MCB Welcomes Dr. Alias Smith, AAAS Fellow

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is an international non-profit organization dedicated to “advancing science for the benefit of all people.” Science and Technology Fellows at NSF partner with NSF staff for a year-long term of service. During that assignment, Fellows assist in the planning, development, and oversight of agency programs. Many also develop projects that both interest them and serve the organization to which they have been assigned. MCB is excited to welcome Dr. Alias Smith as our AAAS Fellow for the 2017-18 term.

Dr. Alias Smith, AAAS Fellow, MCB, 2017-18

What is your educational background?
I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from University of Missouri, Columbia. Next, I completed my Ph.D. in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics at University of California, Los Angeles, where I studied gene expression in the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. My postdoctoral training at University of California, San Diego, centered around understanding the life cycle of the parasite Giardia lamblia.

What is your position? When did you start working in MCB?
I began my posting as an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow in MCB in September. As an AAAS Fellow I have the opportunity to carve out my projects within the scope and mission of MCB. I have received great guidance from MCB staff, program directors, and our acting division director in creating my fellowship plan. My primary focus in MCB is on working with the program directors in the Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB) cluster to develop and align research goals with synthetic biology research interests both within NSF and between NSF and outside agencies.

Additionally, professional development is a major component of the AAAS Fellowship. During my time in MCB, I will learn advanced data analytics skills to conduct a portfolio review of the proposed science submitted to the SSB cluster under past solicitations. I will also become more familiar with the merit review process. The AAAS Fellowship and MCB also provides opportunities for me to work on projects that broaden participation in science and technology education, training, and careers.

What attracted you to work for NSF?
Science education, mentoring, and outreach have been consistent components of each phase of my research training and professional career. Recently, I became curious about the bigger picture: What mechanisms influence STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education and research on a larger scale? I want to learn first-hand how NSF impacts the science-education and the research communities. The AAAS Fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to directly witness the inner workings of NSF and to support the agency’s mission and strategic goals.

What have you learned so far from your position?
I have learned how valuable it is to have a variety of expertise among reviewers and program directors during the merit review and funding decision process. It is impressive to witness how much work and thought goes into reviewing each proposal.

RUI AWARD SUPPORTS 2017 STUDENT RESEARCH ACHIEVEMENT AWARDEE, RIMA REBIAI

Rima Rebia, Student Research Acheivement Award, Biophysical Society, Feb. 2017

Rima Rebiai, winner of the Biophysical Society’s “Student Research Achievement Award” stands next to her entry.

At the 61st Biophysical Society meeting held in New Orleans February 11-15, 2017, undergraduate researcher Rima Rebiai received the prestigious Student Research Achievement Award. Of the 14 awards made, Rebiai’s research was the only project focusing on nanoscale biophysics.

Rebiai’s research was funded in part by a Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) grant from the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB). RUI proposals support faculty at predominately undergraduate institutions to conduct research that builds institutional capacity for research and supports the integration of research and undergraduate education.

The research was a collaboration between and Dr. Emina Stojkovic, Bernard J. Brommel Research Professor, Department of Biology at Northeastern Illinois University, and Drs. Ken Nicholson and Stefan Tsonchev, Associate Professors in the Department of Chemistry. The award (#1413360) was the first to be awarded to the Biology Department in NEIU’s history, said Stojkovic. An interesting side note, Stojkovic added, is that she attended a similar meeting of the Biophysical Society as an undergraduate student 17 years ago with her research advisor, Dr. Anne Walter from St. Olaf College.

The university featured the honor on its News and Announcements page. According to Northeastern, Rebiai’s project, titled “Light-Induced Conformational Changes of S. aurantiaca Bacteriophytochromes as Revealed by Atomic Force Microscopy,” is the first to use atomic force microscopy to build structural characterization of light-regulated enzymes. Highlighting Stojkovic’s pride in Rebiai’s achievement, the article concludes with a quote: “This is a true honor to have our student stand on the national stage.” Rebiai is currently in her first year of Ph.D. studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

MCB-funded Workshop Explores Benefits and Challenges of Crowdfunding Basic Research

Participants listen attentively to panel dicussion

Approximately 70 guests attended the workshop

Researchers, scientific society representatives, citizen scientists, academics, economists, and non-profit leaders convened October 10 in Alexandria, VA, to exchange experiences and perspective on using crowdfunding to help finance basic research in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) topics. The day-long workshop, which drew approximately 70 participants, addressed a wide range of topics, including:

  1. The hidden benefits of crowdfunding (more…)

This is MCB! Hear from Dr. Engin Serpersu

Serpersu head shot

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) supports fundamental research and related activities designed to promote understanding of complex living systems at the molecular, sub-cellular, and cellular levels. Behind our mission stands a group of individuals whose efforts and great work make this Division outstanding; we are proud to showcase their hard work via this blog.

Dr. Serpersu completed his doctoral degree in biochemistry Hacettepe University Medical School, Ankara, Turkey. He was an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at Justus Liebig University, Giessen, West Germany, before completing postdoctoral work at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. He began a teaching career in 1988 at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he rose through the ranks to professor and served a term as chair of the Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology department. His areas of expertise include biophysical chemistry; protein structure, function, and dynamics; and thermodynamics.

Dr. Serpersu joined MCB in June of 2014 as a rotator (a two-year, temporary program director position) and is now a permanent program director, serving as cluster leader in the Molecular Biophysics cluster. As a program director, he manages proposal reviews and makes funding decisions. As cluster leader, he coordinates activities within the cluster and collaborates with other program directors as well as the broader scientific community to help ensure that awards funded by Molecular Biophysics contribute to NSF’s mission of transforming the frontiers of science and innovating for society. He is also on the CAREER (Faculty Early Career Development) Coordinating Committee and a member of the Oversight Group for National Facilities with the National Institutes of Health.

In his spare time Dr. Serpersu enjoys playing volleyball, attending antique auctions, and walking on the beach.

Congratulations to 2017 Nobel Laureate, Dr. Joachim Frank!

A picture of the three awardees in stylized yellow and blue sketches with each of their names below their face.

© Nobel Media. Ill. N. Elmehed

MCB joins the rest of the scientific community in congratulating NSF funded researcher Joachim Frank who, along with Jaques Dubochet, and Richard Henderson, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his role in the development of Cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM).

“Cryo-electron microscopy fundamentally changed biology and biochemistry, allowing scientists to create 3-D reconstructions of the biomolecular processes that support life,” said NSF Director France Córdova. “The technology delivers an unprecedented look at life at the atomic scale, providing us with accurate models of everything from viruses to antibodies. Joachim Frank demonstrated that potential to NSF in 1984, when the agency helped him acquire a high-resolution electron microscope for 3-D reconstruction, and then continued to support his development of new applications for the technology over the following decades. Biochemistry owes Frank and this year’s other two Chemistry laureates, Richard Henderson and Jacques Dubochet, a debt for this important visualization tool.”

Dr. Engin Serpersu, Program Director and Molecular Biophysics Cluster Leader stated that “technological developments and improvements in data analysis transformed Cryo-EM from being suitable only to study global structural properties of biological complexes to providing 3D structures with atomic level resolution. These developments also allow researchers to examine proteins smaller than we ever imagined possible, including ones as small as 100 kDa. Undoubtedly, Cryo-EM is now one of the mainstay structural tools helping scientists in a broad range of biological problems and its development is well worth this honor.”

YEAR-ROUND PROPOSAL SUBMISSIONS (NO DEADLINES) COMING TO MCB IN 2018

MCB’s current solicitation (NSF 17-589) deadline is Nov. 20, 2017.

In response to popular feedback, and in the interest of our community, MCB will be following in GEO’s footsteps to eliminate deadlines for future proposals. We will release a new solicitation in mid- 2018 which will detail the procedure and funding priorities for proposals submitted with “no deadline.” Funding for the proposals submitted under the no-deadline solicitation will begin during the 2019 fiscal year.

Eliminating proposal deadlines offers three key advantages. First, no-deadlines allows PIs to be more strategic in building collaborations; second, no-deadline reduces the time crush on institutions; and third, no-deadlines enables NSF-BIO to work more collaboratively across the directorate to fund science that crosses levels of biological organization. NSF anticipates that this change will result in more complex, interdisciplinary projects that have the potential to dramatically advance biological science.

More information about the change will be released through FAQs, webinars, presentations, and this blog as it arrives. Read more in the Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 18-11).A timeline of the changes to come over the next two years

MCB WELCOMES DR. JAROSLAW MAJEWSKI, PROGRAM DIRECTOR FOR THE MOLECULAR BIOPHYSICS CLUSTER

 

A headshot style photograph of Jaroslaw, Jarek, in a black suit in front of a black backdrop. He is wearing a polka dot tie and red pocket square and half-smiling into the camera.

What were you doing before you came to the NSF?

I am currently a Staff Scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory  (LANL) in Los Alamos in NM, and also an Adjunct Professor at Department of Chemical Engineering at UC Davis. In general, my area of scientific expertise covers using neutron and x-ray scattering to investigate nano- and meso-structures, including bio-interfaces (lipid membranes, interaction of membranes with bio-toxins, Langmuir-Blodgett monolayer films films and living cells) and soft-matter systems (polymers, etc.) in different environments. At LANL I was also involved in many aspects of solid-state physics and science connected with national security and actinides properties. I am currently an American Physical Society (APS) and Neutron Scattering Society of America (NSSA) Fellow.

What attracted you to work for the NSF?

I was interested to explore new career avenues as well as to use my experience to influence science outside the lab.

What was your first impression of the NSF? Has this impression changed since you began serving as a rotator?

My first impression was that NSF is a well-functioning institution with a friendly working environment and well-deserving of its impressive reputation. The organization has a clearly established mission, well-trained personnel, and extremely nice people all around. My first impression has only changed in that these observations have become even more evident over time!

What personal goals would you like to accomplish while at the NSF?

I would like to use my time at NSF to learn how science is supported from the view of a funding agency. I am interested to see the ways NSF uses to get to know the community we support  and to understand their scientific needs. I hope to obtain a more global picture of how federal agencies like NSF work and use this information to develop connections and knowledge. I also hope to visit the scientific places NSF supports and to better understand the scientific outcomes of the funded research..

What has surprised you most about working at the NSF?

That such tremendous work is done is such short time and with such efficiency. I have been continually impressed by the tight connection between the science communities and NSF Program Directors who support them. I have also been impressed at the huge spectrum of expertise, experiences, and ideas of the NSF staff.

What are some of the challenges of serving as a rotator?

I have to admit that the beginning was rather overwhelming: to learn so many new things in a short time (the panel season was approaching when I started) and to deal with/memorize/try to understand the science described in the proposals while knowing that any decision might be consequential for science. I was fortunate to have the support of my fellow Program Directors through this time and have learned so much.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a Program Director at the NSF?

It is a tremendously rewarding job but a lot different from regular activities of a scientist. It is a job well-suited for people who have a lot of experience in the scientific community and know their science well – I still find myself needing to learn many things at NSF despite my 20+ years’ experience as a scientist.

When friends or colleagues find out that you work at the NSF, what do they say or ask?

My friends and family, even those not as familiar with the extent of NSF’s work, are very impressed and think that working at NSF is very noble.

NSF IS MOVING

An outline of a moving truck with "MCB IS MOVING" on the side.

 

building 1 building 2

(Left) A photograph of NSF’s building in the Ballston area of Arlington, Virginia

(Right) NSF’s new offices in Alexandria, Virginia

As you may have heard, the National Science Foundation is relocating to Alexandria, Virginia. The physical transition is occurring over a six-week period, and this week the time has arrived for BIO (including MCB) to make the move.  Our last day in Ballston will be Thursday, September 14th and we will begin operations in the new building on Monday, September 18th. Our phone numbers and emails will remain the same, but we ask that you remain patient as we may be slower to answer messages or calls over the next few days. Effective October 2, our new mailing address will be:

National Science Foundation

2415 Eisenhower Avenue

Alexandria, VA 22314 

For more information read important notice 139; for IT- related questions email the Help Desk at rgov@nsf.gov.

MCB AT YOUR MEETING: WORKSHOP: THE ROLE OF CROWDFUNDING IN THE STEM ECOSYSTEM

Crowdfunding as a way of raising money to support worthy causes is popular among charities and entrepreneurs, and recently has been gaining traction in scientific communities as a novel way to collect support and financing for research projects. The Georgia Institute of Technology is organizing a workshop in Alexandria, VA, on Oct.10. Titled “The Role of Crowdfunding in the STEM Ecosystem”. The goal of the MCB funded (MCB – 1745230) workshop is to stimulate conversation and provide an exchange of ideas about crowdfunding in the sciences.  Chaired by Dr. Morris Cohen, Assistant Professor at Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and former AAAS Fellow at NSF, the workshop is open to the public and free to all attendees.

The workshop will feature a wide range of expert speakers giving presentations, panel discussions, audience question-and-answer sessions, and three “fireside chats.” Workshop topics will include:

  • Reflections from scientists who have used crowdfunding;
  • Legal and financial implications for crowdfunding campaigns;
  • Crowdfunding factors that may lead to inclusion or exclusion within the STEM community;
  • Crowdfunding platforms in the academic sector;
  • Crowdfunding platforms in the private sector; and
  • Future directions for crowdfunding in science.

The workshop will also address scientific studies of crowdfunding as a social phenomenon, as well as application of crowdfunding in the STEM environment. Additionally, there will be opportunities to meet fellow scientists interested in crowdfunding and initiate dialogues on topics of concern.

The workshop will take place October 10, 2017 from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM at the Holiday Inn Carlyle at 2460 Eisenhower Ave, Alexandria, VA. More information can be found at Georgia Tech’s workshop website including an agenda, speakers’ bios, and registration information. Registration is free but space is limited, so if you are interested, sign up today!

 

Questions? Email the organizers at crowdfundingworkshop@gmail.com.

FAREWELL TO DR. GREGORY WARR

IMG_5863

MCB celebrating Dr. Warr’s Retirement
Upper photo: (Left to Right) Dr. Theresa Good, Dr. Casonya Johnson, Dr. Arcady Mushegian, Dr. Gregory Warr, Dr. Charlie Cunningham, Dr. Steven Clouse, Dr. Michael Weinreich, Dr. Devaki Bhaya
Lower Photo: (Left to Right) Ann Larrow, David Barley, Valerie Maizel, Kelly Ann Parshall, Dr. Gregory Warr, Philip Helig, Dr. Reyda Gonzalez-Nieves, Dr. Stacey Kelley, Lourdes Holloway

 

MCB recently gave a congratulatory sendoff to Dr. Gregory Warr, who has retired from NSF after 10 years of dedicated service. Dr. Warr started at NSF in 2007, serving for a short period as a Program Director in the division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) before transferring to MCB, where he served as a Program Director and cluster leader for Cellular Dynamics and Function (CDF). During his tenure in MCB, Dr. Warr also temporarily served as acting Division Director, bringing his dedication for quantitative methods into his work as an MCB leader.

Dr. Warr was a strong advocate of MCB’s emphasis on quantitative, predictive and theory-driven science and this was well reflected in the portfolio developed in the CDF cluster, where projects emphasized quantitative approaches and modeling. Dr. Warr’s advocacy has also had effects across MCB. According to Dr. Karen Cone, Acting Deputy Division Director, one of his most important contributions to MCB was “his recognition, early on, that the Division was supporting many projects using network analysis to understand regulatory processes, but these projects were dispersed across the existing three clusters.  His insights helped spur creation of a new cluster, Networks and Regulation, which eventually was re-named the Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster and supports a portfolio of vibrant projects well-grounded in quantitative and predictive science.”

Dr. Warr’s droll sense of humor will be sorely missed, but his influence on how the Division operates will continue. Dr. Theresa Good, Acting Division Director, says, “I appreciate both his ability to see strategically what was happening in the Directorate and Foundation and [to] act in ways that strengthened the Division, and his skill in enabling people who work with him to grow. Greg sought out the best people to have working with him, so that the Division could benefit from their expertise. He was a true intellectual and scholar with a wide range of interests far beyond just the science we fund.”

MCB thanks Dr. Warr for his hard work and dedication to the Division and MCB science. We will also miss his inspiring 6 AM gym schedule and ability to point out the silly absurdities in our everyday lives. Dr. Charles Cunningham, fellow Program Director and longtime friend, says that he will most miss two things: “Firstly, having been in MCB for 10 years or so, there was little he did not know when it came to process, so he was this great fund of information. Second, our chats about science, politics and home, especially over a curry and a glass of something refreshing at the Bombay Club in DC.”