Graduate students can help build new 'Impacting Equality' labs in virtual workshop

September 21, 2020

Arizona State University graduate students interested in addressing inequality through their coursework have the unique opportunity to help design the curriculum for new interdisciplinary labs focused on “Impacting Inequality.”

Interested students will help create the lab classes in a workshop with lab faculty on Sept. 29. The new Interdisciplinary Solutions for Social Impact labs will be offered during spring 2021.  Students attend workshop Download Full Image

The Interdisciplinary Solutions for Social Impact labs model  

To encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and inspire cutting-edge learning opportunities for graduate students, the Graduate College launched the Graduate College Fellows Initiative in 2019. The two inaugural fellows — University Professor, Regents Professor and President's Professor Sally Kitch and W. P.  Carey Clinical Assistant Professor John Wisneski — collaborated to create the first comprehensive model for a new cross-campus experience: Interdisciplinary Solutions for Social Impact (ISSI).

Rooted in team-taught, project-based learning, ISSI will support interdisciplinary laboratories that bring together faculty and graduate students exploring complex social problems. The first labs will launch in the spring 2021 and focus on the theme “Impacting Inequality.”  A number of ASU faculty members are participating in the 2020–21 lab. 

The most compelling aspect of being part of the inaugural lab experience is the opportunity of bringing like-minded faculty and graduate students from interdisciplinary fields who think about social justice on a regular basis in their research approaches and who want to collaborate to develop solutions based models,” said Rafael A. Martínez, assistant professor of Southwest borderlands. 

Participating lab faculty include:

  • Felipe Castro, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation.
  • David Garcia, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.
  • Maria Rosario Jackson, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.
  • Brendan O’Connor, School of Transborder Studies.
  • Dawn Gilpin, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
  • Rafael Martínez Orozco, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts.

Graduate students can join faculty to build the ISSI labs 

The Interdisciplinary Solutions for Social Impact workshop will take place from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 29. In the virtual workshop, students will be expected to actively engage in dialogue with lab faculty to help build student-centered curriculum.  

The first half of the workshop will be focused on the values of interdisciplinary approaches: why they’re needed and why they’re so hard to implement. The second half will include interactive activities designed to generate productive questions and approaches around which the team-taught spring 2021 labs will be based.

Martínez said he is looking forward to learning more about the students and their interests: “What are the issues they care about? And how can the faculty members collaborate with students to think about producing ideas and solutions to those pressing social issues?”

Space is limited so interested graduate students should register for the workshop as soon as possible to reserve their place.

Tracy Viselli

Director of Communications and Marketing, Graduate College


Mining molecular data with cryogenic electron microscopy unveils hidden biological secrets

September 22, 2020

The field of structural biology has made enormous strides, peering into the activities of nature at the tiniest scale. Such investigations are critical for charting the behavior of important macromolecules and understanding their essential role in living organisms.

Researchers at Arizona State University's Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery and School of Molecular Sciences have taken a new approach to studying molecules of life, examining not only their static structures at high resolution but the all-important dynamic movements of such molecules as they carry out biological functions. Abhishek Singharoy is a researcher in the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery and ASU's School of Molecular Sciences. Download Full Image

The new method involves an aggressive reprocessing of data obtained through a groundbreaking technique known as cryogenic electron microscopy or cryo-EM. Here, molecules targeted for study are flash-frozen in a thin membrane of ice before being subjected to electron microscopy. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of still images are collected, then reassembled by means of computer.

The technique offers a powerful alternative to X-ray crystallography for probing the molecular world in keen detail. Indeed, cryo-EM excels in the areas of study that are most challenging for X-ray crystallography, the imaging of large protein complexes resistant to conventional crystallization methods.

Although early iterations of cryo-EM struggled to compete with the extreme image resolution characteristic of X-ray crystallography, rapid advances in the field now enable cryo-EM to produce stunning macromolecular images at near-atomic-resolution.

In the new study, Abhishek Singharoy and his colleagues demonstrate that cryo-EM can be pushed to even greater extremes of clarity, by extracting precious information previously buried in the reams of cryo-EM data.

“Now, we can actually see minimum free-energy pathways image-by-image during a simulation,” Singharoy said. “It was impossible to see energetically feasible molecular movies before. Now cryo-EM, machine learning and molecular dynamics simulations have got us there.”

Abhishek is joined by joint first authors Ali Dashti and Ghoncheh Mashayekhi of the Department of Physics at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and ASU researcher Mrinal Shekhar. The new study is the result of a collaboration between five groups: Abbas Ourmazd’s and Peter Schwander’s at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; Joachim Frank’s at Columbia Medical Center; Amedee des Georges at City University of New York; and Singharoy at ASU.

The findings are reported in the current issue of the journal Nature Communications.

Applying the new strategy pioneered by co-authors Ourmazd and 2017 Chemistry Nobel laureate Frank, which involves mathematical techniques of geometric machine learning combined with classical molecular dynamics simulations, helped researchers capture the fleeting movements of ryanodine receptor type 1, an important calcium channel able to bind other molecules. Subtle conformational changes of the receptor play a crucial role in the contraction of skeletal muscle and muscles of the heart, once the receptor has been triggered by a specific binding molecule.

Using single-particle cryo-EM, the group was able to assemble impressive molecular movies of ryanodine receptor type 1’s continuous conformational changes, built from some 800,000 cryo-EM snapshots of molecules trapped in ice, like insects entombed in amber.

Combining snapshots that were intermediary between the fully closed and open conformations helped capture this receptor’s structural shape-shifting before and after binding by activating molecules.

The new technique will be a boon in practical areas — particularly, drug discovery — while helping to resolve foundational issues in molecular biology.

Richard Harth

Science writer, Biodesign Institute at ASU