7CC Travel/Research Awards

Each year the Seven College Conference (7CC) awards two travel research grants (£500 each semester) to juniors studying abroad in the UK. Applicants are offered the opportunity to expand their research to another city, enroll in a special class, attend a conference or accept an internship. Over 30 students apply each semester and Wellesley women continue to impress the awards committee: both recent Seven College Conference travel/research grants were won by Wellesley juniors: Grace Hu '16, and Medeea Popescu '16. Here they describe how they used the grants, starting with Grace:

"Dear Seven College Conference of UK,

Thank you for awarding me a travel grant to attend the Conference on Big Data from Space (BiDS) in the Canary Islands. This invaluable experience has only added fuel to my passion in the intersection of technology and space.

Grace Hu

"Tenerife’s landmark auditorium, where the conference was held, offered a beautiful view of the island’s coast."

This intimate conference has given me the opportunity to network extensively with experts in this field. I met and now keep in touch with several representatives of the European Space Agency, a Portuguese project manager in industry, data professionals from Madrid, a Greek professor specializing in remote sensing data, and a Spanish PhD student in computer science. A data analytics and telecommunications company executive even offered me a position to serve as a liaison between Europe and US on their initiatives. More importantly, I learned about these leaders’ work, practical challenges they face, career paths, and visions for the field. These conversations and opinions certainly added to my conference experience.

Not all conversations centered on big data, however. Several of the European professionals I spoke with shared a common challenge of lacking gender diversity in their workplaces. I took this opportunity to share about Wellesley’s vibrant and exploding Computer Science department and to point to other Seven Sister colleges as a source of post-graduation recruiting. As one of 20 women and the only undergraduate present at this conference, I felt honored to represent the Seven Sister colleges at BiDS.

The conference sessions themselves were very informative. The talks gave me an in-depth exposure to current trends, challenges, research, and missions. I noted some international projects, particularly between NASA and the European Space Agency, and am considering contributing to these collaborations in the future. The vast majority of talks described challenges encountered. In those challenges, however, I saw opportunities to help contribute solutions. Additionally, I felt that I gained multiple perspectives from these sessions, especially since there was a good balance between speakers who were technologists and those who were policy makers.

I also had the opportunity to use the novel tools these experts were building. Developers and researchers showcased their interactive visualizations and tools that facilitated their big data analysis. Some of my favorite demonstrations were websites for the public to explore images that satellites have taken of Earth. All these tools have ultimately provided me inspiration for what I can contribute at my upcoming summer internship.

I have learned so much at this stimulating conference, and I feel more confident and excited about diving into this field. Thank you again for funding this incredible experience and journey.

Warm regards,

Grace Hu, Wellesley 2016


Medeea Popescu

St. Peter’s College, Oxford/Wellesley College

Over the past 9 months in the McLain Lab, I’ve studied the structure of the drug clonidine (shown at right).

Clonidine has been used clinically as a potent antihypertensive agent for over 40 years, and is thought to act by binding to receptors in the brain which lower blood pressure. Although much is known and published about the whole-body effects of the drug and its applications to various medical conditions, including pain management, opiate withdrawal, ADHD, anxiety, and fecal incontinence, biochemical and structural studies on clonidine structure in different environments (i.e. brain, blood, etc.) and while interacting with different receptors are still lacking.

The McLain lab is interested in understanding the interactions of molecules at the atomic and molecular level using techniques such as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), which can detect changes in the environment around individual atoms. In my work, I have used varying types of NMR experiments to characterize the behavior of clonidine in different solvents, which simulate the environment of the brain and of the bloodstream, and to model how the molecule might interact with water as a proxy for how it might bind a receptor.

One of the major results I obtained from my data was the structure of the deprotonated form of cloni- dine, called the free base, which is missing a hydrogen ion. Clonidine is administered in a medical context exclusively as clonidine salt (i.e. with the hydrogen ion attached), but there hasn’t been an investigation on whether the free base is also physiologically active. Interestingly, I found that the free base and salt forms have differing abilities to dissolve in most of the solvents tested: clonidine salt dissolves in polar solvents which are analogous to blood, including water and methanol, but is com- pletely insoluble in nonpolar solvents which mimic the environment in the brain, such as chloroform and benzene. In contrast, free base solubility follows the opposite pattern: it is most soluble in non- polar solvents. This trend is common amongst salt/free base pairs: the salt generally exhibits greater solubility in water while the free base is more fat-soluble. In the case of cocaine, whose structure is similar to clonidine’s, free base cocaine (“crack” cocaine) is smoked—a process which tends to degrade the drug and lead to lower bioavailability – but its ability to cross the blood/brain barrier more readily leads to a pharmacological effect nearly comparable to intravenously injected cocaine salt. It is possible that free base clonidine, in the manner of free base cocaine, is more bioactive due to a greater ability to enter the brain; further studies on this subject have significant medical relevance.

The McLain lab will continue the research in this direction, and I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to be a part of it for this past year! I’ve attached a group picture below: on the far left is Sylvia McLain, the group leader and my subject tutor while at Oxford. I’m third from the left, and my graduate student mentor, Andrew Johnston, is on my right.