[MUSIC PLAYING] ILANA LAUREN BRITO: I love my work. I'm in a really exciting field. It's a burgeoning field, where we're really making large advances with every new study that happens. The PCCW grant allowed us to explore this novel dataset that we've collected from the Bronx Zoo of over 130 different types of species.
One of the important things in microbiome research today is trying to fish out which of the microbes in the microbiome are most important for human health. And one of the ways in which we can do this is to look across the mammalian tree of life, across these diverse mammalian species, and try to find that organisms within their microbiomes that have co-evolved with their hosts. These are organisms that are likely interacting with the intestinal mucosa, having strong interactions with the immune system, and thereby are likely to be the most important for eliciting these health impacts.
MOTOKO MUKAI: Our lab works with looking at toxicological effects of compounds that are found in food, such as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, like the Bisphenol A. Some people may have heard about those kind of compounds. But with this particular project we started investigating the toxicity of silver nanoparticles, which are used a lot in agriculture, as agriculture insecticides, as well as food packaging.
We know very little about these toxicological effects of nanoparticles once they get into human bodies, and because they're used in lot of places and increasingly used for different applications, we need to really understand if it is really safe. We use this model called the zebra fish, which is a very tiny fish. And we use this model because it's transparent, and there's a lot of molecular biology tools available to look at gene expression and the effects of endocrine and-disrupting chemicals, or these nanoparticles.
KATJA NOWACK: So, right now, we're still finishing building my lab. Our specialty is magnetic imaging at very low temperatures. So we have a very tiny magnetic sensor that we scan close to the surface of materials and devices that are of interest to us.
And one thing that we try to image with this technique are currents that flow, say in a device that I've made. If you have a current that flows, that actually generates a small magnetic field and with our magnetic sensor, we can map out the magnetic field generated by a current. And then calculate back what the current was based on the magnetic field that we measured.
The grant has supported work to improve the way we can reconstruct, or calculate back, how the current flows in small devices. And we calculate that back from magnetic field images that we've taken with our technique. And reconstructing the way the current flows in these devices is actually a challenging task. It is mathematically-- it has proven that you can do it, but actually implementing it is not easy.
HEATHER HUSON: I worked on the genetics of Alaskan sled dogs, and that's because I am passionate about them. I grew up-- my family raced sled dogs, and I'm just amazed at their athletic ability. And they're such a unique dog in that they're this mixed breed dog, so it's not the traditional Siberian husky or Alaskan malamute that you see on TV, it's really this mutt that has been selected for over the past century.
This funding allowed us to go sample sled dogs in Michigan, in upstate New York, over Massachusetts, and then we went to Alaska. And when we went on these trips, three of my undergraduates went with me that have individual undergraduate research projects. They're all working towards their honors theses. And yes, we went and sampled almost 300 sled dogs in this project. So it was a great experience for all of us.
ELIA TAIT WOJNO: My work focuses on investigating how the immune system of the body fights infection. And one of my particular interests is how the body fights infection with parasitic worms in the intestine. And one of our projects in the laboratory focuses, specifically, on different types of immune cells and different players in the immune system that allow a mammalian host to resist infection with these parasites.
And my grant from PCCW has supported this particular project. A better understanding of how parasites and hosts interact, and how we resist infection with these types of parasites, is not only really interesting, but it's also very important for both human and animal health worldwide.
LUDMILLA ARISTILDE: My work is to look at the molecular level, the chemistry, and the biochemistry of organics in the environment. It does sound like a mouthful, but more specifically, I try to understand why organic molecules behave the way that they behave in the environment. So why do we care about that? We care about that from the perspective of renewable energy. So how we can use organic waste? And we use them to turn them into biofuel, for example.
We care about that because organics gets transformed the environment and they have a tight link to climate change. We also care about that for how contaminants behave in the environment.
GERLINDE VAN DE WALLE: Just like President Garrett, my father also passed away from colon cancer when he was very young, so trying to come up with novel treatments for cancer has been something that has always inspired me. This particular money is used to specifically study and evaluate the efficacy of two anti-cancer drugs that recently, we found, were very effective in killing canine and feline mammary tumor cells in vitro.
So we're working with cell cultures. And now, basically, we are taking this to the next level, where we will evaluate these drugs in these new mouse models that we are establishing. This will help me and my team to actually establish ourselves in the field of comparative cancer biology, and so this will definitely help us in the long run to really make a name in the field, and to be recognized by other cancer researchers in the field.
ELIA TAIT WOJNO: I'd like to express my heartfelt gratitude to PCCW for the support that they have provided to me and my laboratory. And that support is not only financial in nature. I think knowing that there is a strong community of Cornell women who are very supportive of young faculty here, of female researchers, of people in social sciences, and biological sciences, and a wide variety of different fields on campus, is really important.
ILANA LAUREN BRITO: I really want to thank the PCCW Award Committee. This grant has really given me an opportunity to get the lab up and running, to really start digging deep into computational data sources that we have that are really unique. I feel really grateful, that at the start of my tenure at Cornell, that I have the support of PCCW and the Cornell community.
MOTOKO MUKAI: Yes, I really thank the PCCW for this opportunity. And it just provides opportunities to open up our research program-- make our research program and our lab stronger.
HEATHER HUSON: I've really appreciated this, not only for my own sake of continuing my dog research, but for the sake of my students, because it's been fantastic. And I've had so much fun showing them and sharing everything with them.
GERLINDE VAN DE WALLE: I feel that it is very important that women in science, especially in veterinary science, are being supported, because there are lots of female veterinarians, but not a lot of those female veterinarians actually go into science. So we are with a few, and I guess the more we are being recognized by the general science community, the more it might also inspire future female veterinarians to actually go into research.
LUDMILLA ARISTILDE: And I really want to thank the PCCW for not only supporting my research and believing in my research-- I'm very excited about my research, I'm sure it's very obvious, but it's nice to have others, also, believe in it and supporting it, and also for supporting these young undergraduate women. So, thank you.
KATJA NOWACK: I would like to thank the President's Council of Cornell Women for awarding me this grant, it's been really helping our research and making progress in my project. And I really also appreciate it because of the visibility that this gives my lab on campus.
ELIA TAIT WOJNO: I have been fortunate to have some fantastic female mentorship throughout my career, and I think PCCW really embodies the spirit of women mentoring and supporting other women here on campus, in the academic setting. So for that support, financial and also, in terms of career development, I think it's really fantastic. And just thank you.
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Hear from some of 2016 Affinito-Stewart grant recipients about their research, and how this funding has supported their work. Featured: Ilana Lauren Brito, biomedical engineering; Motoko Mukai, food science; Katja Nowack, physics; Heather Huson ’97, animal science; Elia Tait Wojno, Baker Institute for Animal Health; Ludmilla Aristilde '03, biological and environmental engineering; and Gerlinde Van de Walle, Baker Institute for Animal Health.
The Affinito-Stewart grant program, administered by the President’s Council of Cornell Women (PCCW), aims to increase the long-term retention of women on the Cornell faculty by supporting the completion of research that is important in the tenure process.
PCCW is a group of highly accomplished alumnae working to enhance the involvement of women students, faculty, staff, and alumnae as leaders within Cornell’s many communities.