Rebecca Wingert

Muhlenberg College Class of 1999
Dual Degree: Biology and English majors
Graduated with highest honors in biology
Thesis advisor at Muhlenberg: Elizabeth McCain
Muhlenberg Thesis title: Embryology of the Chick Heart: Cardiac Muscle Development and the Effects of Retinoic Acid

Current position: Ph.D. candidate, defending dissertation in April 2005
Institution: Harvard University
Program: Division of Medical Sciences, Program in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Field of study: Cell and Developmental Biology
Ph.D. Thesis Title: Genetic analysis of vertebrate hemoglobin synthesis: Characterization of the zebrafish hypochromic mutants chianti and shiraz.
Future Position: She will be doing post-doctoral research in the lab of Alan Davidson, in the Center for Regenerative Medicine and Technology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

When Rebecca Wingert saw her first living embryos, the initial cell divisions of a sea urchin embryo or the chicken embryo’s early heartbeats, she fell in love. This passion was discovered her sophomore year in McCain’s developmental biology course and was further fueled in McCain’s transmission electron microscopy (TEM) course, in the fall of her junior year. The TEM course requires students to design and carry out an original research project, and Wingert focused on how the first cardiac muscle cells organize themselves in the 24- to 96-hour-old chicken embryo. After completing her research project that semester, she continued to examine early chicken heart development, from both a descriptive and experimental approach, through a biology honors thesis. She spent the following summer and academic year in the darkness of the electron microscopy room, seeing the beauty of the first cardiac muscle cells organizing into the primitive atrium and ventricle and the effects of retinoic acid on that process. At the end of her senior year, she presented her work at the Northeast Regional Society for Developmental Biology conference in Woods Hole, Mass., and received Highest Honors in Biology for her thesis. She continued her studies in developmental biology at Harvard University, and for the past six years has worked in the laboratory of Dr. Leonard Zon ’79, examining how blood cells develop in zebrafish embryos. She published two papers on this topic and defended her dissertation in April. Her next move will not be far; she will be doing post-doctoral research in the Center for Regenerative Medicine and Technology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Jessica Tanis

Muhlenberg College Class of 2002
Majors: Biology/Environmental Science
Graduated with highest honors in biology
Thesis advisors at Muhlenberg: Bruce Wightman and Elizabeth McCain
Thesis title: “Analysis of unc-20 mutant Caenorhabditis elegans through Transmission Electron Microscopy and Molecular Approaches”

Current position: Ph.D. candidate
Institution: Yale University
Fields of study: Neuroscience and Molecular Biology
Award: National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow (2004)
Current thesis work: Molecular Biology of Neurotransmission, Koelle Laboratory, Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University

Tanis began her undergraduate research career during her sophomore year. Using transgenic nematodes, she performed a molecular genetic research project in Wightman’s lab that tested the function of a human gene involved in eye development, called PNR. The following year, she expanded her research to include the molecular cloning of a gene called unc-20, which is involved in nervous system development. As a senior, she developed her own collaborative honors project on unc-20, which combined molecular genetics and electron microscopy. This broadly-conceived project involved three advisors, two at Muhlenberg (Wightman and McCain) and one at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City (Dr. David Hall). During her senior year, Tanis traveled to New York several times to work with her collaborator. This undergraduate research culminated in a 117-page thesis. From multiple offers of admission to Ph.D. programs, she chose Yale University. Currently, she works on the molecular mechanism by which neurons exchange chemical signals. In 2004, Tanis was awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship.

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