Professor helps students advance health discoveries

September 18, 2013

While many classrooms sat quietly over the summer, there was a lab in the Life Sciences building at Arizona State University where students were busy engaging in research projects. Under the direction of Karen Sweazea, assistant professor in the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion and the School of Life Sciences, a team of graduate and undergraduate student researchers were advancing discoveries about the physiology of diabetes.

Sweazea, who came to ASU in 2008 following her post-doctoral fellowship in vascular physiology, is advancing a program of research spanning lower vertebrate animals to humans, exploring the vascular impact of diabetes. Katherine Diaz, originally from Venezuela, spent the summer studying at ASU. Download Full Image

“My goal is to improve the understanding of blood sugar and oxidative stress on the vasculature and learn from animal models to advance human health,” says Sweazea.

Teaching and mentorship go hand in hand

In addition to advancing her own program of research, Sweazea is a mentor and team leader to graduate and undergraduate students interested in basic science research. 

In April, the American Physiological Society announced its Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship awards for 24 students from across the nation. The program provides a summer stipend for a student to work with a faculty member from around the nation with the training and research lab matching with the student’s interests. As such, over the summer, Sweazea supervised a team of undergraduate students and one doctoral student in her lab. 

“One of the many standout hallmarks of Sweazea’s time at ASU has been her engagement with, and mentoring of student researchers in her lab,” said Steven Hooker, associate director for research in the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion. “She has made a real impact on the lives of many students, as her work with the American Physiology Society matched funding allows students to come to ASU for the summer to support research.”

ASU junior Matthew Calhoun, recipient of the APS Undergraduate Research Fellow and biochemistry major, worked with Sweazea. Calhoun, who intends to go to medical school after finishing his undergraduate degree, is interested in the expression of glucose regulation hormones. 

“It is a privilege to have a mentor like Dr. Sweazea; her motivation and unyielding support for her students promotes an exciting and innovative environment for everyone in the lab,” he said. “Dr. Sweazea is truly an amazing professor to have; her enthusiasm in her area of research has inspired me to continue my education in a similar field.”

The summer fellowship also funds his travel to the 2014 Experimental Biology Conference in San Diego to present data from his summer project.

Another award-winning student, Anna Simperova, an animal physiology and behavior major, minoring in family and human development, is funded through the School of Life Sciences Undergraduate Research (SOLUR) program. The Scottsdale junior plans to attend medical school after ASU to become a neonatologist.

Simperova’s work with Sweazea led to the discovery of a parasite in mourning doves which was previously thought to not infect the birds. She is also working on a diabetes-related project in collaboration with researchers at the Phoenix VA Health Care System exploring the impact of high fat diets and insulin resistance on vascular reactivity. 

“I enjoy the intellectual challenge of taking what I learn in lecture and applying it to real-life situations,” Simperova said. “The field of science is constantly evolving and being able to contribute to that growth doing projects that spark my interest for biology and medicine is very gratifying.” 

Student travels across the country to study under Sweazea

Katerine Diaz, originally from Venezuela, is a junior majoring in dietetics and nutrition at Florida International University and is funded through the Short Term Experience for Underrepresented Persons (STEP UP) program. She said she chose ASU for her summer research opportunity because of the reputation of the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion’s dietetics program, the second largest program in the country.

“After a few days in the lab, it quickly became apparent to me there were many techniques that require practice to perfect,” Diaz wrote in an article for Florida International University News. “Although there were moments of frustration, in the end I felt it was a valuable experience that will serve me well, not only in my undergraduate years, but also in my career.”

Sweazea’s current interdisciplinary work includes two grant proposals currently under review with faculty at the University of Arizona Phoenix campus looking at the risk for aging women and the impact of poor nutrition on heart disease.

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Learning by teaching: ASU professors awarded Academy of American Poets honor

September 18, 2013

A book of experimental poetry translated from French by two Arizona State University professors has won the 2013 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award presented by the Academy of American Poets. The $1,000 prize is given annually for a work in any language translated into English.

Poet Cynthia Hogue, a professor of English who also holds the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry, and Sylvain Gallais, a clinical professor with joint appointments in French and economics, spent four years translating “Fortino Sámano (The Overflowing of the Poem)” by Virginie Lalucq and Jean-Luc Nancy. “Fortino Sámano (The Overflowing of the Poem)” Download Full Image

Published in translation in 2012 by Omnidawn Press, the book is a conversation between a poet and philosopher. The poet, Virginie Lalucq, is a librarian at Fondation nationale des sciences politiques (National Foundation of the Political Sciences) in Paris. The philosopher, Jean-Luc Nancy, is a professor of political philosophy and media aesthetics at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.

Lalucq wrote the poetry as a meditation on a 1916 photograph of the Mexican Revolution by Agustín Víctor Casasola. The photo’s subject is a man named Fortino Sámano, a Zapatista lieutenant and counterfeiter; he is smoking a cigar. What is compelling about the image is that it was reportedly snapped seconds before Sámano’s execution by firing squad, and yet in the photograph Sámano appears casual, unconcerned and … could he be smiling?

Hogue had dabbled in translation since her undergraduate training – at one time she was fluent in French, Danish and Icelandic – and worked with collaborators translating Scandinavian poetry during several years of international study and a Fulbright Fellowship. Circumstances eventually brought Hogue back to the United States, and away from translation work, for the next 25 years.

Eight years ago, a colleague who knew of her interest and facility in literary translation invited Hogue to develop an ASU course on its theory and practice. She team-taught the course several times with Paul Morris (director of ASU’s master of liberal studies program). All the while, Hogue doubted her own competence in the literary form. Could she adequately teach something she had not done herself for several decades?

“I thought I should put my skills to the test,” she said.

On a summer trip to Europe, Hogue picked up several volumes of French poetry not available in English and brought them home for her class to practice. When doling out the books to the enthusiastic students, “they took everything but ‘Fortino Sámano.’” Hogue assigned herself the book, which was well-regarded but not well-known outside of France. “The people who knew this work loved this work,” Hogue explained.

This was fortuitous, as the volume turned out to be “both formally exciting and conceptually brilliant,” according to Hogue. She describes it as a “French prose poem, in the tradition of Arthur Rimbaud's 'Illuminations.'" As a poet and critic both, Hogue had unique insight into a writer’s process and final product, and relished the challenge of, as she has said, “bringing languages into relationship, putting them in communication with each other and cultures in dialogue."

Being conversant in French, but having not worked in it for some years, Hogue looked around for a collaborator. Luckily, she didn’t need to look far; Hogue’s co-translator, Sylvain Gallais, is her husband. Gallais did the first, literal drafts of the Lalucq/Nancy book. Hogue would divine poetic sense from the rough translation and Gallais would look at it again. The pair went on like this for several years, in constant communication with Lalucq, who made suggestions and provided commentary on their drafts. “I never, ever tired of this work,” said Hogue of the process. “I felt like I was working from inside it.”

While the book is a poetic and philosophical meditation on a photograph, the actual image does not appear in the book. “It was intentional not to reproduce the photo,” Hogue said, believing that the poem itself “transfers the visual” to the reader. The work, focused on Sámano the man, “is not his biography,” she said. “It is a poem about art. Its purpose is to ask the question: ‘What does art do?’”

Hogue looks back at this translation journey with a kind of wonder at how it unfolded. She is delighted that she could participate in “the dialogue between philosophy and art that is a 2,000-year-old subject of rumination.” She tells the story in poetic sound bites. “I love to plow in and ‘learn by going where I have to go,’ as the poet said,” referring to a poem by Theodore Roethke. In truth, she came to the project first as a teacher wanting to do right by her students. “I was just being dutiful. I was just doing it so I could better teach.”

Kristen LaRue

communications specialist, Department of English