Getting to Know MCB

MCB congratulates the winners of the NSF Director’s Awards and the National Alliance for Broader Impacts Award

The NSF directors award winners are standing together holding their certificates and smiling
Left to right (front) Alexis Patullo, Reyda Gonzalez-Nieves, Bridget Johnson, Engin Serpersu, (back) Wilson Francisco, Charles Cunningham, and Jaroslaw Majewski.

On May 9, 2019 the National Science Foundation held its annual Director’s Award ceremony to recognize excellence in service and achievement by NSF employees. Eight MCB employees were honored this year. Reyda Gonzalez-Nieves received the NSF Director’s Award for Meritorious Service for her exceptional leadership. Charles Cunningham, Bridget Johnson, and Alexis Patullo received a Superior Accomplishment award for advancing one of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas, “Understanding the Rules of Life” through their work organizing the “Building a Synthetic Cell” ideas lab. Wilson Francisco, Jaroslaw Majewski, and Engin Serpersu also received a Superior Accomplishment award for their leadership in developing “Quantum Leap,” another of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas.

The National Alliance for Broader Impacts held its annual summit April 30-May 2 and honored Karen Cone and David Rockcliffe for their significant contributions to advancing the societal impacts of research and for leadership in supporting the National Alliance for Broader Impacts.

MCB congratulates all our awardees and thanks them for their hard work and commitment to fulfilling NSF’s mission to promote the progress of science.

MCB Welcomes Rita Miller and Marcia Newcomer and Bids Farewell to EJ Crane

Welcome Rita Miller

Rita Miller is a Program Director in the Cellular Dynamics and Function Cluster and comes to us as a VSEE rotator from Oklahoma State University where she studies the cytoskeleton and positioning of the mitotic spindle.

Rita is smiling to camera

What is your educational background?

I have been a biology nerd since my youngest days.  As a kid, I used to sit for hours and watch my older brother dissect his high school frog, dogfish shark, and pig.  I wanted to see how those organ systems worked, so I majored in physiology in college at Michigan State University.  I loved working in the lab as an undergraduate, so I went to Northwestern University for graduate school.  I studied cell biology there with Robert Goldman, using some of the early confocal microscopes to study keratin intermediate filaments. Those studies taught me a lot about protein purification and microscopy, but I wanted to know more about genetics and molecular biology.  So, I went to Princeton University and worked with Mark Rose as a Postdoctoral Fellow.  He taught me a massive amount about yeast genetics and cell biology.  I had my first daughter there in New Jersey and Mark always had great advice on raising daughters too!

When did you start working in MCB and what was your first week like?

I started at NSF the Tuesday after Labor Day, so early September 2018.  The first week was two days of training.  After a couple days of getting oriented to the computer system and then it was straight into helping manage a CAREER panel, followed by writing the acceptances and declination letters.  It was the fastest week ever!

What have you learned so far from your position? 

That NSF invests in people not just projects.

What are some of the challenges you have faced so far?

I think that it can be a challenge to Skype often enough with my graduate students back in Oklahoma.  Some students are more comfortable with Skype than others. But I have given them the “golden ticket” to call me whenever even evenings or weekends, so after some adjusting we have worked out a schedule that works for everyone.

Welcome Marcia Newcomer

Marcia Newcomer is a Program Director in the Molecular Biophysics Cluster and comes to us as an IPA rotator from Louisiana State University where she studies cell responses to environmental conditions and metabolic pathways.

What were you doing before you came to the NSF?

I am a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Louisiana State University, where I have a research program that focuses on the enzymatic production of lipid mediators of the inflammatory response. We are a group of structural biologists trying to define the molecular mechanisms these enzymes use to acquire their membrane-embedded substrates.  As a professor, I teach Introductory Biology for biology majors. This is a very surprising fate for someone who did all she could to avoid biology as an undergraduate chemistry major.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I see my position at NSF as a chance to be involved with an agency I consider essential to our ability to discover ways to improve the world in which we live. 

What was your first impression of NSF? Has this impression changed since you began?

Although I knew that the National Science Foundation funds more than the biological and physical sciences, I did not appreciate just how expansive its profile is until I started working here.

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

One of the joys of life in academia is that you are constantly challenged to learn more. Serving as a program director exposes you to even more new fields and helps you enjoy the “big “picture” of scientific advances from a different perspective. It is a great experience.

Farewell to EJ Crane

EJ Crane served as a VSEE rotator for two years as a Program Director in the Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster and returns to Pomona College where he studies microbiology and biochemistry of sulfur-based respiration.

EJ is smiling into the camera with sunglasses, he is holding a large metal stick with a sampling bottle attached and a hot spring is steaming in the background

How did your time at NSF influence how you will go forward with your research?

I had been doing interdisciplinary science before my time at NSF; however, my experiences there made appreciate interdisciplinary approaches even more.

What is next for you after your time at NSF?

I’ll be back at Pomona College, refocusing on my lab and courses. Based on what I learned during my time at NSF, the emphasis of my lab will change somewhat, and I will spend much more time focusing on trying to find connections in the many datasets that have been generated for microbial communities in a wide range of environments. My lab will continue to be experimental, but we’ll be taking better advantage of all the data on microbial communities that has already been obtained by others.

What personal goals did you accomplish while at NSF?

One personal goal was just being able to manage the workload as a program manager. I have been in academics for my entire career, so it was reassuring to know that I’m able to work effectively outside of the relatively isolated environment of my own laboratory and my experience at NSF showed me that I can translate these skills to other contexts.

What did you learn from your position?

I learned about several new areas of the molecular and cellular biosciences from the proposal review process, meetings, and my colleagues at NSF. I have a much better understanding of what the important and exciting questions are across the broad field, as well as in biology as a whole.

MCB Program Director Devaki Bhaya Named Fellow of California Academy of Sciences

Devaki is smiling into the camera and holding up a framed certificate from the California Academy of Sciences

MCB warmly congratulates Dr. Devaki Bhaya, Program Director in the Systems and Synthetic Biology cluster, for being recently named a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. The honor was extended to a total of 14 researchers this year for their significant contributions to science or science education and communication. Fellows are nominated by their peers and selected by the Academy’s board as individuals whose research aligns with the Academy’s mission to “explore, explain, and sustain life”.

Dr. Bhaya is a research staff scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, CA, and holds a courtesy appointment as a Professor of Biology at Stanford University, Stanford, CA. Dr. Bhaya says, “I am thrilled to be elected a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, an organization that couples a remarkable natural history museum with a lively research institute.  My innumerable visits to the California Academy with friends, students, and family, have always been memorable and now I hope to participate more actively.”

Dr. Bhaya was selected for the Academy in part due to her work using molecular tools to understand how photosynthetic bacteria interact with their environment. More about the Academy and its newest group of Fellows is available via their website; more information about Dr. Bhaya and her research can be found on her lab web page.

 

mcb welcomes three new staff members

MCB has welcomed three new staff members to its ranks during the past several months. Dr. Manju Hingorani, who filled a rotator position as program director during 2014-2016, returns to MCB as a permanent program director in the Molecular Biophysics cluster. Allison Burrell, science assistant, joined MCB this past January; Bridget Johnson, program assistant, followed in March. Learn more about the unique experiences each brings to her respective role below. (more…)

Meet Dr. Basil Nikolau, Our New Division Director

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From the very start of my professional career, I’ve seen the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a major influence in shaping the direction of science. I’m excited for this opportunity to impact the processes that help guide the science priorities of the nation.

Since joining MCB as the newest Division Director several weeks ago, I am appreciative of the work done by my predecessors. I specifically want to thank Dr. Theresa Good for her excellent work as Acting Division Director for the past 16 months. Her commitment to keeping MCB moving forward maintained a sustainable platform on which to build. I look forward to working with a Deputy Division Director with so much experience and vision.

My career has come a long way since 1988, when I mailed 15 copies of my first 50-page grant application via Federal Express during my first year as an Assistant Professor at Iowa State University. Although that application was not funded, I was pleasantly surprised the next year when I received a call with the news of my first successful award to study biotin-containing enzymes in plants. That grant was the first in a series of projects, primarily NSF-funded, that built a research program focused on acetate (or acetyl-CoA) metabolism in plants.  Ultimately, we were successful in developing a program that provided the biocatalytic core of the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC).

Over the years, I have served at NSF as an ad hoc reviewer, a panelist, and as a member of various Committee of Visitors panels. I’ve been impressed by the dedication and collegiality of program officers and the administrative support staff as they work together serving a vibrant and diverse research community. Serving as Division Director will be an opportunity to give back to the organization that has supported my career. I see this role not only as an opportunity to support the NSF community but also to have a hand in contributing from the ground-up to the science priorities of the country.

During my time in MCB I look forward to supporting the strong scientific research programs this directorate is so well known for, as well as overseeing upcoming changes. The transition to the “No Deadlines” proposal submissions process, along with NSF’s “10 Big Ideas” and especially the “Rules of Life” initiative, are aimed at increasing the opportunities for NSF to fund research that crosses levels of biological organization. This is a pivotal time for NSF, and I feel fortunate to have this opportunity to lead MCB as we find ways to fund more complex, interdisciplinary projects that have the potential to dramatically advance the biological sciences. I also look forward to working with the great team in place here. Even after a few short weeks, I feel welcomed and impressed by just how efficient and dedicated the team here is.

Thank you,

Basil Nikolau

WELCOME ACTING ASSISTANT DIRECTOR DR JOANNE TORNOW

A headshot style photograph of Dr. Tornow, she has short grey hair and is wearing black glasses, a blue suit, and a blue necklace.

MCB extends its warm welcome to Acting Assistant Director for the Biological Sciences (BIO), Dr. Joanne Tornow! Dr. Tornow started as a Program Director here in MCB. She has since gone on to take leadership roles in several directorates throughout the agency, but we look forward to having her back in BIO. Dr. Karen Cone, Genetic Mechanisms Program Director says, “Joanne was the Division Director who hired me back in 2009!  She was a terrific role model and I’m glad to have the opportunity to work with her again.” Take a moment to go check out the BIO BUZZ’s newest blog post, “Q&A: Getting to Know Dr. Joanne Tornow,” to hear more about her.

 

 

 

 

MCB WELCOMES DR. MATTHIAS FALK

MCB welcomed Dr. Matthias Falk to the Cellular Dynamics and Function (CDF) cluster this past December. Dr. Falk is serving as a rotating program director (PD) under the Visiting Scientist, Engineer, and Educator Program (VSEE), where he will work closely with visiting panelists, other PDs, and the greater scientific community to help shape the direction of science. In his role as program director, Dr. Falk’s expertise will help guide funding recommendations; influence new directions in the fields of science, engineering, and education; and support cutting-edge interdisciplinary research. Keep reading below to learn more about Dr. Falk.
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Top five of 2017: Most popular blog posts of the year

Here is a list of the top five most-viewed blog posts of 2017 in descending order. From the shift in no-deadlines to highlighting innovative broader impact activities, this blog features exciting science, news, and opportunities generated or supported by MCB. See what you’ve been missing!

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

A timeline of the changes to come over the next two yearsRolling MCB proposal submissions to be implemented in 2018.
478 views.
Published Oct 5 under “Funding and Service.”

2.   BROADENING THE IMPACT OF SCIENCE

2_Most Popular Posts 2017Above and beyond basic science: Dr. Raj designing a science communication tool called Slideboards at UPenn, and Dr. Neiman and Dr. Schoerning creating a Science Booster Club at UIowa.
328 views.
Published May 12 under “Broader Impacts.”

3.   “YOU SHOULD ALWAYS HAVE A HOBBY”

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Dr. Skop of UW-Madison emphasizes work/life balance, and incorporating your passion into your science.
300 views.
Published Dec. 12 under “Broader Impacts.”

4.   MCB WELCOMES DR. MICHAEL WEINREICH, PROGRAM DIRECTOR: GENETIC MECHANISMS CLUSTER


I headshot style photo of Michael, he is smiling into the camera. He is wearing a blue shirt and glasses and is siting in a library with shelves, a computer, and students strudying in the background.From NSF grantee, then panelist/reviewer, to the inside scoop:  meet Dr. Weinreich as he embarks on his new role at NSF.
287 views.
Published June 2 under “Getting to Know MCB.”

5.  NEW FUNDING OPPORTUNITY: MCB INVESTIGATOR-INITIATED RESEARCH
(NSF 17-589)

5_Most Popular Posts 2017

The 2017 MCB call for grant proposals:  program synopsis.
284 views.
Published Aug. 18 under “Funding and Service.”

MCB WELCOMES DR. ELEBEOBA MAY

MCB welcomed Dr. Elebeoba (“Chi-Chi”) May to the Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB) cluster this past November. Dr. May is serving a two-year assignment under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA). As a “rotator,” Dr. May will retain ties to her current institution and return to it with new insights and experience. As a program director, she’ll use her expertise to make funding recommendations; influence new directions in the fields of science, engineering, and education; and support cutting-edge interdisciplinary research. Keep reading below to learn more about Dr. May: (more…)