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Conference Speakers - Info and Bio.

Dr. Mathias Vuille  (Keynote Speaker)

Title: The science of climate change: impacts, uncertainties and challenges ahead

Abstract: Climate Change has become a very divisive topic in the public arena, used by different interest groups to advance their particular agendas. Here I will focus on the scientific aspects of climate change and discuss how observed and projected future impacts of climate change, both globally and locally, will affect aspects of our daily lives over the coming decades. To reduce our vulnerability in the light of such changes will require that we transform our infrastructure, cities, health system and energy production in to more resilient systems. The talk will discuss some of the major challenges our society is facing, when moving forward with this transformation, but also the opportunities and co-benefits we can take advantage of when developing and implementing new and innovative adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Bio.
Mathias Vuille is a Professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences at UAlbany. He received his PhD from the University of Bern in Switzerland and then worked at the University of Massachusetts for 12 years before joining the University at Albany in 2008. He is a climate scientist who works on problems related to glacier retreat and climate change adaptation in the tropical Andes. He has been involved in adaptation projects on behalf of UNESCO, the Interamerican Development Bank and the World Bank and served as a Senior Fellow for the US State Department’s Program on Energy and Climate Partnerships in the Americas. He is a contributing author to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and has published more than 90 peer-reviewed articles on global climate change. He teaches graduate and undergraduate course on Climate Change, Paleoclimate and Major Topics in Environmental Science.

Dava Sobel  (Fellows Speaker)

Title: Lessons from the Glass Universe

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before women won the right to vote, the Harvard College Observatory employed as many as twenty ladies at a time to make astronomical observations via its growing collection of stellar photographs on glass plates. The women owed their participation in this work to preparation by excellent science teachers, such as Maria Mitchell, the first lady of American astronomy, who taught at Vassar College from 1865 to 1888. Harvard Observatory Director Edward Pickering, himself a gifted educator, had revolutionized physics instruction at MIT by setting up a laboratory where students learned to think for themselves while solving problems through experiments that he designed. Pickering’s open-minded treatment of women attracted funding from the Mitchell family for a special fellowship fund, with grants enabling selected young women to apprentice for a year at Harvard in preparation for full-time work at another observatory. In the 1920s, following Pickering’s death, the new director, Harlow Shapley, instituted a formal program in graduate astronomy education. Since the only fellowship money at his disposal was specifically earmarked for women, all the early graduate students came from the women’s colleges, and Harvard granted its first Ph.D. in astronomy to Cecilia Payne, who intuited the true composition of the stars as part of the research for her doctoral dissertation.

Bio.
Dava Sobel, an award-winning former science reporter for The New York Times, is the author of several best-selling books, including Longitude, Galileo’s Daughter, and The Planets. She has also written a play, And the Sun Stood Still, which originally appeared as the centerpiece in her biography of Copernicus, A More Perfect Heaven. Her latest book, The Glass Universe, was published by Viking in December 2016. Sobel is a 1964 graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, where she had several memorable teachers. Unfortunately, none of them suggested she combine her interest in science with her ability to write good papers for English class, but, after five years divided among multiple majors at three colleges, she fell into a job with a newspaper just in time to chronicle preparations for the first Earth Day celebration. In addition to her B.A. from SUNY Binghamton (now Binghamton University), Sobel holds honorary doctor of letters degrees from Middlebury College, Vermont, and Bath University in England, as well as an honorary doctor of science degree from Bern University, Switzerland.  She has a heightened respect for teachers after her experiences teaching science writing at the University of Chicago in 2006, and at Mary Baldwin College in 2011. From 2013 to 2016 she was the Joan Leiman Jacobson Visiting NonFiction Writer at Smith College.

Dr. Ronald Limberger  (Saturday)

Title: Zika Virus: A First Hand Account from Inside a Public Health Lab

Zika virus unexpectedly and suddenly entered the world of New York State public health in 2016. While zika virus was known in other parts of the world, it rapidly arrived and spread like wildfire in South America and elsewhere. Public health laboratories are required to respond to these emerging infectious diseases with testing protocols and expertise in guiding public health actions Unlike many other emerging infectious diseases, there was very little knowledge about zika. Questions needed answers, and right away. How did a virus located primarily in South America become a threat to the health of New Yorkers, who was at risk, what were the best laboratory tests to use, how long did the virus persist in humans, what mosquitos could transmit the disease, is the virus contagious, could the virus become endemic in the United States, does zika cause microcephaly in newborns, is zika transmitted sexually, and many many more. In addition, how does a public health lab handle testing of specimens that numbered 0 in 2015 and over 10,000 in 2016? This talk will take you through these questions including the initial process of how we addressed the challenge to provide early laboratory testing, the issues we faced on a daily basis, and the many practical changes we instituted along the way to respond to changing knowledge about zika. The most up-to-date knowledge of new tests for zika will be presented in a glimpse of the future.

Bio.
Ron Limberger received his PhD in Microbiology from West Virginia University Medical Center in 1984. After completing his dissertation on spirochete bacterial genetics, he continued on to a postdoctoral position at Stanford University where he conducted research on bacteriophage lambda genetics from 1985-1987. A second postdoctoral opportunity brought him to New England BioLabs where he performed molecular parasitology research using dog heartworm as a model system. In 1989, Dr. Limberger joined the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center as the Director of the Sexually Transmitted Diseases Laboratory. His research efforts led to several NIH grants focused on the basic research of spirochete genetics with an emphasis on Treponema denticola and his work resulted in over 50 publications. Since his initial appointment, Dr. Limberger has undertaken additional leadership

Jason Nordhaus

Title: Gravitational Waves: A New Era in Astrophysics

Abstract:
The direct detection of gravitational waves from the merger of two black holes represented a landmark moment in physics and the beginning of a new era in astronomy. Some of the most exotic and mysterious phenomena in the universe such as black holes and neutron stars that were previously impossible to probe with light, are now accessible. In this talk, I will explain how ripples in the fabric of the universe were detected, discuss RIT's contribution to the historic discovery, and comment on the astrophysical sources that have been detected, and are expected to be detected in the future.

Bio.
Dr. Nordhaus is a theoretical astrophysicist.  He received his BA Mathematics and BS/MS/PhD in Physics from University of Rochester.  He was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Astrophysics at Princeton University and an NSF Astronomy & Astrophysics Fellow 2011-2013. Presently, he is an Assistant Professor at RIT (National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation, and in Astrophysics PhD program).

Dr Nordhaus has some accomplishments outside of academia.

  • He was a consultant at the Institute for Defense Analyses from 2005-09 (Dept. of Defense’s PhD think tank). While there, he worked on Iraq/Afghanistan problems. Before joining RIT, he lead Soleo Communications machine learning/artifical intelligence group. 
  • He was elected to the executive board of the Dept. of Energy’s flagship computing center (NERSC) from 2009-12. More recently, he was elected to the executive board for American Astronomical Society’s Working Group on Accessibility and Disability 2016-19. 
  • He has 76 publications on the Astrophysics Data Server.
  • He won the prestigious NSF Astronomy & Astrophysics Fellowship (NSF’s highest award to post-doctoral fellows). 
  • Time Magazine named his work on supernovae as one of the 50 most-important results in science in 2010.
  • His research has appeared on NPR and in the National Academy of Sciences. He often teaches astrophysics courses in Sign Language and has supervised six deaf students on research projects.

Dr. Lauren Oldfield  (Sunday)

Title: Manipulating Large DNA Viruses With Synthetic Genomics Tools -Assembly and Genome-wide Engineering of an Infectious Clone of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1

Abstract:
Viruses with large DNA genomes, such as herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), can be difficult to manipulate using existing genetic tools, especially when generating complex, combinatorial mutations. We adapted existing synthetic genomic tools to develop a novel method to make combinatorial mutations more rapidly and efficiently in virus genomes. Yeast transformation-associated recombination (TAR) was used to clone 11 fragments comprising the HSV-1 strain KOS genome. Utilizing overlapping sequences between the adjacent pieces, we assembled the fragments into a complete genome in yeast and reconstituted infectious virus following transfection into mammalian cells. The virus derived from this yeast-assembled genome, designated KOSYA, replicated with kinetics similar to wild-type virus. We demonstrated the utility of this modular assembly technology by making numerous modifications to a single gene, making changes to two genes at the same time and, finally, generating individual and combinatorial deletions to a set of 5 genes that encode virion structural proteins. We developed this assembly technology using HSV-1 as a model system and plan to apply it to other herpesviruses and large DNA viruses that lack effective genetic tools. Large DNA viruses are also being utilized as vectors for therapeutics and vaccines, with an oncolytic herpesvirus approved for the treatment of melanoma. When generating vectors for therapeutic applications, this assembly method provides the capacity to design, generate and test candidates in parallel allowing researchers the ability to test more iterations, which can lead to more successful or personalized treatments.

Bio.
Dr. Oldfield completed her B.S. in biology at the University of Akron and her Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh under the guidance of Dr. Graham Hatfull, an expert in mycobacteriophages, which are viruses that infect mycobacterial species, including Mycobacterium tuberculosis. She studied the gene expression of mycobacteriophages, through transcriptomic studies and detailed analysis of promoter sequences, and the mechanism that underlies the decision between lytic and lysogenic growth for temperate phages. Dr. Oldfield joined JCVI in 2014 and worked with Dr. Sanjay Vashee to establish a novel reverse genetic system for large double-stranded DNA viruses. The genomes of many large DNA viruses, such as herpesviruses, are very complex and lack efficient genetic tools for genome-wide manipulation. The Vashee group, in collaboration with the group of Dr. Prashant Desai at Johns Hopkins Medical Institute, used synthetic genomics tools to assemble fragments of the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) genome and generate an infectious clone of the virus. The HSV-1 genome can be maintained as distinct fragments and easily engineered and assembled into full genomes to generate combinatorial mutants. Dr. Oldfield’s research interests also include projects that identify virus species of interest through comparative genomics and utilize synthetic genomics tools to improve our understanding of these virus genome variants.


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