Advanced Math/Science Research Update
by Dr. April Burch, Director of the AMSR program
January 15, 2013
Since our last update, Berkshire School hosted student researchers from Belmont Hill, and all-boys prep school outside of Boston, for a 1-day mini-symposium on Student Biomedical Research. The goal was to foster collaboration, communication and community outreach with our students. AMSR students Liza Bernstein '13, Sissi Wang '13, Lars Robinson '13, Elsie Guevara '13, Ernest Yue '13, and Nate MacKenzie '14, gave short talks about their work in the new Bellas/Dixon Math and Science lecture hall. The talks were followed up by break-out sessions where Belmont Hill students described their research projects and students discussed commonalities between the projects and future goals.
The second semester of AMSR started with some terrific news. The AMSR program was awarded a grant from The Chinchester Dupont Foundation for the purchase of an EVOS fluorescence microscope. This piece of equipment will expand the types of experiments and analyses that can be done by AMSR students this and future years. The microscope should arrive shortly, and Dr. Burch has invited everyone to stop in for a look next time they are on campus.
One new, exciting project that is underway in the winter season of AMSR in the afternoons is being spearheaded by Elif Kesaf '14. Elif is from Turkey and seeks to identify novel viruses of non-pathogenic strains of Legionella bacterium from travertines in Pamukkale. In collaboration with Dr. Sunny Shin at the Perlman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, she will be working to isolate viruses of this bacterium with the hope of identifying new agents to combat Legionnaires' disease caused by a pathogenic form of Legionella.
Look for more news from Dr. Burch in the next issue!
Meet Dr. April Burch
In May, Dr. April Burch joined the Berkshire faculty. She brings her extensive science research experience to bear in her new role as the Director of the Advanced Math/Science Research program.
Tell us about your background:
I grew up in Louisiana, just north of New Orleans, and I have lived all over the US—from the desert Southwest to New England. I am thrilled to call the Berkshires home now. I obtained my B.S. in Louisiana and completed my Ph.D. at the University of Arizona in Tucson. My Ph.D. focused on viruses of bacteria, called bacteriophages. These viruses are harmless to us and are found anywhere bacteria exist (i.e. almost everywhere). After completing my Ph.D., I moved to Farmington, CT to work on Herpes Simplex Virus, the virus that causes cold sores and shingles, at UConn Health Center. After my residency at UConn, I started my own research lab at the Wadsworth Center, the research arm of the New York State Department of Health. My lab focused on understanding how Herpesviruses replicate and why antioxidants inhibit virus replication.
My first exposure to the Advanced Math/Science Research (AMSR) program was through Kurt Schleunes and James Steiner ’12, whom I hosted in the lab last year. James studied the antioxidant protein Nrf2 (called “Nerf two”) when he was in my lab. Using a reporter assay, James found that virus infection does activate Nrf2.
Why did you decide to come to Berkshire?
I came to Berkshire to work with students and to be a part of this one-of-a-kind program that will change how we educate students in this country. I also came to Berkshire because I believe that the future of science rests in the hands of today’s Berkshire student. When I say “the future of science”, I mean science funding. Decisions on science funding are not typically made by scientists but rather politicians and social leaders. Berkshire has a rich history of producing influential citizens. At Berkshire, I feel this program can touch not only future scientists but future politicians, community leaders, activists, and parents. The future of science and its impact on the fabric of our lives is truly in their hands.
The AMSR program will be the first program in the world to provide an authentic, on-campus research experience for students, hosted by a real Resident Scientist. I am proud to help take the AMSR program to the next level and I am only able to do so because of the tremendous success that the program has enjoyed due to the efforts of Kurt Schleunes and his colleagues Devon O’Rourke and Tim Lance in the Math and Science Departments. This would also not be possible without the incredible support of the administration and Head of School Mike Maher who have worked tirelessly in support of this investment.
You have aspirations to grow the AMSR program beyond its current regional status and achieve national and even global status. How do you hope to do this?
I believe that the AMSR program will be a nationally/internationally-recognized, externally funded, and published science program that the entire student body, faculty, alumni, and local community will be proud of. In essence, we are doing an experiment and, believe me, people are watching. The experiment is: “What impact does real, hands-on research experience have on science education?” If we succeed, I believe you will see this type of program implemented all over, mostly in independent schools first because of financial limitations in the public sphere. But Berkshire will have been first: the first to truly invest in basic research, technology-driven, hands-on learning for its student body.
The new Math/Science building will be completed in mid-August. Tell us about the expanded opportunities for the students to do on-campus research.
In addition to providing students with the opportunity to conduct on-campus research, students who in past years traveled off-campus to perform basic experiments will now have the luxury of staying on campus and conducting many of the same experiments with the guidance of on-campus faculty. Students will still interact with off-campus mentors (via SKYPE, email, and the occasional trip off campus) to convey results and troubleshoot experimental problems, but there will be much less travel. In essence, we will be providing the students more time in the lab with much less burden on the mentors, who are incredibly busy. It’s a win-win!
Tell us more about the new Math/Science building.
The new facilities are going to be outstanding. I have worked in and visited labs all over the world. From the Tufts Medical Center, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to Regensburg Institute outside of Munich, our facilities will rival those seen in most university settings. We will have all of the basic lab equipment expected in a graduate-level research lab, plus a state-of-the-art, real-time gene expression monitoring system, teaching fluorescence microscopes, and tissue cultivation systems. The Berkshire community is welcome to stop by anytime. The building will be ready for students when they return in September!
Click here to learn more about the new building.
Five things to know about April:
- Has a Labrador named Marley and a Chihuahua named “Chi Berry”
- Loves to cook and writes a food blog (MF Food Blog)
- Owns two local retail stores with her husband, Dan Alden, a Berkshire alum in the Class of ‘91
- Loves to mountain bike and snowboard
- Once entered a strawberry eating competition (lost by 5 berries)