philosophy and literature can contribute to educating society and improving politics.”

Trautsch likes to engage in “entertaining dialogues with lots of curious questions,” bake cakes, conduct orchestras and play various musical instruments. He shares a fun fact from his past: “I once won second prize in a competition called ‘Dance Your Ph.D.’ in Dresden.”

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

The College Prize of the Society for Analytical Chemistry

The winner of this year’s prize is MATTHEW HUTCHINSON ’19.

It isn’t all beakers, flasks, and test tubes for chemistry major Matthew Hutchinson. Although Matt spent much of his time at Allegheny in the lab, he also minored in Global Health Studies and found time to volunteer at the local soup kitchen in Meadville and work alongside fellow project assistants at Creek Connections. As Matt looks beyond Allegheny, he plans to attend grad school in the fall. Additional clubs and activities he was involved with include Beta Chi chemistry honor society and Chemii.

Quote: My success and fascination with chemistry is due in no small part to the excellent mentorship I have received while at Allegheny. Department faculty are not only extremely knowledgeable in their field but dedicated to sharing their knowledge through teaching.

Best wishes to Matt in all his future endeavors!

ACS Conference in Orlando, Florida

Seven of Allegheny’s chemistry and biochemistry students presented their research at the American Chemical Society annual conference in Orlando, FL on March 30-April 2. Congratulations to all of you! The gator community is so proud!

Alexandra Metzger ’19

Kathryn Sutter ’20

Wenzhou Yang ’20 and Tiffany Choi ’19 present their research on the reaction of organofluoroborates with benzyne in tandem with coupling chemistry.

Katelyn Perroz ’20, one of the chemistry department’s Lord Fellows, presents her research on Rok1p, a protein that is upregulated in many of the most common forms of cancer.

Katie Perroz, Amanda DiLoreto ’20 and Kate Sutter before their poster symposium. They presented alongside many undergraduate and graduate students as well as many professors.

Allegheny Basketball Faculty Appreciation Night

Chemistry professors were honored at the Basketball Faculty Appreciation Night.

Annual Lord Lecture to Discuss “New Sensors Empowered by Molecular Electronics”

Timothy Swager, Ph.D.
Timothy M. Swager, Ph.D.

Timothy M. Swager, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Chemistry and director of the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will present the annual Lord Lecture at Allegheny College on Thursday, Nov. 1, at 7:30 p.m. in Ford Memorial Chapel. The lecture, titled “New Sensors Empowered by Molecular Electronics,” is free and open to the public.

Swager graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Montana State University. From there, he received his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology, graduating in 1988. Following a postdoctoral appointment at MIT, Swager was a part of the chemistry faculty at the University of Pennsylvania from 1990 to 1996. After this, he returned to MIT and served as the head of chemistry from 2005 to 2010. Swager has published over 400 peer-reviewed papers and has more than 80 issued/pending patents.

Swager’s research interests are in synthesis and design. He also studies organic-based electronic, sensory, energy harvesting, membrane, high-strength, liquid crystalline, and colloid materials. The liquid crystal designs formulated by Swager demonstrate shape complementarity to generate specific interactions between molecules, and include fundamental mechanisms for increasing liquid crystal order through what is referred to as “free volume.”

The research Swager has done in electronic polymers has demonstrated new conceptual approaches to the construction of sensory materials. The Fido ™ Explosives detectors (FLIR Systems Inc), which have the highest sensitivity among explosives detectors, are based on these methods. The Swager group also investigates radicals for dynamic nuclear polarization, applications of nano-carbon materials, polymer actuators, organic photovoltaic materials, the application of nano-carbon and materials, membranes, and luminescent molecular probes for medical diagnostics.

Swager has also founded four companies: DyNuPol, Iptyx, PolyJoule, and C 2 Sense. He has also served on numerous boards- corporate, and government alike. Swager’s honors include election to the National Academy of Science, election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honorary doctorate from Montana State University, The Pauling Medal, and the Lemelson-MIT Award for Invention and Innovation. Additionally, Swager has earned The Christopher Columbus Foundation Homeland Security Award, and The Carl S. Marvel Creative Polymer Chemistry Award (ACS).

The Lord Lecture has been bringing the nation’s most distinguished chemists and scientists to Allegheny annually since 1991 and is made possible through the support of the Thomas Lord Charitable Trust.

For more information, contact the Allegheny College Department of Chemistry at (814) 332-5363.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research