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1. Carnegie Mellon Receives Largest Gift to its School of Music

Music Chorus singers

Two regional foundations created by the late Jack G. Buncher have given $5 million to support Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Music in its College of Fine Arts. The gift is the largest in the history of the School of Music and will be used to endow the Jack G. Buncher Chair for the head of the school.

The gift was championed by Bernita Buncher, chair of the foundation that now bears her late father’s name, and is funded jointly by the Jack Buncher Foundation and the Jack G. Buncher Charitable Fund for Carnegie Mellon University. A first of its kind for the 105-year-old School of Music, the prestigious chair will enable the school to attract and retain distinguished scholars to lead its programs.

“We are deeply grateful to Bernita Buncher for her commitment to Carnegie Mellon and to Pittsburgh,” CMU President Subra Suresh said. “She is dedicated to enhancing the city’s institutions and culture. This is a powerful testament to her devotion to Carnegie Mellon, to the exceptional work of the Buncher foundations, and to the high regard in which the CMU School of Music is held in our community.”

“Carnegie Mellon is a jewel in the crown of Pittsburgh,” Bernita Buncher said. “I’m delighted to help the School of Music inspire these gifted student-musicians to develop their talent and take their place in the music field.”

Jack Buncher
Jack Buncher

A formal ceremony celebrating the gift and the installation of the head of the School of Music will be held this fall.

“Bernita inspires all of us with her dedication to music and to our students,” said College of Fine Arts Dean Dan Martin. “This historic gift will provide the head of the School of Music with the resources to advance our world-renowned program now and into the future.”

Founded in 1912, CMU’s School of Music, a rigorous conservatory environment, is fully accredited for undergraduate and graduate study and offers majors in every orchestral instrument, as well as voice, composition, organ, piano, bagpipes and guitar. Instrumentalists and vocalists are educated in a wide range of musical styles and periods by professional musicians and master instructors. This year, 118 undergraduates and 135 graduate students are enrolled in music programs.

The School of Music is part of the College of Fine Arts, founded in 1906 as one of the first comprehensive arts teaching institutes in the United States. Today, students learn, create and discover in world-renowned programs in architecture, art, design, drama and music. Currently, 23 of the musicians in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) are faculty members at the school, providing professional instruction in strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion.

Jack Buncher, who was born and raised in Pittsburgh, first came to prominence in this city through the real-estate development company he built from a scrap metal business. In the early 1950s, Jack expanded the Buncher Co.’s interests by opening a business park in Leetsdale, Pa. Today, the company’s robust portfolio includes public warehousing, commodity transferring, railroad car parts and repair, construction and leasing of commercial real estate, and residential and hotel development.

Jack Buncher is recognized for his philanthropy as much as for his business achievements. In 1974, he founded the foundation, which has donated millions of dollars to a variety of local and global causes.

Bernita Buncher has followed her father’s example. She is well-known in the region for her advocacy of the arts, education and civic causes. A classical music enthusiast, she is a longtime supporter of CMU and the School of Music’s approach to training tomorrow’s musicians. As a trustee of the PSO, Bernita Buncher encourages a strong relationship between the PSO and the School of Music.

2. Disruption Rewarded: Streaming Platforms Are Changing (and Winning) Everything

By Scott Barsotti
Film Disruption

The Amazon Studios feature “Manchester by the Sea” reflects a major change in the entertainment industry and Carnegie Mellon University faculty are noticing the tide is turning. The film was the first released by a streaming service to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.

“It’s seismic,” said Dan Green, director of the Carnegie Mellon’s Master of Entertainment Industry Management (MEIM) program, a joint degree with the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy and the College of Fine Arts. “This is a time of disruption.”

When it came to prestigious Hollywood awards, streaming video on demand (SVOD) channels like Netflix and Amazon had no seat at the table as recently as 2012. In 2015, Amazon’s “Transparent,” starring CMU alumna Judith Light, won the Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy Series. In 2016, four of six nominations in that same category went to Amazon, Netflix or Hulu shows, with Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle” taking the top prize. Last month, Netflix’s “The Crown” won the Golden Globe for Best Drama Series, another first.

“Getting awards lends credibility in terms of the business,” said MEIM Adjunct Professor Kevin Stein, a media marketing expert who is a veteran of HBO and CBS. “They’re making creative choices that are adventurous, and similar to HBO’s model. By virtue of that, they’re attracting … filmmakers, screenwriters and movie stars who generally don’t do television.”

Momentum is Everything

Netflix has garnered Academy Award nominations for documentaries for several years running, and won an Oscar in this year’s documentary short category with “The White Helmets,” but those don’t carry the same prestige as Best Picture. In addition to its Best Picture nod, “Manchester by the Sea” took home Oscars for Best Actor (Casey Affleck) and Best Original Screenplay (Kenneth Lonergan), while landing nominations for Best Director, Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor. Add a Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award for the Iranian drama “The Salesman,” and it’s a statement year for Amazon.

In entertainment, momentum is everything.

“Winning stars and winning studios make bank. Traditionally, awards resuscitate box office … and contribute to the bottom line of what stars can command in their future contracts,” said Stein, adding that awards attention is certain to turn heads among Hollywood creatives on the lookout for future projects. He adds that by promising creative freedom, bigger budgets and now the potential of awards success, “[streaming channels] have attracted A-list film talent. ”

Blending the Old with the New

“Manchester’s” Oscar splash has raised eyebrows. Stein said it proves the SVOD model can shift to traditional platforms and distribution. Recently, Netflix’s “Beasts of No Nation” and Amazon’s “Chi-Raq” earned widespread critical acclaim, but failed to net the kind of major award nominations that drive sales. “Manchester by the Sea” may be the mark of a changing tide — and strategy.

Where the streaming services used tech to disrupt the television paradigm from the outside, the approach with “Manchester” blends the old (nationwide release in theaters) and the new (exclusive, though delayed, release on Amazon Prime Video later in 2017).

“Not every film requires a brick-and-mortar distribution experience, but when it’s needed, they’re able to promise filmmakers a robust marketing campaign to rival any major studio,” Green said. “This push and pull between traditional theatrical distribution and streaming services will only get more complicated as Amazon and Netflix compete not only with each other, but with the expectations of an increasingly choosy customer.”

Green added that Amazon and Netflix outspent traditional distributors at the Sundance Film Festival this year, underscoring their focus on adding award-caliber films to their arsenals to entice subscribers.

Stein draws a stark comparison from the music industry in the late ‘90s to today.

“Traditional television and the movie business can learn a lot from looking at what happened to the record business. It became peer-to-peer driven, it became digital … it became personalized,” he said. “There’s a lot of industry criticism about why Netflix and Amazon don’t share their ratings, but they are playing a different long tail game by emphasizing audience data in contrast to overnights.”

Rahul Telang, Heinz College professor and co-author of the book “Streaming, Sharing, Stealing: Big Data and the Future of Entertainment,” said in an interview with C-Span that whether or not traditional studios can embrace big data is going to play a significant role in how long they can sustain their advantages.

“Netflix said … ‘I can hire similar talent. I have the customer base. And … I have the data and the ability … so why not produce the content … rather than [the studios] dictating what sort of content can be and cannot be available,’” said Telang, adding that the major awards success of the streaming channels flies in the face of industry angst that big data threatened to crush creativity.

“When you have good information … creators are more likely to be successful because they’re working on projects that have a higher potential of being successful,” he said.

Related Links:
The MEIM program
Rahul Telang’s book “Streaming, Sharing, Stealing”
Watch Telang’s full interview on C-Span’s “The Communicators” 

3. CMU Trustee Frank Brunckhorst Gives $10 Million for Presidential Scholarships

students on campus

Frank Brunckhorst, a member of Carnegie Mellon University’s Board of Trustees, has given $10 million to support undergraduate student scholarships.

The gift will support the Frank Brunckhorst Presidential Scholarship Endowment, contributing to a landmark initiative that provides some of the university’s top students with significant support while assisting CMU to attract the most talented scholars to its renowned academic programs.

"Frank has been a longstanding leader and benefactor of our university,” said CMU President Subra Suresh. “We thank him for his continued support of scholarships, which will help us expand access to a CMU education and attract a diverse cohort of outstanding students."

The Presidential Fellowships and Scholarships program, launched by President Suresh in 2014, provides critical financial assistance to exceptional undergraduate and graduate students across all of CMU's seven colleges and schools. Selection for a Presidential Scholarship recognizes a student’s outstanding academic success and future potential.

Born and raised in New York City, Brunckhorst graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 1987 with a B.S. in Business. His Carnegie Mellon experience prepared him for a career that led to his service as chairman of Boar’s Head Provisions, the leading provider of exceptional delicatessen products. Brunckhorst, who resides in Sarasota, Fla., still serves on the board of the company, which manufactures and distributes more than 500 premium food products to restaurants, delicatessens and grocery stores throughout the United States.

A member of the university’s board of trustees since 2005, Brunckhorst serves on its Executive Committee and as its Advancement Committee chair. Brunckhorst made his first gift for university scholarships in 1996, and has been a consistent donor ever since. With this new gift, the value of the Frank Brunckhorst Presidential Scholarship Endowment will exceed $15 million.

"I am extremely fortunate and proud to be a Carnegie Mellon alumnus. My CMU education has served me well throughout my career and was only possible with extraordinary financial assistance from my family. My endowment will provide scholarships to the best, brightest and most promising students who otherwise might not be able to attend Carnegie Mellon. These Presidential Scholarship students will be the leaders of our next generation. When I meet these students and hear their passions and dreams I only have optimism for our future. I am truly fortunate to be able to provide these opportunities. "

"Mr. Brunckhorst’s scholarship was instrumental in allowing me to attend a top institution like CMU without placing a financial burden on myself and my family,” said Jared McPhail, a senior biological sciences major. “With this support over the course of four years, I have been able to explore my interests here at CMU, engaging in research with faculty, forging connections with my peers and even discovering new hobbies. After my experience at CMU, I feel prepared to succeed in my career path.”

Brunckhorst’s gift adds to the growing Presidential Fellowships and Scholarships program, which has a current value of related endowment funds and commitments of more than $285 million.

4. CMU Makes Two Executive Leadership Appointments

Angela Blanton and Cathy Light have been named to executive leadership roles at Carnegie Mellon University.

Cathy Light
Cathy Light

Angela Blanton
Angela Blanton

Blanton was named vice president for Finance and chief financial officer for the university.

Light was named secretary of the corporation and chief of staff, coordinating internal and external stakeholder interactions with the Office of the President.

In an email to the university community, President Subra Suresh thanked both officers for their service to the university and congratulated them on their promotions.

“Both Angela and Cathy have distinguished themselves since last summer, while serving the university in these
roles on an interim basis. They have both brought energy, skill and leadership to these critical roles, making strong additions to the university’s executive team,” Suresh wrote.

Suresh made the appointments following extensive consultation with university stakeholders and trustees.

Blanton joined Carnegie Mellon in 2015 as director of operations in the university’s Finance Division. Following her interim appointment last year, she has been directly responsible for providing strategic leadership for the university’s business and finance functions, as well as for the management of its financial and capital resources. She also oversees Audit Services, the Treasurer’s Office, the Controller’s Office, Budget and Financial Planning, Procurement, and Business Systems and Services.

Blanton started her career as an electrical engineer with Delphi Automotive and Chrysler. She then worked at PPG Industries in various financial analyst roles in the Chemicals, Glass and Coatings business units and controllership areas. Blanton moved to PNC Financial Services and served as a finance manager in the Retail Banking controllership function before transferring to the PNC Finance Project Management Office. Prior to joining Carnegie Mellon, she was the CFO for PNC Financial Services brokerage investment business.

Blanton received her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan, and an MBA from Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business.

Light has served the Office of the President since 2007, most recently as director of the Office of the President and interim secretary of the corporation. In her new positions, she will oversee the Office of the President, and additionally coordinate and support the activities of the board of trustees. She also will serve as the point of contact for various constituent groups, planning and guiding the initiatives and activities of the president and other senior leaders as they relate to internal operations and global external relationships.

Prior to joining Carnegie Mellon in 2007, Light served from 1985 to 2007 in a variety of management positions with the Institute for Shipboard Education, which operates the Semester at Sea study-abroad program, previously sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh. Her responsibilities spanned the management of global operations, academic field programs, communications, human resources, budgeting, risk management and coordination between the land-based office and shipboard campus.

Light earned her bachelor’s degree in business management from Carlow University and will graduate with her master’s degree in organizational leadership from Robert Morris University this summer. Light also completed CMU’s inaugural Leadership Academy in 2009.

High resolution images available for news media:

5. Synthetic Nanoparticles Achieve Complexity of Protein Molecules

By Jocelyn Duffy

Figure 1 shows gold nanoparticles assembly
Graphic shows Au246's hierarchical assembly into an artificial solid.

Chemists at Carnegie Mellon University have demonstrated that synthetic nanoparticles can achieve the same level of structural complexity, hierarchy and accuracy as their natural counterparts — biomolecules. The study, published in Science, also reveals the atomic-level mechanisms behind nanoparticle self-assembly.

The findings from the lab of Chemistry Professor Rongchao Jin provide researchers with an important window into how nanoparticles form, and will help guide the construction of nanoparticles, including those that can be used in the fabrication of computer chips, creation of new materials, and development of new drugs and drug delivery devices.

"Most people think that nanoparticles are simple things, because they are so small. But when we look at nanoparticles at the atomic level, we found that they are full of wonders," Jin said.

Image shows gold nanoparticle
Image shows the structure of an AU246(SR)80 nanoparticle.

Nanoparticles are typically between 1 and 100 nanometers in size. Particles on the larger end of the nanoscale are harder to create precisely. Jin has been at the forefront of creating precise gold nanoparticles for a decade, first establishing the structure of an ultra-small Au25 nanocluster and then working on progressively larger ones. In 2015, his lab used X-ray crystallography to establish the structure of an Au133 nanoparticle and found that it contained complex, self-organized patterns that mirrored patterns found in nature.

In the current study, they sought to discover the mechanisms that caused these patterns to form. The researchers, led by graduate student Chenjie Zeng, established the structure of Au246, one of the largest and most complex nanoparticles created by scientists to date and the largest gold nanoparticle to have its structure determined by X-ray crystallography. Au246 turned out to be an ideal candidate for deciphering the complex rules of self-assembly because it contains an ideal number of atoms and surface ligands, and is about the same size and weight as a protein molecule.

Analysis of Au246's structure revealed the particles had much more in common with biomolecules than size. They found that the ligands in the nanoparticles self-assembled into rotational and parallel patterns strikingly similar to the patterns found in proteins' secondary structure. This could indicate that nanoparticles of this size could easily interact with biological systems, providing new avenues for drug discovery.

The researchers also found that Au246 particles form by following two rules. First, they maximize the interactions between atoms, a mechanism that had been theorized but not yet seen. Second, the nanoparticles match symmetric surface patterns, a mechanism that had not been considered previously. The matching, which is similar to puzzle pieces coming together, shows that the components of the particle can recognize each other by their patterns and spontaneously assemble into the highly ordered structure of a nanoparticle.

"Self-assembly is an important way of construction in the nanoworld. Understanding the rules of self-assembly is critical to designing and building up complex nanoparticles with a wide-range of functionalities," said Zeng, the study's lead author. Additional authors of the study include: Carnegie Mellon graduate student Yuxiang Chen and the University of Toledo's Kristin Kirschbaum, a crystallographer, and Kelly J. Lambright.

In future studies, Jin hopes to push the crystallization limits of nanoparticles even farther to larger and larger particles. He also plans to explore the particles' electronic and catalytic power.

The study was funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Awards Program.

6. Computational Biologist Part of All-Star Alzheimer’s Collaboration

By Byron Spice

Pfenning Lab

Andreas Pfenning, assistant professor in Carnegie Mellon University’s Computational Biology Department, is part of an all-star research team that aims to find new ways to translate genetic findings into new therapies for Alzheimer’s disease.

As part of an international research team assembled by the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, Pfenning will use computational techniques to potentially identify thousands of genetic sequences that hold therapeutic potential for Alzheimer’s. He also is developing new biological techniques to test the function of those human DNA fragments in the brains of mice.

The two-year, $4 million project, Collaboration to Infer Regulatory Circuits and to Uncover Innovative Therapeutic Strategies, or CIRCUITS, includes Pfenning and eight researchers from MIT, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Sheffield and the University of Luebeck.

“We are looking for those parts of the human genome that are active in the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients,” Pfenning said.

Researchers are confident they have identified 20 or 30 such genetic sequences associated with this form of dementia, he noted, but have reason to believe hundreds or even thousands of additional segments may be involved.

Identifying and evaluating so many candidate DNA segments will require new methods for analyzing extremely large datasets, Pfenning said, as well as new methods for testing that DNA in the brains of mice.

“In the past this has been done one gene at a time and it has not been done in a systematic way,” he said. “My lab will be creating new techniques that bridge analytics and experimentation.”

The Computational Biology Department is part of CMU’s School of Computer Science. The Cure Alzheimer's Fund, founded in 2004, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding research with the highest probability of preventing, slowing or reversing Alzheimer's disease.

Pfenning also is part of BrainHub, CMU’s neuroscience initiative, and Morgan Wirthlin, a BrainHub post-doctoral fellow, performed some of the preliminary work on this research.

7. Updated: CMU Participates in Amicus Briefs Opposing Executive Order on Immigration

Carnegie Mellon took part in two amicus briefs filed by higher education groups that oppose the executive order on immigration, as part of a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New York.

On Feb. 13, CMU joined 16 other research universities in filing an amicus brief.

That brief states that: " students, faculty, and scholars, make significant contributions to their fields of study and to campus life by bringing their unique perspectives and talents to amici's classrooms, laboratories, and performance spaces. These individuals also contribute to the United States and the world more generally by making scientific discoveries, starting businesses, and creating works of literature and art that redound to the benefit of others far beyond amici's campuses" and that the "Executive Order at issue here threatens amici's continuing ability to attract these individuals and thus to meet their goals of educating tomorrow's leaders from around the world."

The brief notes that a blanket restriction on individuals from certain countries has an adverse effect on universities' ability to educate and train our future leaders. In turn, this negatively impacts the significant research and innovations developed by U.S. universities, which have played a major role in generating economic growth and improving the lives of millions of Americans.

Since the administration has indicated that it will likely continue to pursue such restrictions, the amicus brief is a further effort to support the CMU community and strongly emphasize the importance of international students, faculty and staff, who enrich the university community from an educational, research and cultural perspective.

In addition to CMU, the brief was signed by Brown University, University of Chicago, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Emory University, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Stanford University, Vanderbilt University and Yale University.

On Feb. 16, The Association of American Universities, of which Carnegie Mellon University is a member, filed its own amicus brief in the same case. The AAU brief cites CMU and quotes two paragraphs from Dr. Suresh’s Jan. 31 campus email on immigration.

This article has been updated to include the AAU filing.

Related Links:
Executive Orders & Immigration: A Letter from Dr. Suresh to the Campus Community
Statement in Support of Undocumented Students



8. Feminist Voices Heard at the Miller Gallery

By Ann Lyon Ritchie

Millery Gallery
"Lorna, The First Interactive Video Art Disk” by Lynn Hershman Leeson is a part of the Miller Gallery’s current exhibition. Image is courtesy of the artist and Bridget Donahue Gallery.

Twenty-two female artists, designers and developers are speaking out at Carnegie Mellon University's Miller Gallery through an exhibition that showcases their technology-driven and sometimes humorous work.

"Hacking / Modding / Remixing," curated by Angela Washko, a visiting assistant professor in CMU's School of Art, runs through Feb. 26.

Image of Angela Washko
Visiting Professor Angela Washko created "Hacking / Modding / Remixing," which runs at CMU's Miller Gallery until Feb. 26.

"Angela is one of the most noted young artists working at the intersection of online culture, feminism and technology," said Margaret Cox, assistant director of the Miller Gallery.

The exhibition highlights renowned CMU alumni, faculty and national and international artists. In the wake of the global Women's March demonstrations, Washko channels feminist voices from 1970s to the present.

"By considering television, film, computer software, the internet, pop music, the medical industry, robotics, video games, corporate branding, LaserDiscs and advertising as sites of intervention — all of the women in the show create new ways of looking at systems of oppression embedded in everyday technological objects, entertainment experiences, contexts and platforms while altering them to create narratives of resistance," Washko said.

The video art, "Kiss The Girls: Make Them Cry," by New York City artist Dara Birnbaum, a 1969 graduate of CMU's School of Architecture, manipulates off-air imagery from the television game show "Hollywood Squares" (1966-1981). 

"'Kiss the Girls: Make Them Cry' both appropriates and deconstructs this once dominant TV-imagery," said Birnbaum, who since the early 1970s has blazed a trail in the media arts. "Most of the images used within this artwork concentrate on those actors and actresses who were then seen as minor celebrities. By isolating and repeating the images of their exaggerated opening gestures — as they greet their audience of millions of viewers across the United States — is clearly shown.

"The music is meant to directly link the hit TV show with top-of-the-chart disco music from that same time, while the game board decor of the stage set performs a light show that dances to the comparative rhythms of both. 'Kiss the Girls: Make Them Cry' is amongst the very first media artworks to address the language of popular television and Top 10 songs. Its unusual and bizarre repetition of that television banality still rings as true today," Birnbaum said.

Birnbaum said while a new generation of artists is now providing commentary on contemporary mass media, a more critical social commentary — especially in regard to women — has yet to be confronted. 

"Voices from a younger generation of women artists will, hopefully, again select and dissect those images that now dominate mass media. The challenge remains to gain control of this imagery, revealing its hidden agendas and to formulate alternative voices and visions," she said.

Additional CMU-affiliated artists in the exhibition include alumna Cat Mazza, a 1999 graduate of the School of Art, and Professor of Art Suzie Silver.

Mazza's massive fiber piece, "Nike Blanket Petition," is a rendition of the Nike swoosh and questions sweatshop practices while using digital media to crowdsource crocheted and knit squares from crafters in more than 30 countries.

Nike Blanket Petition
Catt Mazza’s “Nike Blanket Petition” crowdsourced crocheted and knit squares from crafters in more than 30 countries.

"The goal of stitching the swoosh was to connect the handmade to the mass-produced, but also for participants to consider the ways we have voice in the global economy. This can be through voting with our dollar, activism or other forms of creative resistance," Mazza said.

"The 'Nike Blanket Petition' builds on feminist strategies of resistance. The labor force of apparel production is still largely women. The piece draws on the spirit of women in the labor movements of early industrial capitalism - workers protesting unfair wages, unsanitary conditions, inhumane hours, et cetera — and applies it to our present day conditions. The work is also influenced by craft traditions of collaborative quilting as well as feminist and social practice art," Mazza said.

Silver said she was thrilled to have "Freebird" included in Washko's exhibit.

"At 23 years old, 'Freebird' is now considered an important historical work that uses appropriation and performance to disrupt dominant power dynamics of gender and popular culture," Silver said.

"'Freebird' is a humorous send-up of heteronormative, patriarchical popular culture. In 'Freebird,' I played with star-directed desires by inserting myself first into the Academy Awards, where, through the power of editing, my character receives appreciative glances and throwing kisses from major movie stars such as Jodie Foster, Barbra Streisand, Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon. In the second section, I impersonated the lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ronnie Van Zant, and lip-synced the song 'Freebird.' In the third section of the video, I embody an out-and-proud lounge singer celebrating lesbian lust and desire.

"The first two roles, appearing on the Academy Awards and laid-back rock star dude, are ones that were not possible, as a gender non-conforming lesbian, for me to actually inhabit. However, things are changing. Recently the young superstar, Kristen Stewart, stated on a recent Saturday Night Live episode that she is, 'so gay, dude.'"

Cox said that part of the gallery's mission is to expand notions of art and culture, as well as explore regional and international investigations across media.

"We are proud to host 'Hacking / Modding / Remixing as Feminist Protest' at a time when dialogue surrounding gender, technology and feminism is much-needed," Cox said.

Media contact: Pam Wigley

9. CAREER Award Could Help Chemist Explain Processes Related to Health, Aging

By Jocelyn Duffy

A Carnegie Mellon University chemist has received an award to study three newly discovered enzymes that are known to play in role in our health and aging.

Image of Yisong GuoCMU's Yisong Guo received a Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation. One of the most prestigious awards for young faculty, CAREER awards recognize and support those who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through their outstanding research and teaching.

Guo, an assistant professor of chemistry, received the five-year grant to study three newly discovered non-heme mononuclear iron-containing (NHM-Fe) enzymes, which are known to play a role in a number of processes that impact health and aging.

"Mastering the unique biological transformations demonstrated by these enzymes could further lead to the discovery of new bioactive molecules that offer profound implications for human health," Guo said.

The enzymes Guo will study catalyze key steps in the biosynthesis of two secondary metabolites that are beneficial to human health. One enzyme, FtmOx1, produces a toxic chemical called verriculogen. Despite its toxicity, verroculogen contains a unique functional group, endoperoxide, that displays a wide spectrum of anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-cancer abilities. The other enzymes, OvoA and EgtB, are involved in the biosynthesis of ovothiol and ergothioneine, molecules with antioxidant and possible anti-aging properties. Under the grant, Guo will try to uncover the chemical principles that govern the function of all three enzymes and the production of their secondary metabolites.

The research findings will be integrated into educational activities for graduate, undergraduate and high school students. The grant also will allow Guo to provide training opportunities for students in physical chemistry, bioinorganic chemistry, biochemistry, enzymology and catalysis.

10. Marriage Is Good for Your Health, Study Confirms

By Shilo Rea

A man and woman smiling at each other

Studies have suggested that married people are healthier than those who are single, divorced or widowed. A new Carnegie Mellon University study provides the first biological evidence to support that claim.

Published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, the researchers found that married individuals had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who never married or were previously married. These findings support the belief that unmarried people face more psychological stress than married individuals. Prolonged stress is associated with increased levels of cortisol, which can interfere with the body's ability to regulate inflammation, and  thus promotes the development and progression of many diseases.

"It's exciting to discover a physiological pathway that may explain how relationships influence health and disease," said Brian Chin, a Ph.D. student in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences' Department of Psychology.

Over three non-consecutive days, the researchers collected saliva samples from 572 healthy adults aged 21-55. Multiple samples were taken during each 24-hour period and tested for cortisol.

The results showed that married participants had lower cortisol levels than the never married or previously married people across the three days. The researchers also compared each person's daily cortisol rhythm - typically, cortisol levels peak when a person wakes up and decline during the day. Those who were married showed a faster decline, a pattern that has been associated with less heart disease and longer survival among cancer patients.

"These data provide important insight into the way in which our intimate social relationships can get under the skin to influence our health," said laboratory director and co-author Sheldon Cohen, the Robert E. Doherty University Professor of Psychology.

Michael L.M. Murphy, a postdoctoral researcher at CMU, and Denise Janicki-Deverts of the University of Pittsburgh were part of the research team.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health funded the preparation of this article.