Awards ceremony recognizes students, instructors and faculty for excellence in academics and research

The 2019 Annual Awards Ceremony honors individuals in ASU's School of Molecular Sciences

April 24, 2019

The 2019 Annual Awards Ceremony hosted by Arizona State University’s School of Molecular Sciences was held on Monday, April 22, at Old Main on the Tempe campus to recognize faculty, teaching assistants, research and distinguished students.

Awards were presented to recognize undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrated excellence in academics and research. Each recipient was presented their award by a selected faculty member who shared their academic achievements. The 2019 SMS award and scholarship recipients. The School of Molecular Sciences 2019 award and scholarship recipients. Download Full Image

The School of Molecular Sciences awarded five scholarships funded by generous gifts from donors throughout the year and on Sun Devil Giving Day, along with several endowed memorial scholarships, including the inaugural recipients of the Theodore M. Brown Memorial Scholarship and the School of Molecular Sciences Innovation Award.

“Every year we recognize students in the School of Molecular Sciences who have demonstrated academic and research excellence at the Annual Awards Ceremony,” said Neal Woodbury, director of the School of Molecular Sciences. “This year’s group of recipients exemplifies all of what SMS and ASU has to offer. ASU will be well represented in the chemistry and biochemistry fields in the future.”

To mark the occasion and celebrate, donors and families of the named endowed scholarships were invited to attend the luncheon ceremony. In attendance were Professor Emeritus Bill Glaunsinger, assistant dean for sciences and the professions in the Emeritus College, who presented the new School of Molecular Sciences Innovation Award; David Rasely, who presented the Theodore M. Brown Memorial Scholarship for his brother Brian; Kay Krause, daughter of Therald Moeller; Randy Hughes from the Arizona Society for Coatings Technology; and Linda Riash, director of development for the natural sciences, and Brendan Cunningham, assistant director of development for the natural sciences, who have been instrumental in supporting School of Molecular Sciences scholarships.

“My future academic plans are to earn a Doctor of Pharmacy at the University of Arizona and return to my hometown of Tuba City to fill a pharmacist position at Tuba City Regional Health Care,” said Stacee Tallman, recipient of the Theodore M. Brown Scholarship. “This scholarship will be a big help to getting my degree.”

This year the School of Molecular Sciences presented 13 of the most talented and deserving students with scholarships to support their academic goals. Eighteen undergraduates and graduate students were also recognized for the excellent work they have done at the School of Molecular Sciences. Alexis Ramirez, a biochemistry major, was selected as the fall 2018 Dean’s Medalist and Zoe Lieberman-Martin, a chemistry major, was selected as the spring 2018 Dean’s Medalist.

“I am incredibly honored to be receiving the Dean's Medal. As I prepare to graduate, I realize how lucky I am to have studied at a university with a faculty that is so dedicated to the success of its students. After attending school for a career in the arts, I hesitantly decided to return to Arizona to pursue scientific studies,” Lieberman-Martin said. “Earning this award assures me that I made the right decision and it contributes to a greater confidence in my abilities. I know that my passion for learning and persistence will enable me to conquer any challenges as I continue in the field of chemistry.”

The ceremony also included a presentation of accomplished graduate awards including the John Kacoyannakis Award, the LeRoy Eyring Memorial Fellowship in Chemistry, the George Yuen Memorial Award, the John Holloway Memorial Graduate Scholarship, Outstanding Graduate Research Assistant, the SMS Innovation Award and Distinguished Teaching Assistant awards.

The Distinguished Instructor award was presented to Professor Agota Debreczeni, and Professor Marcia Levitus was selected by Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society (SAACS) for the 2019 Distinction of Merit and Scholastic Occupation (DMSO) Faculty Teaching Award.

“SAACS believes that Dr. Levitus is deserving of the DMSO Award because of her devotion to her students,” said Carolyn Clark, SAACS co-president. “She shows genuine concern for her students, asks for feedback on her teaching, and makes every effort to learn her students' names. She is motivating and engaging, and serves as a true inspiration to everyone she teaches.”

The School of Molecular Sciences and its generous supporters recognize the impact scholarships and awards make in contributing to the success of their students. Recognizing and supporting the brightest and the best students financially benefits not only ASU, but our whole community.

Learn more about School of Molecular Sciences scholarships.

View photos of awardees, presenting faculty and donors and families. 

Full list of award and scholarship recipients:

George M. Bateman Memorial Scholarship: Tanaya Haws

Therald Moeller Scholarship: Elinor Sauer

Wayne W. Luchsinger Chemistry Scholarship: Tommy Saunders

John Holloway Memorial Scholarship (Undergraduate): William Knight

Edward B. Skibo Memorial Scholarship: Carolyn Clark

Theodore M. Brown Memorial Scholarship: Stacee Tallman

Arizona Society for Coatings Technology Scholarship: Krisztina Tope

School of Molecular Sciences Scholarship: David Flesher

School of Molecular Sciences Scholarship: Christopher Ramirez

School of Molecular Sciences Women in Science Scholarship: Annmarie Barton

School of Molecular Sciences Women in Science Scholarship: Missy Tran

School of Molecular Sciences First Generation Scholarship: Jasmine Nguyen

School of Molecular Sciences Scholarship for Veterans: Joseph Miller

School of Molecular Sciences Peer Mentor Leadership Award: Charles Amador

SAACS Organic Achievement Award: Julia Torline

ACS Division of Analytical Chemistry Undergraduate Award: Bridger Johnston

ACS Division of Inorganic Chemistry Undergraduate Award: Madeline Howell

ACS Division of Organic Chemistry Undergraduate Award: Michael Ruta

ACS Division of Physical Chemistry Undergraduate Award: Blake Hance

Royal Society of Chemistry Certificate of Excellence: Samantha Sokal

Distinguished Chemistry Merit Award: Vanessa Davis

Distinguished Chemistry Merit Award: Sierra Murphy

Distinguished Biochemistry Merit Award: Kimberly Kevershan

Distinguished Biochemistry Merit Award: Anne Schmidt

Dean’s Medal, fall 2018: Alexis Ramirez

Dean’s Medal, spring 2019: Zoe Lieberman-Martin

John Kacoyannakis Award: Claire Crowther

John Kacoyannakis Award: Mohammed Towshif Rabbani

LeRoy Eyring Memorial Fellowship in Chemistry: Miyuki Thirumuthy

George Yuen Memorial Award: Brian Wadsworth

John Holloway Memorial Scholarship (Graduate): Joshua Nye

Outstanding Graduate Research Assistant Award: Fan Hong and Renjie Liao

SMS Innovation Award: David Ciota

Distinguished Teaching Assistant Award: Rafael Alcala-Torano, Samantha Donovan, Michael Furey, Shannon Hilton, William Johnson, Nikita Kumari, Aerial Pratt, Edgar A. Reyes Cruz, Garrett Shaver, Spencer Smith, Stephanie Thibert

Distinguished Instructor Award: Agota Debreczeni

Distinction of Merit and Scholastic Occupation (DMSO) Teaching Award: Marcia Levitus

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Melatonin receptor research could point to a better night's sleep

April 24, 2019

A third of all Americans have difficulty sleeping, and many of them turn to melatonin supplements to catch some Zs. However, scientists don’t fully understand melatonin’s role in the biological clock, which has made it difficult to develop drugs for sleep disorders without several side effects.

Now, an international team of scientists, including faculty from Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute and Department of Physics, has shed much-needed light on melatonin’s effects, opening the door to the development of new drugs for sleep disorders and other health issues affected by melatonin. They developed 3D models of the tiny antennae — called receptors — on the surface of cells that synchronize the body’s internal clock with the day and night cycle. Melatonin Scientists now have 3D models of two melatonin cell receptors that could lead to better treatments for sleep disorders. Download Full Image

“Our goal is to provide the structural information to other researchers who can use it for designing new drug compounds or to study mutations of these receptors in patients,” said corresponding author Vadim Cherezov, a scientist at the Bridge Institute at USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience.

Creating the 3D maps of the two melatonin receptors, MT1 and MT2, is critical for understanding how the biological clock works. Scientists can use this information to design drug molecules that bind to the melatonin receptors and monitor the potential effects. The benefits could go beyond improving sleep.

“This data will help us design drugs that interact only with these receptors, with the hope we can treat a variety of conditions including diabetes, cancers and sleep disorders, in a more targeted way,” said Bryan L. Roth, pharmacology professor at the UNC School of Medicine.

The findings on the melatonin receptors were published in two letters on Wednesday, April 24, in the journal Nature.

Melatonin comes from the ‘soul’

Melatonin is generated in the center of the brain by the pineal gland, once described by the philosopher Descartes as the “soul” of the brain and body.

Humans respond naturally to daylight changes through the pineal gland, near the hypothalamus. As night falls, the gland produces more melatonin, which then binds to the MT1 and MT2 receptors of the cells. Before dawn, the gland decreases melatonin levels, signaling that it’s time to wake.

MT1 and MT2 are among an estimated 800 receptors in the human body. These receptors, known as G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) appear on the surface of a cell. The receptors act as a sort of email inbox, relaying information into the cell to set off a cascade of activity.

About a third of all drugs on the market are designed to bind with GPCRs. Each receptor has a different role in regulating functions in the body, many of which are critical for basic survival, such as hunger and reproductivity. The bulk of these receptors also have some role in the human olfactory system — taste and smell.

Scientists around the world have obtained structures of less than one-tenth of these receptors so far. MT1 and MT2 are among the latest. The MT1 and MT2 receptors are important for multiple processes, including reproduction and even some cancers.

"By comparing the 3D structures of the MT1 and MT2 receptors, we can better discern the unique, structural differences that distinguish the two receptors from each other — and their roles in the biological clock,” said Wei Liu, a faculty member at the ASU Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery and an assistant professor at the School of Molecular Sciences. “Armed with this knowledge, it becomes easier to design drug-like molecules that will bind to only one receptor or the other, but not both. This selective binding is important as it will minimize unwanted side-effects."

The structures of both receptors were obtained using a laser, called the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, which uses X-rays to take stop-action pictures of the receptor atoms and molecules in motion.

“Due to the tiny size of the crystals, it wouldn’t have been possible to make these measurements anywhere other than LCLS,” said co-author Alex Batyuk, a scientist at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. “Because of the extreme brightness and short pulse duration of LCLS, we were able to collect hundreds of thousands of images of the crystals to figure out the three-dimensional structure of these receptors."

About the study

The research is the result of a collaboration among scientists at USC, Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute and Department of Physics, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, University of Buffalo, University of North Carolina and the Université de Lille in France.

The work was supported by National Institutes of Health grants (R35 GM127086, R21 DA042298, R01 GM124152, and U24DK116195), the NIMH Psychoactive Drug Screening Program (contract F31-NS093917), the National Science Foundation BioXFEL Science and Technology Center 1231306, EMBO ALTF 677-2014, HFSP long-term fellowship LT000046/2014-L, and a postdoctoral fellowship from the Swedish Research Council, SLAC, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science via contract DE-AC02-76SF00515.