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At 28 ASU alum Candace Lewis is both a Bisgrove Scholar and a Fulbright Scholar.
ASU alum's "sole driving force" is to bring relief to the mentally ill.
November 24, 2015

Pinpointing factors that influence who we are at core of ASU alum's post-doctoral research

On paper, Candance Lewis seems to have it all — including a Bisgrove fellowship and a Fulbright scholarship. And having successfully defended her dissertation in June, she can now add “Dr.” to her title. All at only 28 years old.

But the two-time Arizona State University alumnus — Lewis earned both her master’s and her doctorate through the Department of Psychology’s behavioral neuroscience program — wants other students to know that “every step along the way was peppered with self-doubt, failures and heartache.”

The child of a mentally ill parent, Lewis experienced what she calls a disadvantaged childhood. That experience ultimately stoked her desire to understand the factors that shape who we are, and to help those who suffer from abnormalities associated with them.

Candace Lewis portrait

After receiving her bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Alaska Anchorage, Lewis (pictured left) left her native state for the “innovative biomedical research environment” in Phoenix.

Lewis’ Bisgrove post-doctoral fellowship will be carried out as a joint appointment with ASU’s Department of Psychology and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

“I am thrilled the Bisgrove fellowship allows me to continue my training in this community,” she said.

Specifically, she will be combining state-of-the-art genetic research at TGen with an ASU-faculty-ledThe study will be led by Kathryn Lemery-Chalfant and Leah Doane, professors in ASU’s Department of Psychology. twin study that aims to determine how both genetics and environment affect childhood health and cognitive outcomes.

“I am ecstatic for the opportunity to receive training from Dr. HuentelmanMatthew Huentelman serves as an adjunct faculty member in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, as well as an investigator in the neurogenomics division at TGen. at TGen, an internationally renowned genetics research center on the cutting edge of translational research. I am astonished and humbled by my team of mentors and their expertise. I could not ask for a better post-doctoral experience as measured by my mentors and the extensive and diverse training I will receive,” she added.

For her Fulbright Scholarship, Lewis will be researching the effects of psilocybin, the psychoactive component of “magic mushrooms,” as a treatment option for depression and anxiety disorders.

Read on for a fascinating glimpse inside the mind of a dedicated scientist.

Question: What initially sparked your interest in the relationship between genetics and behavior?

Answer: I am a child of a mentally ill parent and experienced a disadvantaged childhood. These experiences led to an intense curiosity concerning if the sum total of a person is more a product of their biologically inherited genes or of their collective experiences throughout life. This is commonly referred to as the nature vs. nurture debate. This is not only a philosophical question, but is quite pertinent to understanding the etiologyEtiology is the cause of a disease or abnormal condition. of psychiatric illnesses.

To further obscure the answer, research shows the cause of most psychiatric illness has both a genetic and environmental component. I am ecstatic to be an emerging researcher during a time I can investigate the interaction between genetics and environment.

Q: What do you hope to learn from studying that relationship?

A: Both fields are crucial to understanding the human condition, but my interest lies in the intersection of how experiences have the ability to alter genetic expression that in turn influences behavioral and physiological systems implicated in mental health.

Q: What was your reaction upon finding out you had been awarded both a Bisgrove award and a Fulbright Scholarship?

A: Silent and still astonishment followed by deep gratitude and misty eyes.

Q: How is your Bisgrove post-doctoral research on twins unique?

A: This type of work, in the field of epigeneticsEpigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene function that do not involve changes in DNA sequence., is nothing short of a paradigm switch. Instead of wondering whether genes or experiences assert greater influence over one’s health, we can now measure how biologically inherited genetics and experiences in our environment interact with each other to influence health-related biological systems and behavior. This area of research may lead to novel behavioral and pharmaceutical treatments for various psychiatric conditions.

Q: Why is your Fulbright Scholarship research especially timely?

A: Current treatment options for major depressive disorder and anxiety-related disorders are dismal. This research seeks to understand if psilocybin-assisted therapy may produce drastically better outcomes for certain patient populations. Recently, top research universities such as UCLA and NYU have published promising preliminary results demonstrating long-lasting antidepressant effects from one psilocybin-assisted therapy session. While this may seem a controversial technique, to me it is not, because the patient outcome is what truly matters. Ultimately, I chose this career to use neuroscience as a tool to help improve the quality of life for people who are suffering.

Q: How do your Bisgrove research and your Fulbright research compare?

A: On the surface, they seem vastly different but at the core they are related. Our understanding and treatment of mental illness has virtually been at a standstill for decades. Both of my projects use modern techniques, such as neuroimaging and second-generation genetic sequencing, in conjunction with novel approaches and ideas about how we can conceptualize and treat mental illness.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish through your research?

A: My sole driving force to conduct research in this field is to bring relief to those suffering.

Q: Any advice for students struggling to find success in their field?

A: I want younger students to know that every step along the way was peppered with self-doubt, failures and heartache. One must find a support system and keep trying when the academic road becomes treacherous. Always remember that every “no” you receive is an opportunity to find a better “yes” somewhere else.

The Department of Psychology is part of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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Braking bad: Pressure is on for ASU student engineers building race car

Formula SAE team members skip ASU Territorial Cup to work on race car.
ASU race car team in better shape financially, but still needs funding.
Pressure is on for ASU race car team to meet deadlines.
November 24, 2015

Editor’s note: This is the latest installation in a yearlong series about ASU's Formula SAEFormula SAE is a student design competition organized by the International Society of Automotive Engineers (now known as SAE International). team. Find links to previous stories at the end of this article.

It’s the Saturday of the Territorial Cup game. While a sea of students in gold T-shirts offering “No Pity for the Kitty” heads towards the stadium and hundreds of tailgate parties, the dedicated students of the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers are skipping Arizona State University’s most important day of the year to work on their race car.

Financially, they’re in better shape than they were a few weeks ago, when they had $600 in the bank. It’s relative. Instead of hanging on by the skin of their teeth, they’re hanging on by their teeth.

“We’re not overfunded by any means,” said team manager Troy Buhr, a junior in mechanical engineering.

Buhr is in the stadium parking lot at an unbelievably elaborate tailgate party — capable of hosting more than 70 people — but he’s not hoisting a beer. Last year’s car sits beside a Formula SAE table with promotional materials. Buhr’s out to see if he can win interest and hopefully some money at the same time.

“We’re here at the tailgate to get our name out there,” he said. “At an event like this it’s going to be individuals.”

The tailgate was hosted by Ray Bilby, vice president of sales and marketing at Trafficade, Formula SAE’s latest sponsor. Trafficade is an Arizona traffic-safety company, specializing in things like pavement milling and asphalt repair. It’s appropriate they sponsor a race car, because a car is the vantage point from which most people watch their work.

“We’re still working hard on sponsorship,” Buhr said. “We’re covering our bills. ... We’re in a better place than we were, for sure.”

The club got a windfall recently when the university reimbursed them $4,000 in travel expenses from last summer’s trip to the national competition in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Ford Motor Company confirmed a $2,500 sponsorship, but that check won’t arrive for six weeks.          

“If you try really hard, people tend to want to help you out,” Buhr said.

The student-led team is working toward the June Formula SAE competition in Lincoln. They had originally wanted to have the car built by January, so the majority of the spring semester could be spent on testing and improvements.

Building up to deadlines

Chief engineer Wes Kudela shuttled between the table at the stadium and the shop on campus where the car is being built. The build was going well, he said, but the nagging issue of money continued to be the biggest obstacle.

“The only thing we’re hurting on is lack of finances to buy stuff we need,” said Kudela, a senior in mechanical engineering. The 110-student-strong club has spent so much time getting last year’s car into shape for Homecoming and the Territorial Cup that Kudela reevaluated and updated deadlines.

“I gave everyone deadlines they need to meet to have a running car by January 2,” he said. “Everyone got a little pressure put on them, but I think that’s good. ... The main idea is that we are decently ahead of the curve with our chassis manufacturing. That’s encouraging, but that’s not something I want people to use as a comfort zone.”

The team will buy some parts to keep everyone busy in coming weeks.

“Once we buy those parts, it will give all the sub-team leads stuff to do on Saturdays,” Kudela said.

A lot of members plan to stay on campus to get work done over the holiday breaks. Kudela is going home for two weeks instead of four so he can focus on the car. “That will be awesome,” he said.

The side-pod problem   

Though there were only 15 engineering students instead of the usual 60 or 70 in the shop on the weekend of the big game, they were busy measuring, fitting, cutting, sanding and deburring struts for the chassis.

All struts are important, but these vertical struts will carry the engine and most of the weight. Gaps between tubes need to be as tight as possible for strength. Ultimately a thicker weld makes for a weaker joint.

The project is divided into eight teams. Martin Morrow is the leader of the aerodynamics team.

“We’re in charge of the aero aspect of the car,” he said. On the Sun Devil Motorsports–16 (the car’s official name), that means the nose cone and radiator side pod. Normally a Formula car has wings the aero team would design and build, but they can’t afford wings this year.

The aero team makes 3-D models of their components in computer-aided design programs, then tests them with engineering software.

“It’s a lot easier and simpler,” said Morrow, a junior majoring in aerospace engineering.

“Everyone got a little pressure put on them, but I think that’s good. ... The main idea is that we are decently ahead of the curve with our chassis manufacturing. That’s encouraging, but that’s not something I want people to use as a comfort zone.”

— chief engineer Wes Kudela

When they’ve settled on designs and printed out 3-D prototypes, they will put them in one of the two wind tunnels on the Tempe campus and “make sure the theoretical data matches the experimental data,” Morrow said.

As with the rest of the project, the aero team needs a carbon-fiber sponsor. What they have in mind is a triple-layered sandwich of material that won’t rip off the bolts when the car is flying around the track.

The nose cone may be a solid piece, or it may have a top that slides back so that brake lines and pedals can be accessed. “Ideally you wouldn’t need to get in there,” Morrow said. “Ideally.”

It’s the first time ASU’s Formula SAE team has had a dedicated aerodynamics team. They don’t have the historical data teams at other universities have. “There’s a learning curve,” Morrow said.

The toughest problem they have to crack will be designing and testing the radiator side pod. “How small can we make our inlet and still cool the engine at any speed?” Morrow characterized it.  

Scott Gramke, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, leads the drive team. His team’s responsibility covers “pretty much anything after the engine and before the wheels.”

They’re redesigning the differential, which aims engine power at the wheels and transmits power to the wheels while they’re turning at different speeds. The drive team faces an important decision. Do they use the differential from last year’s car, or can they buy an off-the-shelf differential costing $2,600 that they have spec’d out?

“The one we have would cost a couple of hundred dollars” to get test-ready, Gramke said. Their engineering goal is to reduce weight.

To support the ASU Formula SAE team, click here, then select the “write-in” circle in the “supporting” category and enter the following in the box: "ASU-Society of Automotive Engineers 30006731".

Previous stories in this series:

Oct. 14: Tempe Drift: How an underdog student engineering team is building a race car from the ground up.

Nov. 4: Racing time and money to build a fast car.

Look for the next installment Dec. 10.