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A Word from Dr. Theresa Good, Acting Division Director

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As many of you may know, our Division Director, Dr. Linda Hyman, recently returned to her previous position as Associate Provost for the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences at Boston University. Linda led MCB through some difficult times: the death of a dear friend and colleague, Dr. Kamal Shukla; the retirement of a dedicated colleague and advocate for the synthetic biology community, Dr. Susanne Von Bodman; and the transition of a number of staff members into different roles within the Foundation and elsewhere in federal service. From all of us at MCB, thank you Linda, for the time you took away from your role at Boston University to lead us and for your year and a half of service to the Foundation. Good luck as you return back to Boston University.

As I now take on the role of Acting Division Director, I am thankful to have the support of talented program directors, staff, and colleagues, like Dr. Gregory Warr, who have previously served in this role.  All are dedicated to the NSF mission of transforming the frontiers of science and engineering, and stimulating innovation to address societal needs through research and education. While change is occasionally uncomfortable, it often brings about opportunities. We are excited to have a number of new program directors who you will meet over the coming months (Dr. E.J. Crane, Dr. Michael Weinreich, and Dr. Jarek Majewski), new staff members (Grace Malato), and the expert leadership of a new Operations Manager (Dr. Reyda Gonzalez-Nieves). Two of our dedicated program directors, first Dr. Michelle Elekonich, and then Dr. Karen Cone, will serve as the acting Deputy Division Director in two respective 120 day rotations. Michelle and Karen both have experience in division leadership and will work with me to ensure the efficient operations and attention to science vision for which MCB is known.

In addition, a new solicitation will be issued and some new workshops are being developed to catalyze conversations about the future directions of MCB science. Within MCB, we are poised to do our part to invest in science, engineering, and education for the nation’s future.

We look forward to engaging the scientific community during panels, meetings, and outreach visits about how to best serve science and the needs of the nation. We ask you to continue to work with us by: submitting your best ideas in proposals, continuing to participate in peer review, serving on panels, meeting with us at NSF workshops or at other scientific meetings, serving as rotating program directors, continuing to do outstanding research and broader impacts activities, and communicating the results of those efforts to the broader community.

As always, MCB welcomes your questions and input on how we can better serve the scientific community. You should always feel free to give us feedback or reach out to a program director with questions.

 

Best wishes,

 

Dr. Theresa Good

Acting Division Director

SHARE YOUR IDEAS ON CYBERINFRASTRUCTURE

A new NSF Dear Colleague Letter (DCL; NSF 17-031) has been posted: Request for Information on Future Needs for Advanced Cyberinfrastructure to Support Science and Engineering Research (NSF CI 2030).

From the DCL:

“NSF Directorates and Offices are jointly requesting input from the research community on science challenges and associated cyberinfrastructure needs over the next decade and beyond. Contributions to this Request for Information will be used during the coming year to inform the Foundation’s strategy and plans for advanced cyberinfrastructure investments. We invite bold, forward-looking ideas that will provide opportunities to advance the frontiers of science and engineering well into the future.”

We encourage MCB to weigh in – what do you see as the cyberinfrastructure that will be needed to advance molecular and cellular biosciences?

The DCL points to an external submission website (http://www.nsfci2030.org/). Please note that the deadline for submissions is April 5, 2017 5:00 PM ET. Questions about this effort and the submission process should be sent to Dr. William Miller, Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure, at this email address: nsfci2030rfi@nsf.gov.

CONGRATULATIONS TO 2017 PRESIDENTIAL EARLY CAREER AWARDEE, DR. AHMAD KHALIL!

Dr. Ahmad Khalil is smiling, arms crossed, standing in front of his lab bench while wearing a blue and white checked shirt and glasses.

MCB would like to congratulate Dr. Ahmad (Mo) Khalil, recipient of the 2017 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The PECASE award is the most prestigious honor a scientist or engineer can receive from the U.S. government early in their independent research career.

PECASE selection is a highly competitive process. As we previously noted on the MCB Blog, awardees must first receive a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award. Dr. Khalil received his CAREER award from the Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster in the Division of MCB. The National Science Foundation annually nominates up to twenty CAREER awardees for the PECASE award, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy makes the final selection of PECASE awardees.

Dr. Khalil was selected to receive a PECASE award because his work is an outstanding example of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and because of his strong commitment to service, scientific leadership, education, and outreach. His research uses synthetic biology to engineer cellular networks; the specific focus of his CAREER award is to develop synthetic tools to study the function of prions in yeast cells and populations. You can read more about his research at Boston University on his lab’s website or in a post we featured via the Share MCB Science blog theme.

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Khalil!

This work is partially funded by the Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, CAREER Award #MCB-1350949.

WELCOME TO MCB GRACE MALATO!

Grace is looking into the camera and smiling. There are tropical trees in the background and she is wearing a gray tshirt and holding a green sive full of Rhoadsia altipinna, a small western Ecuadorian Tetra fish which appear rainbow.

Hear from MCB biologist Grace Malato.

What is your educational background?

I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Biology with an emphasis in Aquatics from the University of Montana, Missoula. I then received my Master of Science degree in Biology from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois.

What is your position? When did you start working in MCB?

I started as a Biologist for MCB in January 2017, just after the New Year. I am here as a Presidential Management STEM Fellow (PMF STEM), which is a program that we previously featured on the MCB blog.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of research settings that combine molecular tools with ecological concern; I love the excitement that comes with discovery. After seeing how important but challenging interdisciplinary research can be, I was curious about the bigger picture. I am excited to work at NSF to contribute to the scientific community at large and to be a part of an organization providing critical funding for innovative research.

What have you learned so far from your position?

I have learned, in my short time at NSF, so much about the inner workings of the merit review process as well as how funding and research priorities are set. I have learned just how much work goes into reviewing proposals as well as how decisions on funding influence the future of science.

MCB WELCOMES DR. DEVAKI BHAYA, PROGRAM DIRECTOR FOR THE SYSTEMS AND SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY CLUSTER

This is a headshot style photograph of Dr. Devaki Bhaya smiling at the camera with glasses on her head. Wearing silver jewelry and a black shirt, she is standing in front of forest covered mountains.

What were you doing before you came to the NSF?

I am a staff scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, Department of Plant Biology, which is a full-time research position, and I have a courtesy appointment as a Professor in the Department of Biology at Stanford University. I mentor both graduate and undergraduate students, collaborate with several faculty, and teach a range of courses.

What attracted you to work for the NSF?

Well, a number of things. I have been funded for most of my career by the NSF. NSF support allowed me to get back into research (after several years in India) and to develop several interdisciplinary projects. I felt this was a good time in my career to use my experience to help identify the most innovative science. Being a rotator allows me to explore the complex funding landscape, which may help me better develop future research projects. I also think strong interactions between scientists and funding agencies can bring in new ideas.

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

I came in the day before the start of a panel, which was a bit overwhelming, but prepared me for what lies ahead. I was struck by the collegiality among the Program Directors and the professionalism of the staff. If anything, I am now even more impressed because I realize that everyone is trying to do their best, under sometimes challenging circumstances.

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

I am deeply immersed in my own research, but I have become more curious about how all the pieces of the foundation fit together and how policies and directions are decided.  That’s hard to see from the “outside”, and I have already been able to get a better sense by attending seminars, retreats, and meeting people. I also felt this experience would allow me to decide whether or not I could make a difference and be happy in a longer term position at the NSF or one of the other funding agencies in the latter part of my career.

What has surprised you most about working at the NSF?

What surprised me most are the various opportunities that exist at the NSF if you can take time out of a busy schedule. I’ve been able to meet academics and Program Directors from different fields, talk to young scientists about their career goals, and attend several talks – all in the first few months! I have also been surprised at how much organizational flux there is with new people joining and others leaving; yet all the programs still run efficiently.

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

So far, the challenge has been learning the ropes (software, processes, etc.). In the future, I see the bigger challenge to make the best funding decisions. But in both cases, the fact that there are several experienced Program Directors who are always willing to answer questions and discuss issues is a huge help. This role is very different from being an established academic where one is familiar with the territory.

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

Serving as a Program Director is a unique opportunity to witness firsthand how much thought, complexity, and effort lies behind funding decisions. I would recommend early or mid-career scientists serve if they can afford to take the time. I’d especially encourage those who like challenges, are curious, and like to cross both social and scientific boundaries. To use an analogy – doing one’s own research is like focusing on a single star; at the NSF, you realize there are whole galaxies out there and enjoy the “big picture.”

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

For most of my scientist friends, working at the NSF represents the daunting challenge of using scarce resources to promote excellence in basic science and build diversity. There are some who say I must be a risk-taker who likes a challenge, but others who think I have a great opportunity to contribute to and strengthen the science community. Frankly, I think it’s a bit of both and I am eager to see how my perspectives change over the next few months.

2016 Top 6: Our Most Popular Blog Posts of the Year

We greatly appreciate your continued support of the MCB Blog! In 2016, we were very pleased to see MORE visitors, an INCREASE in views per post and total blog views, and 104 NEW followers who read our blog weekly!

Meet the Editors who craft and edit MCB blog posts. Read our blog policies. Share Your Science with our readers. Tell us what you like to read most and provide feedback on how we can continue to improve. You can also contact us online or reach out to program staff from MCB at Your Meeting.

Here is a quick look at our top 6 most popular blog posts of 2016.

(1) IN HONOR OF DR. KAMAL SHUKLA

This grouping of photographs shows Dr. Kamal Shukla smiling with NSF and MCB staff during work events.

(2) EXPLORING NON-ACADEMIC SCIENCE CAREERS: ASSISTANT DEAN FOR DIVERSITY INITATIVES IN THE NATURAL SCIENCES IN PRINCETON UNIVERSITY

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(3) EXPLORING NON-ACADEMIC SCIENCE CAREERS: SUPPLEMENTAL FUNDING FOR CAREER DEVELOPMENT

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(4) MEET THE SUMMER 2016 INTERNS AT MCB!

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(5) EXPLORING NON-ACADEMIC SCIENCE CAREERS: PRESIDENTIAL MANAGEMENT FELLOWSHIP

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(6) NSF FACULTY EARLY CAREER DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM

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MOLECULAR BIOPHYSICS INVESTIGATORS AWARDED SOCIETY HONORS

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) congratulates three investigators who recently received distinguished awards in recognition of their contributions to science. Each investigator has been supported in part by MCB’s Molecular Biophysics program.

This is a headshot style photograph of Dr. Gary Pielak in a grey button down shirt with glasses. He is smiling at the camera.Dr. Gary Pielak received the 2016 Carl Brändén Award from the Protein Society. Dr. Pielak is the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Biophysics and Vice Chair of Facilities with a joint appointment at the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Carl Brändén Award honors “an outstanding protein scientist who has made exceptional contributions in the areas of education and/or service to the science.”  The service part of the Award reflects, in part, Gary’s stint with us as a MCB Program Director. Dr. Pielak works with his research group to study the equilibrium thermodynamics of proteins under crowded conditions and in living cells using high-resolution in-cell NMR and other methods. His research is supported in part by MCB and NSF’s Division of Chemistry.

Dr. Martin Gruebele was awarded the 2017 Nakanishi Prize by the American Chemical Society. Dr. Gruebele is a 2013 National Academy of Sciences fellow, James R. Eiszner Endowed Chair in Chemistry, Professor of Physics at the Center for Biophysics and Quantitative Biology, and full-time faculty member in the Beckman Institute Nanoelectronics and Nanomaterials group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Much like MCB places high priority on cross-disciplinary research (using computational, physical, mathematical, and engineering tools, technologies, or methodologies to address major biological questions), the Nakanishi prize celebrates “significant work that extends chemical and spectroscopic methods to the study of important biological phenomena.” The Gruebele group uses lasers, microscopy, and computational approaches to explore complex biochemical processes such as transport of unfolded proteins within a cell. This work was supported in part by MCB and NSF’s Division of Chemistry, Division of Materials Research, Division of Undergraduate Education, and the Office of International Science and Engineering.

This is a headshot style photo of Dr. Dave Thirumalai in a grey striped button down shirt. He is smiling at the camera.Dr. Dave Thirumalai received the 2016 Award in Theoretical Chemistry from the Division of Physical Chemistry of the American Chemical Society during the Fall ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia. Dr. Thirumalai is currently Chair of the Department of Chemistry in the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. As noted on the awards web page, Dr. Thirumalai was recognized for his “outstanding contributions to physical and biophysical chemistry, especially work on protein and RNA folding, protein aggregation, and effects of molecular crowding in cells.” The work of Dr. Thirumalai and his research team when we was at the University of Maryland was supported in part MCB and NSF’s Division of Chemistry, Division of Physics, and the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure.

Please join MCB in congratulating Drs. Pielak, Gruebele, and Thirumalai on their awards!

MCB PROGRAM DIRECTOR STEVEN CLOUSE NAMED 2016 AAAS FELLOW

Dr. Steven Clouse is standing in front of green trees.

Dr. Steven Clouse, a Cellular Dynamics and Function Program Director in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences and Professor in the Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, has been elected a 2016 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS). Since 1874, the AAAS has bestowed this honor on select members for their “scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.” Dr. Clouse was nominated by peers in the Section on Agriculture, Food, and Renewable Resources “for distinguished contributions to the field of plant biology, particularly for pioneering studies of brassinosterorid signaling and plant receptor kinases.”

After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis and completing postdoctoral work in plant molecular biology at the Salk Institute, Dr. Clouse began his independent research career in 1988 as an assistant professor at San Diego State University. At that time, a class of naturally occurring plant compounds termed “brassinosteroids” had been structurally characterized, but little was known about their molecular mechanism of action. In collaboration with Dr. Trevor McMorris and Dr. Michael Baker, experts in steroid chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, Dr. Clouse and his students cloned one of the first brassinosteroid-regulated genes and identified one of the first brassinosteroid steroid-insensitive mutants in plants. The launch of this research project was supported by a Small Grant for Exploratory Research (SGER) from NSF – the first of many NSF awards received over a 25 year period that were essential to developing a research program to determine the mechanisms of brassinosteroid action in plant growth and development.

In 1996, Dr. Clouse moved to North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He began a collaboration with Dr. Steven Huber, a kinase biochemist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Dr. Michael Goshe, an expert in proteomics and mass spectrometry at North Carolina State University, to determine the role of protein phosphorylation in brassinosteroid signaling. This work was supported by several NSF grants from MCB, culminating in two large Arabidopsis 2010 program awards that allowed the work to expand dramatically both in terms of the size of the group as well as new research avenues involving high throughput proteomic approaches.

When reflecting on his election as AAAS fellow, Dr. Clouse said, “I was very pleased that my peers considered our 25 year research effort on brassinosteroid action to be worthwhile. The success of the program was the result of hard work by more than 30 postdoctoral scientists and graduate students and being fortunate to have excellent collaborators, particularly Drs. Huber and Goshe. The initial belief of NSF program directors in the importance of our work and the continued and growing NSF support over the years was crucial for the success of the program, both in terms of research and training, and is greatly appreciated. I feel fortunate to be able to serve as an NSF program director near the end of my career, where I can perhaps contribute by identifying new projects that may continue to enjoy the long-term success that we experienced.”

Please join MCB as we congratulate Dr. Steven Clouse on his election to the rank of AAAS Fellow!

This work is partially funded by the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Award #MCB – 1021363, #MCB – 0419819, and #MCB – 0742411.