Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

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International Students Win New HHMI Fellowships

Three science students have won a newly created and highly competitive fellowship from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute designed specifically for international students who have “demonstrated exceptional talent or research.” HHMI has instituted these fellowships in light of the fact that international students are often not eligible for research support from federal or state grants.

This year’s fellows from Yale are Weihua Guan (Electrical Engineering), Wenqi Han (Neurobiology), and Sascha Kopic (Cellular and Molecular Physiology).

Hailing from the People’s Republic of China, Weihua explains that he came to the U.S. because “Yale offers great promise for doing cutting-edge research with top-notch scientists.” He has earned a bachelor’s degree from Nanjing University of Science and Technology and a master’s degree from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and is author or co-author of 15 frequently-cited articles.

Weihua’s research, advised by Mark A. Reed, combines engineering, physics, surface chemistry, and mathematical modeling. He uses charge-electric field interactions in nano/microfluid systems to manipulate biomolecules and ions in a controllable fashion and to detect the existence of specific biomolecules of interest. One of the applications of this research may eventually be a new device for isolating, trapping, localizing, and controlling DNA motion, which will be a central component of a future high-speed device for direct genome sequencing.

Wenqi (Kiki) is also from the People’s Republic of China, where she completed her undergraduate degree from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou.

“As an undergraduate, I was very lucky to spend a summer working full-time in the laboratory of Dr. Desmond Smith at UCLA,” she says. “This experience motivated me to pursue a graduate education in the U.S.” She chose Yale for its “high profile research.” She notes, “The neuroscience community at Yale is remarkable and provides a wonderful training environment.”

Working in Nenad Sestan’s lab, Kiki studies how different types of neurons and their synaptic connections are formed during development. Her research focuses on the cerebral cortex, a brain structure that controls complex motor and cognitive functions. She investigates “how specific genes control the formation of neural circuits in the cerebral cortex” and seeks to “unravel fundamental mechanisms underlying the complexity of neuronal phenotypes, which may be affected in neurological and psychiatric disorders.” One gene that Kiki studies, Tbr1, has been associated with autism.

Kiki is also a fellow of the China Scholarship Council (CSC) – Yale World Scholars Program in Biomedical Sciences. This program provides students with both research and professional development training and strengthens the connection between China and Yale.

A native of Austria, Sascha Kopic earned his MD degree from the Paracelsus Medical University in Salzburg before coming to Yale. Advised by John Geibel, he now conducts research on gastrointestinal ion transport during physiological and pathological states.

“The transport of ions in our gastrointestinal tract is essential for physiological functions such as nutrient, water, and electrolyte absorption,” he explains. “Deranged ion transport can lead to potentially fatal conditions, such as acute diarrheal illness, which still is a massive problem in developing countries.” His current project focuses on the prevention and treatment of abnormal ion transport in the course of diarrheal disease.

Sascha adds, “Physiology is one of the most fascinating medical sciences. It tells us how the human body and its organ systems work. In my eyes, asking physiological questions in science makes science relevant, because they affect us all. I came to Yale because my PI and the Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology share this philosophy.”

Weihua Guan,
Wenqi (Kiki) Han and Sascha Kopic