Tag Archive for NSF

Hughes Receives NSF Grant for Research on Planetary Systems

Meredith Hughes

Meredith Hughes

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, received a grant from the National Science Foundation to support her research on “Dust and Gas in Debris Disks Reveal the Origins of Planetary Systems.” The grant, awarded on April 21, is worth $532,943.

Hughes’ research focuses on understanding the formation and evolution of planetary systems.  She particularly studies the huge disks of gas and dust surrounding a young star, which can give insight into how and when a star planet might form. The disk is made up of  “junk” left over from the star’s formation.

The main technique Hughes uses to observe these circumstellar disks involves collecting radio waves. Invisible to the human eye, radio light allows astronomers to peer into dense dust clouds and trace the motions of small molecules.

Read more about Hughes’ research on planetary system formation in these past articles:

http://newsletter.blogs.wesleyan.edu/2014/03/06/hughesscience/
http://newsletter.blogs.wesleyan.edu/2013/05/26/hughes/

Northrop Awarded Prestigious NSF CAREER Award

Brian Northrop

Brian Northrop

This month, the National Science Foundation awarded Brian Northrop, assistant professor of chemistry, with a 2014 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award.

The CAREER awards support junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.

The honor came with a five-year grant totaling $537,561, which Northrop will use on his study titled “Selective Thiol-Ene and Thiol-Yne Chemistry, From First Principles to Organic Materials.”

At Wesleyan, Northrop’s research focuses on the design, synthesis and analysis of new organic materials utilizing molecular recognition and self-assembly, and “click” chemistry. With the CAREER Award, Northrop and his students will continue to investigate new methods for making polymers and nanoscale assemblies.

“Synthetic polymers form the basis of many of the materials we encounter every day, from plastics and adhesives to medical equipment and electronics,” Northrop explained. “One of the primary goals of contemporary polymer synthesis is to be able to fine-tune the physical properties of polymers by exhibiting precise control over their chemical structure. By developing methods that allow such precise control, researchers are able to directly influence whether a given polymer is stiff or flexible, fragile or resilient, insulating or conductive, etc.”

Much of the research in Northrop’s lab focuses on developing a thorough, fundamental understanding of how compounds known as thiols react with alkenes and alkynes.

Resor’s Study Seeks Better Understanding of How Earthquakes Occur

Phil Resor, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, discussing a fault line in San Francisco, Calif.

A new study designed to give scientists a better understanding of how earthquakes occur by studying ancient faults long after the quakes are over will be led by a Wesleyan faculty member and involve at least two of his students.

Phillip Resor, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, received a $246,728 NSF (National Science Foundation) grant for his study titled “Three Dimensional Characterization of a Pseudotachylyte-bearing Fault.” The grant includes funding for one thesis student for each of the next two years; Wesleyan has contributed additional funding for a second student in 2012. The study will also establish a new collaboration between Wesleyan and scientists from the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV), a world-renowned research institute in Italy.

The study is designed to improve the understanding of earthquakes and their effects, one of the primary goals of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program. Specifically, Resor and his students will be examining faults that were once located more than 4 miles below the earth’s surface, where most large earthquakes begin. The conditions were so extreme at these depths that the walls of the faults actually melted due to frictional heating, creating a fault rock geologists call pseudotachylyte.  The study will use high-resolution x-ray computed tomography, similar to medical imaging technology, to look inside these faults for evidence of ancient quakes and gain new insights into their underlying causes.

“In order to produce an earthquake slip must be rapid enough to produce high-frequency waves and sufficiently large to be detectable at the surface,” Resor says. “But seismology has been unable to resolve some key issues in earthquake mechanics. For example, earthquake slip is associated with unstable frictional sliding,

NSF Supports Resor’s Fault Slip Study

Phil Resor, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, received a $246,728 grant from the National Science Foundation for his study on “Three Dimensional Characterization of a Pseudotachylyte-bearing Fault.” The grant was awarded on March 15 and expires on June 30, 2014.

In this study, Resor and Wesleyan students will use high-resolution x-ray computed tomography imagery of natural and experimental fault surfaces to quantify surface roughness, frictional contact area, and Pseudotachylyte fault rock thickness. “Pseudotachylytes are generally considered the only unequivocal evidence of earthquake slip velocities that is preserved in fault zones,” Resor explains.

The proposed project will improve the understanding of earthquakes and their effects, one of the primary goals of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program. Furthermore, the project will establish a new collaboration between Wesleyan and scientists from the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV), a world-renowned research institute in Italy.

“Undergraduate students will play an integral role in the project, planting the seeds for future international and interdisciplinary research into the processes of brittle deformation in the earth’s crust,” Resor says. “These students will experience the full scope of the scientific process, from hypothesis generation, to study design, to presentation of results at professional meetings and in a written thesis.”

Taylor, Bonfert-Taylor, Bodznick Awarded NSF Grant

Edward Taylor, associate professor of mathematics; Petra Bonfert-Taylor, associate professor of mathematics; and David Bodznick, dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, received a grant worth $199,924 from the National Science Foundation for their “Collaborative Research: Analytic and Geometric Methods in Limited Angle Tomosunthesis.” The grant expires Aug. 27, 2011.

NSF Grant Funds Cluster, Database Facilities

Francis Starr, associate professor of physics; David Beveridge, the Joshua Boger University Professor of the Sciences and Mathematics; and Michael Weir, professor of biology, director of the Hughes Program in the Life Sciences, received a grant from the National Science Foundation for a project titled “MRI-R2: Acquisition of Shared Cluster and Database Computing Facilities at Wesleyan University.” The grant, worth $298,736, will be awarded over three years beginning May 1, 2010. The grant was awarded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

NSF Supports Holmes’ Gene Expression Research

At right, Scott Holmes, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, received a three-year grant to support his research gene expression. His lab uses a budding yeast for the studies.

At right, Scott Holmes, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, received a three-year grant to support his research gene expression. His lab uses a budding yeast for the studies.

For the next three years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) will support gene expression research led by Scott Holmes, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

On March 2, the NSF awarded Holmes a $599,832, three-year grant for his studies on “Epigenetic Silencing of Gene Expression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.”

Scott Holmes

Scott Holmes incorporates his research into the spring semester course Advanced Laboratory in Genetics and Molecular Biology.

Gene expression refers to the observable characteristics generated on a molecular level by a particular sequence of DNA or gene; epigenetic controls are essential in maintaining the specific patterns of gene expression that distinguish hundreds of distinct cell types in skin, muscles and other types of tissue.

“I’m thrilled to get the funding,” Holmes says. “It’s very timely for us, and it’s a testament to the great work that graduate and undergraduate students have done in the lab over the last few years.”

Holmes, currently working with four graduate and four undergraduate students, uses a simple budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, to study gene expression. Yeast uses an epigenetic gene repression mechanism, known as “silencing” to control the genes responsible for determining cell type.

“Two organisms, or two cells within the same organism, can have identical genetic information, or the same DNA sequence, but can have very different characteristics and functions,” Holmes explains. “We want to know how the gene expression patterns that determine cell type are first established, and then propagated as cells divide.”

The DNA in cells is organized into structures known as chromosomes. A key mechanism for controlling whether genes are on or off is by altering the structure of the chromosome. Once established, these alterations can become a stable, heritable part of the chromosome.

The nature of these structures and the manner in which they are inherited is not clear, Holmes says. Studies conducted on yeast will reveal the basic mechanisms of epigenetic inheritance.

This is the ninth year the NSF has supported Holmes’s research on yeast. He incorporates this research into the spring semester course MB&B 294, Advanced Laboratory in Genetics and Molecular Biology, which is required for undergraduate majors in the MB&B Department.

“This course is designed to familiarize undergraduates with the methods and approaches of the field in the context of pursuing novel research questions,” Holmes explains.

He also has partnered with a local high school biology teacher to devise and implement lesson plans, focusing on key concepts in genetics. Advanced students from this high school also visit the research lab to shadow graduate students.

Scott Holmes Awarded NSF Grant

Scott Holmes, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) on March 2. The three year grant, worth $599,832, will support his studies on “Epigenetic Silencing of Gene Expression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.”

Read more on Holmes’s study here.

Sheehan-Connor Awarded NSF Grant for Bone Marrow Donor Study

Damien Sheehan-Connor, assistant professor of economics, received an $88,747 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his study titled “Bone Marrow Registries and Donor Motives.” This grant, subcontracted with the University of California, Santa Barbara, will be applied over three years.

NSF Funds Lane’s Research on Gene Regulation

Robert Lane, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, received a grant from the National Science Foundation/American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for this research titled “Cross-Disciplinary Science & Investigation of Olfactory Receptor Gene Regulation.” The award, worth $299,955 will be distributed over two years.

Mukerji Awarded NSF Funding for Her DNA Research

Ishita Mukerji, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, uses a UV resonance Raman spectrometer to measure molecular vibrations. She examines the structure of DNA, to understand how protein modulation of the structure can lead to tumors and other diseases.

Ishita Mukerji, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, uses a UV resonance Raman spectrometer to measure molecular vibrations. She examines the structure of DNA, to understand how protein modulation of the structure can lead to tumors and other diseases.

Errors in genomic DNA can lead to tumors and other diseases. By probing specific DNA structures, Ishita Mukerji hopes to gain an understanding of how such medical conditions can be prevented or possibly cured.

Mukerji, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, studies how different proteins recognize and bind to DNA. Specifically, she examines four-stranded DNA structures, known as “Holliday junctions,” which are involved in DNA repair and recombination. These are different from the common, two-stranded DNA.

On April 1, Mukerji will receive a four-year grant worth $798,368 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund her research project, “Structure and Function of Holliday Junctions Complexed With Proteins Probed by Fluorescence and UV Raman Spectroscopic Methods.”

“Both DNA repair and recombination are vital functions of the cell, which are needed to maintaining a stable and active genome,” Mukerji explains. “Our goal is to study the structure of the junctions and how that relates to their function.”

Holliday junction structures can be changed by protein binding. Mukerji will examine how these structures are altered by proteins that are known to be involved in repair and recombination and are known to bind to junctions.

“These studies address the overall mechanism of how DNA recombination occurs in the cell and the function of these proteins,” she says.

Chemistry graduate students Andrew Moreno and Jon King, MBB graduate student Yan Li and molecular biology and biochemistry major Olga Buzovetsky ’10, will assist Mukerji with the ongoing research.

Two different methods are used to study the DNA interactions: fluorescence spectroscopy and a laser technique, UV resonance Raman spectroscopy. By using the fluorescence method, the Mukerji group can examine and compare the structure of the junction and the protein-binding sites. By using the Raman technique, which examines molecular vibrations, they can probe protein and ion binding sites.

Wesleyan’s Chemistry Department and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department own several fluorescence spectrometers, and Mukerji has built her own, specialized UV resonance Raman spectrometer.

Most of the proposed research will be completed in Mukerji’s lab, although some computational studies will be done in collaboration with David Beveridge, the University Professor of the Sciences and mathematics, professor of chemistry. She is also collaborating with the Hingorani lab (MBB department) to study how proteins involved in mismatch repair and meiotic recombination bind to Holliday junctions. One set of experiments will be conducted at SUNY Buffalo.

The group will also examine how the protein-junction complex either facilitates or suppresses certain processes.

“One theory that we have is that the proteins we are studying suppress recombination as a means of preserving or maintaining the genome.” Mukerji says. “This is an idea that will be tested with the proposed experiments.”