Hello parents! I hope everyone has been doing well. I’m sure people would agree that the weather up here has been crazy. Students have been studying and enjoying the sun. We’re two weeks into November and today is the first real snow we’ve seen. Students have registered for broom ball teams for next semester and [...]
Michigan Tech News
May 23, 2016
Congratulations to Melanie Talaga and Tarun Dam for winning the 2016 Bhakta Rath Award. The award is given to an exceptional doctoral student and advisor pair at Michigan Technological University making a difference with their research.
Most people don’t sugarcoat their research. But Talaga’s work in glycobiology comes that way naturally. The molecules she studies are what her advisor, Dam, calls “candy-coated” proteins.
The sugary molecules are common in people’s bodies, playing important roles in infection, immunity, and they are biomarkers for a number of different cancers. Talaga and Dam specifically look at the molecular behavior of these glycoproteins. In other words, they study how the proteins act and respond to other molecules and affect cell-cell interactions.
“My dissertation research focused on using sophisticated biophysical techniques to understand how molecules behave,” Talaga says, explaining the behavior is difficult to detect. “This research lays the foundation for future improvements for cancer detection and drug design.”
The team’s research is a body of work that includes three papers. One shows that current thyroid cancer assays may have inaccurate readings. The second advances a concept that may potentially streamline drug development and the third focuses on the team’s methodology that could help expose apparently overlooked molecular events.
"No discovery is final—discovery is a journey rather than a destination. As our technology becomes more sophisticated everyday, tomorrow will certainly add more to today's discovery."-Tarun Dam
Where Good Research and Teaching Meet
The key to successful research, Dam says, is mentoring.
“We both are very much connected to our scientific projects; they are inseparable parts of our lives,” he says, adding that collaboration and communication—as much as the actual chemistry—defines the Mechanistic Glycobiology Lab’s effectiveness. “It is easy to work with Talaga because she is always willing to work hard to be on the same page with me.”
For her part, Talaga says her graduate experience went far beyond her expectations and that she didn’t realize pursuing a doctoral degree could be so exciting. She attributes this to Dam’s enthusiasm.
"Dam has a contagious passion for science that has rubbed off on me—the research doesn't feel like work when you enjoy what you are doing and look forward to coming to lab each day."-Melanie Talaga
Talaga and Dam not only set a high bar for their glycobiology research, but also their teaching, says Bruce Seely, the dean of the College of Science and Arts. He points out that Dam won the Exceptional Graduate Faculty Mentor Award from the graduate student government this spring, as well as the Michigan Tech Distinguished Teaching Award last year.
“Every person we hire must be an effective teacher and scholar,” Seely says, explaining that Dam has “demonstrated a deft touch in guiding students.”
He adds that those efforts pay off with exceptional students like Talaga who want to take their research to the next level. Talaga—who has earned nearly ten research awards and fellowships of her own in addition to several teaching awards as a T.A.—says she would like to stay in academia and continue teaching.
Seely sees dual benefits in the pair’s work. Their research in applying cutting edge knowledge of complex chemical mechanisms inspires creative solutions for problems with cancer assays and drug design. And, through initiating undergraduates in their lab and offering good courses, Talaga and Dam are fostering the next generation of chemists. For all this work, they are well recognized with the Bhakta Rath Research Award.
"Linking research and teaching is the key to being a good mentor."-Bruce Seely
May 19, 2016
For more than a quarter of a century, Dana Richter has been doing his dream job in Michigan Tech's School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science. In honor of his body of work, the SFRES has bestowed upon Richter the Researcher of the Year Award.
In the 26 years Dana Richter has been a part of Michigan Technological University’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science (SFRES), he has served in many capacities, from classroom teacher to researcher and advisor. And while his roles may have varied, one thing hasn’t changed—the passion he brings to everything he does.
That dedication, commitment and passion have not gone unnoticed by students and peers. The SFRES has awarded Richter, a research scientist and adjunct associate professor, the Researcher of the Year Award for 2016.
Terry Sharik, dean of SFRES, says despite what the name of the award may indicate, the honor is not bestowed annually.
“Actually, we haven’t given out the award in anyone’s recent memory,” Sharik says. “We use it to highlight the researchers who are our unsung heroes.”
Sharik said awarding the Researcher of the Year to Richter is a reflection of his outstanding career.
“It’s his body of work that we’re honoring. It’s a body of work that is impressive and worthy of recognition.” Sharik said the award was voted by the faculty, staff and students of SFRES.
Much of Richter’s research is for industry, such as testing for decay in wood products and testing new wood preservatives. A great deal of his research involves fungus and mold testing. “I do things in this lab, using sterile technique, that you’d do in a hospital,” Richter says.
"I can't say how fulfilled I am to be working in the field of forestry, with trees and with wood."-Dana Richter
Sharik said of Richter, “He is our expert in forest pathology.”
Richter says he’s humbled by the School’s recognition. “I’m truly honored. I couldn’t have done it without the support of so many wonderful colleagues over the years To work in this department has been a joy.”
But working in his chosen field seems to be his greatest honor. “I can’t say how fulfilled I am to be working in the field of forestry, with trees and with wood.”
Richter supervises the forest microbiology laboratory. “It’s not a high-tech lab,” he says, noting that he utilizes many time-tested traditional methods and practices. He is the principal investigator on projects involving wood decay, wood preservation, tree diseases and related fungus issues.
Over the years, Richter has authored many research articles, especially with students who have studied and worked in his lab, including students from departments across campus.
“I take pride in working with students and especially showing them how to conduct fungus research and to write and publish research papers,” Richter says. His latest article, which has been submitted to an international journal, is on the survival of fungus cultures stored for 30 years. It was co-authored by Thomas G. Dixon, Richter’s work study student for the past four years and Jill K. Smith, a Forestry grad who did a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) in Richter’s lab in 2011.
In addition to his University-related work, Richter conducts many workshops, field trips and presentations on mushrooms and the role of fungi in the ecosystem. The SFRES Award also cited his community service, including serving as president of the Copper Country Audobon, board member of the Friends of the Michigan Tech Library and years volunteering to help organize Michigan Tech’s annual used book sale.
The Researcher of the Year Award was presented April 22 at the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science Research Forum by Dean Sharik.