Michelle Attles
Program Director, Professional Development and Workplace Learning
CUNY School of Professional Studies
Improving Energy Efficienty Through Learner-Centric Training

Global warming is an important issue for New Yorkers. In 2014, the NYC Mayor’s Office released One City: Built to Last, a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the year 2050. Central to the plan is improving the energy efficiency of non-residential city buildings over 10,000 square feet through green training programs for building operators. Ms. Attles, with a three-year $3.9M award from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services Energy Management Division (DEM) titled, Energy Management Training program, partners with the Building Performance Lab at City College to design and administer these energy management classes. Attles focuses on a learner-centric approach to education that ensures students are successful in applying their knowledge to their assigned building. “The personal benefit [for students] is, ‘I learn something,’ but the impact goes beyond the individual. With everyone working together to learn and apply energy saving solutions, the city can achieve its larger goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Babette Audant
Assistant Professor, Tourism & Hospitality; Executive Director, Center for Economic and Workforce Development
Kingsborough Community College
Using Data-Tracking to Inform Institutional Growth & Improve Student Outcomes

The linkages between credit and non-credit programming in higher education are notoriously weak. Recognizing the opportunity in this divided approach toward learning, Professor Audant considered how to strengthen these ties in fields where an informal overlap between degree students and continuing education students was already occurring. She secured a four-year, $150K award from the Capital One Foundation titled, Implementing a Data-Tracking Strategy to Inform Institutional Growth & Improve Student Outcomes, to build a database of continuing education students. Essential background knowledge on non-credit students will allow Audant and her team to better counsel both continuing education students and students pursuing degrees. “We want all students to understand from the beginning where certain credentials will take them and what other options are available to help them grow in their careers.”

William H. Carr
Associate Professor, Department of Biology
Medgar Evers College
Role of Tim-3 on NK Cells

“While today HIV is manageable with medication, there remain secondary health issues affecting HIV-infected individuals,” Dr. Carr explains. For instance, women with HIV are at greater risk for developing cervical cancer from an HPV infection. Motivated to address this concern, Carr applies his one-year, $50K NIH pilot award as part of the Women’s Interagency HIV Study Program Grant at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, The Role of Tim-3 on NK Cells in the Pathogenesis of HPV and HIV-I Coinfection, towards investigating the body’s immune reaction to HPV and the role HIV plays in this immune response. Collaborating with SUNY Downstate Medical Center and the Albert Einstein Research Center, Carr analyzes cell samples from a group of 42 Brooklyn women to determine how molecular reactions in immune cells either inhibit or contribute to the development of cervical cancer. “Our goal in analyzing these cells is to reduce the incidence of secondary infections for HIV infected individuals, allowing them to live long, full lives.  

Preeti Chauhan
Associate Professor, Psychology
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Research Network on Misdemeanor Justice

Scholars and policy-makers have traditionally focused on felony offenses when researching the criminal justice system, overlooking the enforcement of lower-level offenses such as misdemeanors or criminal summonses, which represents a larger proportion of enforcement actions. “The massive footprint of the criminal justice system is on this higher volume activity that doesn't get much attention,” explains Professor Chauhan. Her initial award on the subject, Misdemeanor Justice Project I, produced objective analysis and trend reports on misdemeanors and criminal summonses in New York City and to a lesser extent New York State. The success of this research propelled Chauhan’s three-year, $3.25-million Laura and John Arnold Foundation award, Research Network on Misdemeanor Justice, which allows for the national expansion of the program through the funding of misdemeanor research in six additional cities. “The ultimate goal is for policy-makers to use this data as evidence for reforms and for scholars to start to focus on this area of criminal justice.”

M. Chantale Damas
Assistant Professor, Physics
Queensborough Community College
NASA Solar and Atmospheric Research Program

After attending a NASA boot camp on space weather, Professor Damas knew she had to bring the experience to her community college students. Space weather refers to how the sun and solar wind impact environmental conditions that affect both satellites in space and technology on Earth. “It’s a great research subject for them; there is plenty of data to analyze and understanding space weather is critical,” Damas explains. Using her three-year, $750K NASA grant, NASA Solar and Atmospheric Research Program and Education Partnership, Damas is able to create a holistic research experience for her students. The highlight of the program for students is leaving their classrooms for a summer working with researchers at either NASA Goddard Space Flight Center or City College. For Damas, the impact of the program expands beyond space weather. “Research is important regardless of the field, we seek to produce individuals who have a better understanding of science as a whole.”

Lesley Emtage
Assistant Professor, Biology
York College
Cellular Mechanism Underlying Detoxification of Mutant Huntingtin

As the US population ages, mid- to late-onset neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's disease are becoming critical health issues. These disorders are characterized by the accumulation of unfolded, or faulty, protein deposits in the brain, but the fundamental cause of such disorders is still unknown. Professor Emtage investigates the cellular phenomena involved in this protein accumulation to gain further knowledge of these diseases. Her three-year, $457K NIH award, Cellular Mechanism Underlying Detoxification of Mutant Huntingtin, enables Emtage to study the formation of mutant Huntingtin deposits, which are found in individual’s with Huntington’s Disease. Huntington’s, like Alzheimer’s, is a mid- to late-onset neurodegenerative disorder. Using a visual approach to analyze the Huntingtin protein’s movement in S. cerevisiae, Dr. Emtage can dissect the process of protein accumulation in living cells. “As we discover more about the process that causes these protein deposits, we increase our understanding of the underlying causes of neurodegenerative disorders that share this feature, enabling the development of therapies to treat them.”

Evelyn Fernandez-Ketcham
Executive Director of Workforce Development; Continuing Education and Workforce Development
Hostos Community College
Advancing Students in Health Careers

The healthcare sector continues to undergo rapid employment growth. Ms. Fernandez-Ketcham sees this as an opportunity for her community. With her three-year $596K award from the US Department of Health and Human Services, Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP), Fernandez-Ketcham offers cost-free training to NYC underrepresented individuals interested in healthcare professions. Students learn dental assistance, certified nursing assistance, or health information technology. HCOP allows for the creation of career pathways in the healthcare sector. Whether the next step for students is transition to college or additional career certifications, the ultimate goal is for individuals to advance in their careers. The program’s coordinator, Jamila Cumberbatch observes, “Since its inception, 300 students have completed the training, which allows students to build coping skills, develop resiliency, and boost their self-esteem.”

Li Ge
Assistant Professor, Engineering Science & Physics
College of Staten Island
Investigation of Rotation, Time and Inversion, and Time Symmetries in Photonic Materials

Moore’s Law, a theory developed in 1965, predicted that computational power would double every eighteen months. This advancement depends on the capacity to fit more transistors (electronic switches) on to smaller and smaller computer chips. Recent reports suggest that today’s technology can no longer keep up with this curve. Professor Ge explains, “In the last two decades people realized that in order to increase information capacity in our electric circuits we can't use electrons anymore (because they talk to each other and limit both bandwidth and power density). Since optics (light) doesn’t have this same effect it’s possible to overcome this performance bottleneck in modern computers.” Ge is studying this possibility with his three-year, $183K NSF award, Investigation of Rotation – Time and Inversion – Time Symmetries in Photonic Materials. Utilizing a new approach to manipulate the behaviors of light, Ge is able to dramatically improve the functionality of today’s photonic devices and optical computing. 

Guillermo Gerona-Navarro
Assistant Professor, Chemistry
Brooklyn College
Using Chemical Probes to Target PRC2 Gene Repression

Traditional cancer treatments have focused on destroying cancer cells, but recent developments in epigenetics have inspired researchers to explore a different approach. Epigenetic cancer therapy targets biological mechanisms relating to gene expression in order to reprogram sick cancer cells to their prior healthy, functioning state. Professor Gerona-Navarro uses his three-year, $471K NIH award, Chemical Probes Targeting PRC2 Gene Repression, to develop molecules that interrogate PRC2 repression, a specific epigenetic mechanism associated with the growth of cancer cells. Gerona-Navarro’s novel method for developing stable peptides enables the lab to create and test a range of molecules for this goal. “Understanding the complexities of PRC2 repression allows us to determine whether inhibiting the over-methylation of this mechanism restores the cell's ability to produce tumor suppressant genes, thereby allowing the cell to destroy itself and stops cancer from growing.”

Jun Liang
Assistant Professor, Science
Borough of Manhattan Community College
CLIC and TGF-beta Signaling in Stress Response and Health Span in C. elegans

The biological process of aging is still not well understood. Researchers have found a connection between certain genes and their ability to prolong or shorten an individual’s lifespan, but that’s not enough information, according to Professor Liang. “There are still many genes that are unknown – the set of genes we’ve identified is not enough to interpret the bigger picture of the aging process. We need to add new genes to the known knowledge.” Liang is contributing to this body of knowledge through her three-year, $146K NIH grant, Novel Function of CLIC and TGF-beta Signaling in Stress Response and Health Span in C. elegans. Her experiments with nematodes (worms) have revealed a chloride channel protein (encoded by the gene CLIC) contributed to a stress response in the TGF-beta pathway. This ion channel influences a vast network of critical cellular processes in the human body. “Although the biological process is complicated, we have discovered a gene that contributes to stress and aging.”

Yoko Nomura
Professor, Psychology
Queens College
Infants of Superstorm Sandy

Professor Nomura began her career examining how mechanisms of gene expression, known as epigenetics, influence pre- and post-natal infant development. But in the process of collecting pre-natal tissue samples for this project, Superstorm Sandy hit. Nomura was distraught over the stress many pregnant women experienced as a result of the destruction of critical city infrastructure. She realized she could help, in the long-term, by incorporating the disaster into her study as a measure of how stress influences these epigenetic mechanisms. The idea was further expanded into her five-year $3.5 million NIMH award, The Infants of Superstorm Sandy: The Epigenetic and Developmental Impact of Natural Disaster. By identifying how stress and the environment affect changes in the expression of the genome, which influences a child’s development, doctors could preemptively treat potential diseases or impairments. “There is an epigenetic factor in development, but how does the environment influence this on the molecular level? Knowing this will make it easier to intervene and treat for developmental problems earlier.”

Naphtali O’Connor
Associate Professor, Chemistry
Lehman College
Wound Healing With Polysaccharide-Polyamine Hydrogels

Wound healing is a complex biochemical process that can be hampered by medical and environmental factors, increasing an individual’s susceptibility to infection. Developing biomaterials that expedite the healing process is one therapeutic strategy for improving wound treatment. Professor O’Connor investigates this tactic with his four-year, $471K NIH award, Polysaccharide-Polyamine Hydrogels by analyzing how changes in chemical structures affect cell behavior. “A characteristic of cell behavior relating to wound healing is the rate of cells migrating into the affected area,” O’Connor explains,“ the question is: Can we develop a material where we can boost that rate?” O’Connor uses a polysaccharide-dextrin hydrogel (naturally non-reactive to cell adhesion) and adds or changes different amines (organic compounds) to determine whether the material can be transformed in a manner that allows cells to adhere. “We want to know if changing the ratio of amines affects the process of cell migration, not just adherence, but increasing the speed cell growth and migration as well.

Holly Porter-Morgan
Associate Professor, Natural Sciences
LaGuardia Community College
Freshman Year to Gecoscience Career

“Many students have misconceptions about the geosciences; it’s not just about conservation,” states Professor Porter-Morgan, “There are a wide range of great careers students can pursue with geoscience training.” Her goal, in cooperation with Queensborough Community College and Queens College, is to increase the number and diversity of students joining the geosciences and completing a Baccalaureate degree in the field. With her three-year $77K NSF award, GP-Impact: Freshman Year to Gecoscience Career, Porter-Morgan focuses on recruitment, advising, and hands-on research at the community college level to better prepare students for success at a four-year school. Coordinating with her Queens College colleagues, Porter-Morgan introduces her students to the labs, professors, and peers they will encounter when transitioning to the four-year college. “Having personal interactions between the two levels makes a tremendous impact. The students feel that they're part of the community and able to progress in their studies.”

Elisa Riedo
Professor, Physics
ASRC, City College
Controlling Chemistry at the Nanoscale

Much of our built world is based on standard fabrication approaches, but Professor Riedo envisions something different. “I would like to see a new approach, more compatible for the nanoscale that goes beyond what is available today.” Riedo’s contribution to this vision began in 2007 with the invention of a nanosized (extremely small) “hot tip.” “You can control the chemistry of any surface by controlling the temperature,” Riedo explains. By using the nanosized heater attached to an atomic-force microscope cantilever, it is possible to build complex chemistry on the surface by controlling the heat output and location of the tip. Her two-year, $179K NSF award, Controlling the Chemistry at the Nanoscale: Parallelization Robustness, and Registration allows Riedo to develop methods of applications for electronics, biology, and mechanical sciences. Currently, Riedo is developing a method for building a microelectronic circuit to be used in nanoelectronics. “This will not be the only nanoscale fabrication method, but it can become a very important tool.”

Tony Ro
Presidential Professor, Psychology & Biology
The Graduate Center, CUNY
Cortical Mechanisms for Visual Perception

How do we consciously experience the world? Professor Ro investigates this mystery of visual perception through his three-year, $550K NSF award, Cortical Mechanisms for Visual Perception. Using a variety of techniques, including EEG recordings and MRI scans, Ro’s team tracks how people and their brains respond to seeing something versus missing something. Seeing in this case refers to the brain consciously representing visual information. Missing describes the brain not consciously representing visual information despite the presence of an image. “We can detect changes in brain activity and assess how different brain areas are functioning when we're having these different types of visual experiences,” Ro explains. He endeavors to gain a basic understanding of the processes involved with vision and how this process unfolds over time, allowing us to visually experience the world. “This knowledge will help us discover new methods for correcting impairments in perception caused by brain damage or loss of vision.”

Chris Robinson
Professor, Biological Sciences
Bronx Community College
Evolution of Mandibular Form

“There's a lot we can learn about the past by using a model from the present,” explains Professor Robinson. His three-year, $49K NSF award Collaborative Research: Integrative Investigation of the Evolution and Biomechanics of Mandibular Form in Extant Great Apes and Australopithecus, explores the differences between early hominin mandibular bones (jaw bones) and their modern day counterparts to better understand how their shape has changed over time. “Jaw bones are one of the best-preserved fossil categories,” states Robinson, “their shape often indicates diet, which informs the behaviors and environment of early humans.” Robinson is using a micro-CT scanner at the American Museum of Natural History to build 3D images of the mandibular bones of modern day apes and humans. Meanwhile, his colleagues are collecting similar images from the early human genus, Australopithecus, to serve as a comparison. “We hope to improve our understanding of evolutionary history and where we came from by understanding how our ancestors’ bodies change through time in response to the environment.”

Peter Serrano
Associate Professor, Psychology
Hunter College
Difference Between Juvenile and Adult Fear Memory Capability

As children, we experience an effect known as infantile amnesia, wherein we are not able to remember the very early events of our life. As adults, of course, we are able to regularly recall memories. Professor Serrano endeavors to understand what drives this difference between children and adults in the consolidation of memory with his two-year, $250K NIMH award Difference Between Juvenile and Adult Fear Memory Capability. Specifically, Serrano focuses on memories of fear.  “The central hypothesis of this project is that elevated levels of fear, anxiety and stress alter various proteins affecting cognitive function,” states Serrano.  Using rat models, Serrano has found that repeated exposure to stressful situations, in short increments, can actually consolidate a fear memory. On the biological level, Serrano is examining changes in a specific pathway and protein, known as PKMz that may be important for the consolidation of that fear memory. “This work has wider implications for understanding PTSD in children, but also potentially PTSD in adults.”

James M. Sherry
Professor, Immigrant, Refugee and Global Health; Health Policy and Management
CUNY School of Public Health & Health Policy
Health Evaluation, Applied Research and Development (HEARD)

“There is a conception of research as an individualist, independent endeavor, but in reality it is much more about process than personality,” Professor Sherry explains. His five-year, $2M USAID award, Health Evaluation, Applied Research and Development (HEARD) aims to make optimizing the process of research the main focus in achieving global health and development goals. Central to this goal is the concept of implementation science, a research model that addresses the wide-ranging challenges of translating research knowledge into real-life practice. “Trying to get research more relevant and focused on the issues of the day isn't dumbing down science. Delivery science is about asking: How can we make science work for us?” Sherry, along with his global university and program partners, seeks to bring together stakeholders, researchers, and implementers at the beginning of the research process to shape an agenda that addresses key questions in real-time. “The long-term impact is making systems smarter. That in the end, is the value of research investment - it’s a learning process.”


Rebecca Spokony
Assistant Professor, Natural Sciences
Baruch College
Genetic Architecture of Juvenile Hormone Sensitivity

“Since every individual is different, their sensitivity to a drug or a hormone would potentially be different,” describes Professor Spokony. She seeks to understand how this natural variation in sensitivity to hormones is expressed and how the sensitivity variation relates to an animal’s genotype.  Spokony’s three-year, $231K NSF award RUI: Genetic Architecture of Juvenile Hormone Sensitivity, allows her to examine the juvenile hormone in the common fruit fly, a hormone critical for the species’ ability to grow into an adult. “We are aware of juvenile hormone, but we don't know all the genes that it regulates,” Spokony explains. By using a chemical mimic of juvenile hormone known as methoprene, Spokony and her class administer a hormone treatment and score for sensitivity based on visible mutations in the development of the flies. “I hope to broaden our knowledge of the juvenile hormone pathway and leverage that knowledge to assess how the hormone actually regulates development.”

Yingli Tian
Professor, Electrical Engineering
The City College of New York
Tracking and Predicting Fine Scale Sea Ice Motion Using Computer Vision

Arctic ice is shrinking rapidly, causing large ice floes to break up into smaller fragments that pose a danger to ocean navigation and impact climate and biology systems in the region. Monitoring this fragment movement is critical for both human safety and scientific research, but the low-resolution of current satellite data limits the ability to track and predict patterns in the ice flow. As an engineer specializing in computer vision (using computer algorithms to analyze images), Professor Tian realized there was potential to improve the resolution of these images. Through her four-year, $415K Office of Naval Research award,  Tracking and Predicting Fine Scale Sea Ice Motion by Constructing Super-resolution Images and Fusing Multiple Satellite Sensors, Tian developed “Super-resolution” algorithms that dramatically increased image resolution and allowed for predictive modelling. “Computer vision is generally used for industry-driven applications, but this project demonstrated how it can generate a big impact when applied to remote sensing research.”

Huseyin Yuce
Associate Professor, Mathematics
NYC College of Technology
Economic Burden of Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation

Stem cell transplants for individuals with leukemia are very specialized, high-risk procedures. These factors also make it one of the most expensive treatments for hospitals and in turn their patients and insurance companies. Professor Yuce analyzes the cost and utilization of the procedure with his three-year, $60K STATinMED Research award, Economic Burden of Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation, to provide policy makers with guidance on optimizing the process. By comparing longitudinal data from Medicare and Medicaid, Yuce is preparing a descriptive analysis that clarifies the many variables involved in the process, from disease sub-types and stem cell source to comorbidities and age. This data assessment enables Yuce and his colleagues to identify key factors that impact the overall cost of the procedure. “This study will be an eye opener for policy makers,” Yuce says, “We’re hoping they will use this analysis to better distribute their resources.”