Posts about graduate students

NASA’s Carl Sagan Fellowships

NASA Exoplanet Science Institute announces the introduction of the Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowship

The NASA Exoplanet Science Institute announces the introduction of the Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowship Program and solicits applications for fellowships to begin in the fall of 2009.

The Sagan Fellowships support outstanding recent postdoctoral scientists to conduct independent research that is broadly related to the science goals of the NASA Exoplanet Exploration area. The primary goal of missions within this program is to discover and characterize planetary systems and Earth-like planets around nearby stars.

The proposed research may be theoretical, observational, or instrumental. This program is open to applicants of any nationality who have earned (or will have earned) their doctoral degrees on or after January 1, 2006, in astronomy, physics, or related disciplines. The fellowships are tenable at U.S. host institutions of the fellows’ choice, subject to a maximum of one new fellow per host institution per year. The duration of the fellowship is up to three years: an initial one-year appointment and two annual renewals contingent on satisfactory performance and availability of NASA funds.

We anticipate awarding 3 – 4 fellowships in 2009. Please note that these are postdoctoral Fellowships only. Previous Michelson Fellowship holders are fully eligible to apply.

Related: Science and Engineering Scholarships and Fellowships DirectoryNSF Graduate Research Fellows 2008

Saving Lives with Smarter Hurricane Evacuations

A sign indicating a hurricane evacuation route near Boca Raton, Florida. Photo / Wikimedia Commons

Software developed by a MIT student is aiding emergency officials as they decide on evacuation plans:
Saving lives through smarter hurricane evacuations

Michael Metzger’s software tool, created as part of the research for his PhD dissertation, could allow emergency managers to better decide early on whether and when to order evacuations — and, crucially, to do so more efficiently by clearing out people in stages. The tool could also help planners optimize the location of relief supplies before a hurricane hits.

“All in all, this is a complex balancing act,” Metzger says.

The concept of evacuating an area in stages — focusing on different categories of people rather than different geographical locations — is one of the major innovations to come out of Metzger’s work, since congestion on evacuation routes has been a significant problem in some cases, such as hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Metzger suggests that, for example, the elderly might be evacuated first, followed by tourists, families with children, and then the remaining population. The determination of the specific categories and their sequence could be determined based on the demographics of the particular area.

By spacing out the evacuation of different groups over a period of about two days, he says, the process would be more efficient, while many traditional systems of evacuating a given location all at once can and have caused serious congestion problems.
Other factors that could help to make evacuations more effective, he says, include better planning in the preparation of places for evacuees to go to, making sure buses and other transportation are ready to transport people, and preparing supplies in advance at those locations.

Related: Engineering the Boarding of AirplanesMIT Hosts Student Vehicle Design SummitLighting in Slow Motion

Learning How Viruses Evade the Immune System

photo of Naama Elefant

MicroRNA genes are a class of very tiny genes found in a variety of organisms. First discovered in 1993 and at the time considered relatively unimportant, they are now recognized as major players in diverse biological processes.

MicroRNAs are important regulators of protein production. Proteins, the building blocks of the cell, must be produced precisely at the right time and place. MicroRNAs specifically latch on to other genes (their targets) and inhibit the production of the protein products of these genes. Hundreds of microRNAs have already been discovered, but the identity of their target genes remains mostly unknown and presents a great challenge in the field.

Elefant developed a computer algorithm that predicts the targets of microRNAs. Her algorithm, named RepTar, searches the thousands of genes in the human genome and through sequence, structural and physical considerations detects matches to hundreds of microRNAs.

For her work in this field, Naama Elefant, a student of Prof. Hanah Margalit of the Faculty of Medicine at the Hebrew University and an Azrieli fellow, was named one of this year’s winners of the Barenholz Prizes for Creativity and Originality in Applied Computer Science and Computational Biology. This discovery also was declared by the magazine Nature Medicine as ”one of the ten notable advances of the year 2007.”
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