Dauer Electron Microscopy Lab Provides Rare Opportunities

By Melissa Peerless
Special to UM News

electron microscope lab

UM President Donna E. Shalala and Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely visited the lab to learn how the electron microscope is expanding the horizons of science, and the opportunities available to undergraduates.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 20, 2014) — Although he’s only in his third year of undergraduate studies at the University of Miami, Sumedh Shah, a biology major in the College of Arts and Sciences, is already conducting groundbreaking research on glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer that killed his father.

Shah uses a powerful electron microscope —capable of magnifying objects up to 1.2 million times—to view the cancer cells up close, and see how their structures differ from normal cells.

“The electron microscope allows us to cut a single layer of cells into segments just 60 nanometers thick,” he said. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. Shaw added that the technique requires extreme precision, eye-hand coordination and time.

Shah is honing these skills in the Techniques in Electron Microscopy course, taught by Jeffrey Prince, an associate professor of biology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Prince’s class is one of the most exclusive on campus. More than 40 students applied for just seven spots. Prince personally interviews each student, and acceptance is based upon their grades, courses taken and additional factors.

“This class is a reward for hard-working students,” he said, adding that the electron microscope is worth close to $1 million, and the lab work involves toxic, even explosive, chemicals. “They have to be responsible and willing to put in the time and effort. The intent of this class and laboratory from the beginning has been to provide UM students with a trait that allows them to be heads above all other applicants for a professional position.”

Prince and his students invited UM President Donna E. Shalala and Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely to the lab on November 17, to learn about their research and how the electron microscope is expanding the horizons of science.

Prince said, “This class is not a show and tell; it is hands-on. And for the last 30 years, students have stepped up and done it—with excellence.”

Shah—who serves as Prince’s teaching assistant—is enrolled in the Honors Program in Medicine (HPME), through which he will earn a B.S. in biology from the College of Arts and Sciences and an M.D. from the Miller School of Medicine in seven years.

He noted that all of Florida’s research institutions have electron microscopes on campus, but UM is the only institution that allows undergraduate students to use the equipment. “We are learning a skill that most do not get until graduate school,” he said.

Two more of Prince’s students are also working on innovative collaborative research projects.

Senior Neville Patel is investigating Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, an inherited neurological disorder that affects about 1 in 2,500 people in America. Involving both motor and sensory nerves, CMT causes weakness in the foot and lower leg muscles. Patel examines the affects of genes that cause CMT with the electron microscope. He is applying to medical schools for fall of 2015, and is an author on a paper that has been submitted to the journal Nature Genetics.

Senior Mateuzs Graca has been working with the electron microscope since he was a first-year student. He is studying retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited degenerative eye disease that causes blindness. Researchers at UM’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute identified the gene that causes retinitis pigmentosa in 2011; Graca is examining those cells with the electron microscope, seeking a cure.

Graca is currently interviewing for medical school for fall of 2015. “Just days ago, an interviewer asked about my background as an applicant,” he said. “I told her about this research. The interviewer was very impressed by this experience.”

Other current students are: pre-med sophomore Natalie Flores, who will be taking over Graca’s research when he graduates; junior Elizabeth Guirado, who plans to earn a joint D.M.D./Ph.D. in dentistry; junior Eric Keen, who received honorable mention for a 2014 Goldwater Scholarship; first-year student Kasey Markel, who said that the electron microscopy lab was a major factor in his decision to attend UM and will be helping Shah with his research next semester; junior Katelyn O’Neill, who will also be working on retinitis pigmentosa research; senior Dominika Swieboda, who is planning to pursue a Ph.D. in microbiology; and sophomore Mason Schecter, a third generation ’Cane majoring in biology, physics and chemistry.

“Our work is complementary with what is going on at the medical school,” Keen said. “What is unique is that we can look at cells directly. This is a piece of the puzzle that is very relevant today.”

He is interested in virology, and will be using the electron microscope for his ongoing research on viruses that attack bacteria. “Once you show that you are able to use the technology effectively and safely, Professor Prince gives you the freedom to pursue research that is meaningful to you,” he said.

Shalala congratulated the students on their work, adding, “I think you are all privileged to be able to participate in such a class.”

Shah concurred. “This class has made my time at UM worth it,” he said.

Electron microscopes are costly to procure, and expensive to maintain. The annual service contract for the scopes and other gear in the Dauer Lab is $60,000. This ensures that a technician will arrive within one to two days when problems occur with the delicate apparatus.

The grant funding the Dauer Lab service contract ends in March 2015, and the Department of Biology is unable to absorb the maintenance costs if other resources cannot be identified. The student research projects—and the Dauer Electron Microscopy Lab itself—risk closure. Prince said that 70 percent of the nation’s electron microscopes have been shut down due to lack of funding for service contracts.

“The electron microscope must be consistently available for effective teaching and research,” he said. “The initial images produced by the first-year students and the research conducted by the project students are remarkable.”

Melissa Peerless can be reached at 305-284-2485.

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Reach Me Director and Actor Reach Out to Film and Theatre Students

By Barbara Gutierrez
UM News


Actor Danny Aiello, left, and director John Herzfeld shared tricks of their trade with film and theatre students.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 19, 2014)–On campus for the premiere of their newest movie, director John Herzfeld, a UM alumnus, and veteran actor Danny Aiello treated about 50 film and theatre students to a candid master class in the School of Communication’s Studio A, where they shared tricks of their trade and juicy stories on their film careers.

“My advice to first time directors is, ‘If you don’t know something, fake it,”’ Herzfeld told students Thursday afternoon, hours before Reach Me, which stars Aiello, Sylvester Stallone, and a host of other stars, premiered at the BankUnited Center Fieldhouse. “Eventually you will learn how to do it. Never let them see you sweat.”

Director of more than a dozen films, Herzfeld studied at UM where he roomed with Stallone. Even as a student, he said he knew all he wanted to do was make movies. Since then, he has collaborated with Aiello in four films, including 2 Days in the Valley, which he and Aiello recommended to the students as a primer for working in Los Angeles.

Assistant Professor Thomas Musca moderated the lively, casual discussion with Aiello and Herzfeld.

Aiello said that he “loved” working with Herzfeld because the director allows actors a great deal of freedom. “You want your director to be a minimalist,” Aiello said. “A director should be someone who gives you direction, but never tells you how to do a line. It’s got to be your way of doing the line.”

A respected film and stage actor with close to 80 films under his belt, Aiello lauded Herzfeld for continuing to roll the camera even when a scene has concluded.

“Often you get the gold after the scene is finished,” he said.

More than 700 alumni and students attended the evening premier of Reach Me, which was moved to the Fieldhouse to accommodate the overflow crowd. The film is about a motivational book, which written by a mysterious man, quickly gains popularity, inspiring a group of people, including a journalist, his editor, a former inmate, a hip-hop mogul, an actor, and an undercover cop to re-evaluate their lives by confronting their fears.

The film also stars Kyra Sedgwick, Thomas Jane, Kevin Connolly, Nelly, Kelsey Grammer, Tom Berenger, Danny Trejo, and others.

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Faculty and Staff Support the U: Alumna and Staff Member Opens Doors for Students and the Community

Ann Helmers

Ann Helmers

Ann Helmers knows that the University of Miami is a powerful force for changing lives. The director of Career Services and Alumni Relations at the College of Engineering, Helmers is a longtime donor to United Way and has contributed to the UM Annual Fund. “I am very proud of our University and glad to be able to give back,” she says.

Helmers has strong ties to UM, both personally and professionally. She began working at the University in 1981, two years after earning her bachelor’s degree in education. She would go on to earn her M.B.A. in 1990. She also met her husband, Terry, a University alumnus and systems analyst in the Information Technology department, at UM. Nearly three decades later, both of the couple’s children are UM alumni. Dan majored in ecosystem science and policy, graduating in 2011, and Caroline in history, graduating this past spring.

Now in her 20th year with the College of Engineering, Helmers helps students prepare for careers in this growing field. “There is an immense demand for engineering talent,” she says. “This is a great time to be an engineer.”

With the University’s continued progress, it’s also a great time, she says, to advise the college’s student groups and cultivate alumni support. “It is a joy for me to work with so many bright and committed students and alumni,” she says. “They are so attuned to the importance of giving back.”

Through the years, Helmers also has contributed her time and talent to the United Way of Miami-Dade and has been a UM unit campaign coordinator since 1986. She served as a campaign leader for the entire University in 1992-94. “About 50 percent of the working people in South Florida are below the poverty line,” she says. “Not everyone has a job with a steady income and benefits, and United Way agencies provide those individuals and families with the support they need.”

She’s also worked with a number of community outreach programs that inspire impoverished high school students to pursue a college education.

Helmers is doing her part to help advance the University through her professional and philanthropic efforts. As she says, “UM strives to open the doors of higher education for young people and change their lives forever. This mission is definitely worthy of our support.”

Read about other faculty and staff who support the U.


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$2 Million Gift Will Advance Research at UHealth Sports Performance and Wellness Institute

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

A guest at the UHealth Sports Performance and Wellness Institute exposition tries on a pair of high-tech goggles designed for the early and accurate detection of concussions.

A guest at the UHealth Sports Performance and Wellness Institute exposition tries on a pair of high-tech goggles designed for the early and accurate detection of concussions.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 14, 2014) – Call it a preemptive strike—a biomechanical analysis designed to prevent ligament and cartilage tears. That’s the basis of a School of Education and Human Development study conducted on members of the University of Miami women’s and men’s basketball teams that attached electrodes to players’ knees, ankles, and hip flexors, resulting in a 3-D computerized  readout of their movements.

“We looked at certain high-risk movements, and identified those players who would be at greater risk for injury,” explained Christopher Kuenze, assistant professor of kinesiology and sport sciences, who spearheaded the research. With the data, coaches and athletic trainers have integrated what Kuenze called “pre-rehabilitation” techniques into the practice sessions of their players, in effect, ensuring that serious injuries on the court won’t occur. Read the full story

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UM Honors Generations of Veterans During a Tribute to Our Troops

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 11, 2014) — He might not have known it 70 years ago, but Murray Birchansky helped shape world history, fighting as a then-private first class in the 386th Field Artillery Battalion to liberate Northern France.

Decades later, Chris Kuhn would also do his part to make the world safer, serving as a corpsman in the U.S. Navy during Operation Enduring Freedom, the American-led combat operation that is part of the War on Terror.

Birchansky and Kuhn, veterans of two very different wars separated by generations, came together as brothers of a common cause Tuesday when the University of Miami observed Veterans Day during a ceremony that both honored former and current servicemen and women and provided a platform for expressing what service to country means.

“It’s a source of strength and responsibility,” said Kuhn, now a UM student who is president of the University’s Veteran Students Organization. Even though he no longer wears the uniform, he added, he still has a mission to accomplish of ensuring the well-being of those who served.

During UM alumnus Darrin Roach’s 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, he traveled to almost 50 countries. He served on the National Security Council team, staffing the White House Situation Room and sometimes flying aboard Air Force One with President Clinton. The former lieutenant colonel, who now works in the University’s Information Technology department, said being a veteran has made him thankful for many things, chief among them, faith, family, the Air Force, and the University of Miami. Roach also noted the hundreds of veterans, “all with different stories to tell,” who now work at UM.

Every generation of UM President Donna E. Shalala’s family served in the military, and two of her uncles were killed in action during World War II. During UM’s Veterans Day Tribute, she praised alumnus and employee Kenneth B. “JR” Wiggins Jr., an active member of the Florida Army National Guard, who will be deploying next month on an overseas mission.

Karl L. Schultz, rear admiral of the U.S. Coast Guard and director of operations for the U.S. Southern Command, reminded those in attendance that soldiers lost on the battlefield and at sea should not be forgotten. “We must make sure their sacrifices were not in vain,” he said.

America is what it is today—a land of opportunity—because of the “sacrifices and efforts of veterans,” Schultz explained, going on to talk about some of the challenges veterans now face. He explained that nearly 7,000 servicemen and servicewomen have perished in the war on terror, leaving untold numbers of families grieving. Thousands more have returned to the U.S. with visible wounds and post-traumatic stress disorder. The U.S. has an obligation to “heal their wounds and care for their survivors,” said Schultz, who also called for more employment opportunities for vets.

Birchansky, who earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees at UM, was one of three veterans honored by the Consulate General of France in Miami for their War World II service. Birchansky, James R. Lynch, a technician 4th grade in the 108th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, and Fred L. Rosenkoff, a technical sergeant in the 305th Bombardment Group, all received the French Legion of Honor medal.


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