Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

February 2016

Fellows give small talks on the big picture of research

A large crowd of NIEHS staff gathered Jan. 20 in Rodbell Auditorium for the Fellows Communication Challenge, an hour-long session consisting of three-minute presentations by research trainees from across the institute. It was all part of the Big Picture, Small Talk seminar series, a grass-roots program within NIEHS to help scientists hone their skills in speaking to general audiences and giving nonscientific staff a clearer grasp of the research their work supports.

In all, fifteen fellows participated, and three, selected by a panel of judges, took home top honors and $1,000 travel awards.

“This challenge was unlike anything I’d ever done before, and it definitely took some unique preparation,” said Bart Phillips, Ph.D., a postdoc with the NIEHS Epigenetics and Stem Cell Biology Laboratory and one of the competition’s winners. “Condensing years of theory and data into a few simple sentences without completely watering down the work was not easy. Just ask my wife. She’s the one who had to listen to me practice.”

Other challenge winners included Natalie Saini, Ph.D., of the Genomic Integrity and Structural Biology Laboratory, and Lauren Wilson, Ph.D., of the Epidemiology Branch.

A lightning round of learning

Among the topics covered during the challenge were the use of stem cells in tissue regeneration, the environment’s role in infant disease, and the impact of tobacco smoking on DNA. (See slideshow below for details on each talk.)

“Making complicated things meaningful in a short, easy-to-understand way is a hard thing to do, yet every presenter we had here today excelled at it,” said Claire Long, one of five judges. “That made our jobs as evaluators every bit as difficult.”

Upcoming topics

The Big Picture, Small Talk series continues on Feb. 18 with a discussion on endocrine disruptors, led by Jerry Heindel, Ph.D., NIEHS health scientist administrator. Other Big Picture, Small Talk events in 2016 include the following.

  • April 13 — Staff Toxicologist Mike Wyde, Ph.D., discussing the National Toxicology Program (NTP) studies on cell phone safety.
  • March 10 — Allen Dearry, Ph.D., director of the Office of Scientific Information Management, outlining big data challenges.
  • May 19 — NIEHS and NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., topic TBA.
  • July 22 — Students from the National Institutes of Health Summer Internship Program at NIEHS reporting on their research projects and findings.

(Ian Thomas is a public affairs specialist for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)

Lee Langer Lee Langer, Ph.D., from the Epigenetics and Stem Cell Biology Laboratory, said, "The work we’re doing [with stem cell development] could benefit other researchers and doctors in the development of clinically relevant uses for these cells.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Kirsten Verhein Kirsten Verhein, Ph.D., of the Immunity, Inflammation, and Disease Laboratory, told the audience, “In our lab, we use genetic tools to try to identify infants at risk for severe lung disease.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Devin Sullivan Devin Sullivan, of the Clinical Research Branch, said, “Our research looks at the effects of energy availability — that’s dietary energy intake minus energy expenditure — on women’s reproductive function, in relation to genetic predispositions and environmental factors.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Kathryn McClelland giving a speech Kathryn McClelland, Ph.D., of the Reproductive and Developmental Biology Laboratory, described her group’s research interests. “In our lab, we look at how disruption of fetal reproductive organ development can impact fertility and reproductive outcomes later in life.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Pooja Desai Pooja Desai, Ph.D., a fellow in the Signal Transduction Laboratory, explained, “In our lab, we study the effect of calcium signaling on the body at the cellular level.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Jackson Hoffman Jackson Hoffman, Ph.D., of the Epigenetics and Stem Cell Biology Laboratory, said, “My research is focused on a particular protein machine called the BAF complex. Learning how the BAF complex interacts with other proteins to elicit different functions will help us understand how hormone signaling and responses to environmental toxins are regulated.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Kaitlyn Gam Kaitlyn Gam, of the Epidemiology Branch, told listeners, “My research involves determining if there are differences in lung function between oil spill cleanup workers and nonworkers, as well as those workers with different cleanup jobs.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Neal Englert Neal Englert, Ph.D., a member of the Genome Integrity and Structural Biology Laboratory, opened by saying, “My research examines how smoking affects the human body, specifically its impact on the T cells and B cells of the immune system.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Vanessa Flores Vanessa Flores, of the Clinical Research Branch, said, “My research examines the associations and mechanisms linking obesity with breast maturation and earlier pubertal development in girls.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Tracy Clement Tracy Clement, Ph.D., of the Reproductive and Developmental Biology Laboratory, told the audience, “The basis of my research is to better understand sperm development required for fertility. Specifically, I investigate the molecular mechanisms by which a round spermatid is restructured to form the sperm.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Monica Pillon Monica Pillon, Ph.D., from the Signal Transduction Laboratory, said, “My research seeks to understand how ribosomes are made in healthy cells so we can then use that information in the study of cancer cells.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Melike Caglayan As Melike Caglayan, Ph.D., of the Genome Integrity and Structural Biology Laboratory, said, “We know that there are countless changes in our genes that take place because of stress. My research focuses on the effects of oxidative stress, which is linked to cancer and many neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

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