Broader Impacts

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.

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.

DR. FRANCES H. ARNOLD WINS THE 2016 MILLENNIUM TECHNOLOGY PRIZE

Arnold-Frances-FACULTY-4077-RT

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) would like to congratulate Dr. Frances H. Arnold on being named winner of the 2016 Millennium Technology Prize.

Instituted by the Technology Academy Finland and awarded every two years, the Millennium Technology Prize celebrates an outstanding inventor who uses technology to enhance quality of life and promote sustainable development. Dr. Arnold is one of only twelve award recipients since the award’s inception. The NSF has supported Dr. Arnold’s work through a partnership between the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences’ Systems and Synthetic Biology program, the Division of Chemistry’s Chemistry of Life Processes program, the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems’ Biocatalysis program, and Research at the Interface of the Biological, Mathematical, and Physical Sciences (BioMaPS). Dr. Arnold was selected for this distinguished honor by an international committee who recognized the far reaching impact of her pioneering approach called ‘directed evolution.’

Dr. Frances H. Arnold notes this approach “can be used to improve any enzyme.” An enzyme is a protein that catalyzes a biochemical reaction. In the first step of the process, a scientist chooses an enzyme to target and a trait or ability to improve upon or develop within the enzyme. Next, the scientist introduces changes in the gene (DNA) that encodes the targeted enzyme, producing thousands of altered versions of the enzyme, each with its own unique characteristics. Then, screening is conducted to identify one or more of these altered enzymes that contain the desired improvement. Finally, recombination of beneficial mutations and/or additional rounds of the process very rapidly results in a vastly improved enzyme. Dr. Arnold states, “We can do what nature takes millions of years to do in a matter of weeks.”

Since its development, this method has enabled scientists to revolutionize the quality and functionality of enzymes used in the manufacturing of a multitude of products – from medicine to laundry detergent to biofuels. For example, Dr. Arnold and her research team are using this approach to “engineer enzymes capable of producing fuels and chemicals from renewable resources.”

Dr. Arnold is the Director of the Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center and the Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering, and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). She is also the recipient of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (2011), the first female elected to all three branches of the National Academies – the National Academy of Engineering (2000), the Institute of Medicine (2004), and the National Academy of Sciences (2008) – and the first female recipient of the Millennium Technology Prize. She notes, “I certainly hope that young women can see themselves in my position someday. I hope that my getting this prize will highlight the fact that yes, women can do this, they can do it well, and that they can make a contribution to the world and be recognized for it. I hope that women will see that one can have a rewarding career in science and technology.”

Please join MCB in congratulating Dr. Frances H. Arnold as we celebrate her outstanding, well-deserved recognition of being awarded the 2016 Millennium Technology Prize.

This work is partially funded by the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Award #MCB-1513007.

Mr. Casey Bethel: Recipient of Georgia’s 2017 Teacher of the Year Award Following a NSF Research Experience for Teachers (RET)

Casey and Raquel

Dr. Raquel Lieberman (Left) and Mr. Casey Bethel, Georgia’s 2017 Teacher of the Year (Right)

Mr. Casey Bethel was recently honored as Georgia’s 2017 Teacher of the Year. He teaches advanced placement (AP) Biology, AP Physics, Biology, and Physical Sciences at New Manchester High School in Douglasville, Georgia. Recipients of this prestigious award are outstanding local and state public school teachers in Georgia who serve as shining examples of excellence in education, and Mr. Bethel is the first STEM teacher in over a decade to receive this award. He notes, “This award is a huge honor, and in many ways it serves as validation of the hard work and sacrifices I have put into growing in this career. I hope that it further inspires my students to work hard and pursue their dreams.”

Mr. Bethel credits his accomplishment and growth as an educator to the many summers he spent working in Dr. Raquel Lieberman’s lab supported in part by a Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB)-funded Research Experience for Teachers (RET) supplement. As described in the Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 12-075), RET supplements enable K-12 science educators to participate in NSF-funded scientific research projects with the goal of enhancing their professional development through the experience of conducting research at the emerging frontiers of science in order to bring new knowledge to the classroom. Dr. Lieberman actively recruited Mr. Bethel and requested a RET supplement when designing the broader impacts of her MCB-funded 2009 CAREER award. You can find out more about the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award here.

The Lieberman lab uses techniques, such as protein crystallography and computer modeling, to determine structure–function relationships of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease and glaucoma. Mr. Bethel notes, “Dr. Lieberman welcomed me and made me a contributing member of her team. Every year since, my wealth of knowledge has grown and my teaching practices have improved. My students are better prepared for college science courses now, and more than 50 of them are excelling in STEM majors and careers.” Additional outcomes of the RET experience for Mr. Bethel and Dr. Lieberman include co-authorship of a scientific research paper undergoing peer review, and the publication of a teaching unit describing multimedia-guided inquiry for high school science classrooms in the Journal of Chemical Education.

Join us in congratulating Mr. Casey Bethel as Georgia’s 2017 Teacher of the Year and acknowledging the commitment of Dr. Raquel Lieberman to expanding the broader impacts of her research as MCB celebrates this outstanding recognition.

This work is partially funded by the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Award #MCB-0845445.

Claudia Garcia and Thomasina Osborne honored by the National Science Foundation

Claudia Garcia and Thomasina Osborne of the Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Division were recognized by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as the 2015 recipients of the NSF Director’s Award for Excellence in Teamwork. Recipients of this award have achieved significant organizational results as a team.

Claudia Garcia works as a Program Specialist and Thomasina Osborne works as a Program & Technology Analyst. They provide administrative support to the Division. Furthermore, they assist Program Directors with the proposal cycle, which includes compliance checking, panel set-up, and award distribution.

Claudia Garcia and Thomasina Osborne were recognized for “their exemplary professionalism, dedication, and spirit of teamwork when handling extraordinary workloads during a period of low staffing and leadership change.” Join us in congratulating Claudia and Thomasina as the Division celebrates this outstanding recognition.

Photo Courtesy: NSF/Sandy Schaeffer

Dr. Theresa Good Honored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers

Dr. Theresa Good, Deputy Division Director of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences at NSF was recognized by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers as the 2015 recipient of their prestigious Food, Pharmaceutical and Bioengineering Division Distinguished Service Award in Chemical Engineering. Recipients of this award have made an exceptional contribution to the profession of food engineering, pharmaceutical engineering, and/or bioengineering in general.

Dr. Good completed her doctoral degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She began her career as an Assistant Professor in Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University where she was tenured. She then worked as a Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her research focus was understanding the role of protein aggregation in neurotoxicity associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

From 2010 to 2012, Dr. Good worked in the Engineering Directorate at the NSF, and from 2013 to present she has been part of the Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Division as a Program Director in the Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster, and most recently as the Deputy Division Director.

Dr. Good’s work on problems at the interface of biological sciences and engineering and her tireless efforts in service to the profession and science community were rewarded with this distinguished award. Dr. Good was recognized for “her sustained service in bioengineering leadership, programming, mentoring, and for personal investment in the success of other faculty and students.” Join us in congratulating Dr. Good as the Division celebrates this outstanding recognition.

The National Alliance for Broader Impacts

The Broader Impacts Merit Review criterion (BI) plays a crucial role in NSF’s mission. BI activities advance scientific knowledge and contribute to socially relevant outcomes. The basics of Broader Impacts were addressed in an infographic we previously shared on the blog.

If you have submitted a proposal to the NSF, you are aware that the BI activities of a project are part of the Foundation’s Merit Review process. But… what are Broader Impacts activities? The term “broader impacts” has wide-ranging implications, thus there are many questions about this subject in our scientific community.

MCB is excited about the first, of what we hope to be many, posts featuring the BI activities of MCB-funded investigators. We hope to share a sampling of projects that represents the diversity of activities and their outcomes. If you are: 1) an MCB-funded researcher and 2) would like to share your research and broader impacts activities, please fill out this form to be considered for a future post.

The National Alliance for Broader Impacts (NABI) is a national network of individuals from universities, professional societies, and science organizations that focuses on promoting Broader Impacts activities locally, nationally, and internationally (NSF award #MCB-1313197). NABI is committed to creating a community of practice by achieving the following four objectives:

  • identify and curate promising models, practices, and evaluation methods for the BI community;
  • expand engagement in and support the development of high-quality BI activities by educating current and future faculty and researchers on effective BI practices;
  • develop the human resources necessary for sustained growth and increased diversity of the BI community; and
  • promote cross-institutional collaboration on and dissemination of BI programs, practices, models, materials, and resources.

An important aspect of NABI’s mission is to provide professional development and support for researchers. To do so, offices have been created at many institutions to help researchers design, implement, and evaluate their BI activities. A great example of this effort is the Broader Impacts Network at the University of Missouri (NSF award #MCB-1408736).

NABI also coordinates the annual Broader Impacts Summit (award #IIA-1437105). The summit is a great platform to discuss issues related to BI, to cultivate new ideas, and move the field of BI forward. The summit also presents a unique professional-development opportunity for BI support staff.

When asked about the future of NABI, Dr. Susan D. Renoe, adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Missouri and director of the Broader Impacts Network, responded:

We will continue to provide high-quality professional development for individuals and broader impacts support for researchers through our programming. In addition, the future of NABI represents the future of broader impacts. As our network grows, so, too, will the scope and scale of the broader impacts of research.”

Award #MCB-1408736 is co-funded by the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences and Emerging Frontiers in the Directorate for Biological Sciences and by the Division of Chemistry in the Directorate for Mathematics and Physical Sciences.

Congratulations to 2015 Nobel Laureate, Dr. Aziz Sancar!

Congratulations to Dr. Aziz Sancar on being awarded a 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry! Dr. Sancar is one of three recipients of this award whose research on “mechanistic studies of DNA repair” has brought forth new information on how cells repair DNA after being damaged by ultraviolet radiation, free radical molecules, and other carcinogenic substances. Professor Sancar received the NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award (PYI) from MCB at the beginning of his academic career for the project entitled “Characterization of UvrABC Excision Nuclease of E. coli”, supported from 1983 to 1989.

MCB proudly recognizes the early investments made into Dr. Sancar and his research as his work has made profound impacts on the progress of science.

Please click here for a link to a transcript of the phone interview with Dr. Sancar immediately following the announcement of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

iBiology: Sharing Research One Video At a Time

The growth in interdisciplinary science over the past decade has led to new developments in biological knowledge and techniques. For example,  CRISPR technology allows scientists to make specific changes to genomes and has transformed the field of genetics. As the field of biology increases in complexity due to technological innovations and expansion of knowledge, new ways to teach and communicate science must be developed. iBiology addresses this challenge by sharing science in the form of easy-to-watch video seminars,  and aims to lead the way in creating ways to spread interest in science for educational and scientific communities.

One of the main goals of iBiology is to bring research questions currently being explored by top-level scientists to students, scientists, and educators. This is most visible in the recently launched video series, “Great Questions in Life Sciences.” Investigators reveal the great scientific problems at the intersection of physics, computation, and biology that will demand attention over the coming decade. These videos offer the viewer a unique glimpse into the forefront of research and are intended to spark the curiosity of young scientists and students considering a career in life sciences research.

In talking to iBiology’s Associate Director, Dr. Shannon Behrman, we learned that, not only does iBiology want to expose the biological questions that are being actively pursued; they also hope to demystify what it would be like to become a researcher in various fields of biology answering those very questions.  Videos under the “How I Became a Scientist” section show interviews with various well-known scientists outlining their journeys to becoming researchers. Other videos under the “Careers” section show different career paths that are open to someone with a science degree. Each of these videos help to make this broad field more accessible by providing professional advice to aspiring students.  This early exposure to research helps young scientists feel like they can fit into and make a difference in the scientific community.

iBiology does not just provide a tool for students to see what current leaders in the field of biology are working on. They also provide a much-needed teaching resource. The program provides a plethora of educational resources and study tools for students in several different fields of biology, including biochemistry, genetics, microbiology, and human health. To support science teachers, iBiology provides possible questions for various assessments for students, along with a key terms index to help shape their curriculum.

For science to thrive, it needs innovative ideas.  iBiology answers this call with new approaches for getting students to become more interested in science, and by providing these students with resources to help them succeed in their scientific endeavors.  As a result, the iBiology team hopes to see more young people bringing in new and innovative approaches to current research problems in the future.