SSB

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.

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.

A photo of Alexis Patullo in her graduation gown for George Mason University. Alexis is standing in front of a fountain and holding green and yellow pom-poms.

WELCOME TO MCB ALEXIS PATULLO!

Hear from Program Assistant Alexis Patullo.

What is your educational background?

I recently graduated from George Mason University with a bachelor’s degree in Forensic Science and a minor in Biology.

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

I started working at NSF in September 2015 as a Pathways Student in the Office of the Assistant Director for the Directorate for Biological Sciences. Later that year, I transitioned to a detail position, which is a short term preview of another role that develops new skills, within the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB). Upon graduation, I was eligible for a Program Assistant position in MCB, and I applied because I thoroughly enjoyed my detail in the Division. As a Program Assistant, I support the Genetic Mechanisms (GM) and Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB) programs.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I often walked through the NSF atrium on my way to another job. Every time I thought, I should stop in to see what NSF is all about. As I looked for student internships on USAJOBS.gov, I came across a Pathways position at NSF. After reading more about what NSF does and finding out that several of my professors were either awarded NSF funding or served as NSF Program Directors, I decided to apply. It seemed like a great opportunity to put the skills I have to good use while taking classes and continuing to learn about science.

What have you learned so far from your position?

I think one of the most important things I have learned is the importance of teamwork and effective communication as most tasks involve several people and moving parts. Learning new technologies and procedural changes that reflect updated policies or regulations means that most days I feel like I learn something new in my position.

MCB AT YOUR MEETING: OUTREACH AT THE UNIVERSITY OF PUERTO RICO AT CAROLINA

Image of Dr. Jose Garcia (Investigator at UPRC), Dr. Karilys González Nieves (Investigator at UPRC), Dr. Luis Cubano (Co-Project Director, UPRC Title V), Dr. Reyda González-Nieves (MCB Acting Operations Manager), Dr. Larry Halverson (SSB Program Director), Ms. Raquel Marti (Project Director, UPRC Title V), Dr. Linda Hyman (MCB Division Director), Dr. Wilson Francisco (MB Program Director), Dr. Jose Alvarez (Faculty Development, UPRC Title V), Dr. Moisés Orengo Avilés (UPRC Chancellor), Dr. Awilda Nueñez (Academic Dean at UPRC), and Dr. Jose Santiago (Investigator at UPRC)

Workshop Coordinators and Presenters (from left): Dr. Jose Garcia (Investigator at UPRC), Dr. Karilys González Nieves (Investigator at UPRC), Dr. Luis Cubano (Co-Project Director, UPRC Title V), Dr. Reyda González-Nieves (MCB Acting Operations Manager), Dr. Larry Halverson (SSB Program Director), Ms. Raquel Marti (Project Director, UPRC Title V), Dr. Linda Hyman (MCB Division Director), Dr. Wilson Francisco (MB Program Director), Dr. Jose Alvarez (Faculty Development, UPRC Title V), Dr. Moisés Orengo Avilés (UPRC Chancellor), Dr. Awilda Nueñez (Academic Dean at UPRC), and Dr. Jose Santiago (Investigator at UPRC)

MCB Program Directors and Division leadership regularly attend scientific meetings and workshops to garner input from the scientific community, spread the word about funding opportunities, recruit panelists, and otherwise provide information to encourage the submission of grant proposals. In September, Dr. Linda Hyman (MCB Division Director), Dr. Wilson Francisco (MCB Program Director for Molecular Biophysics (MB)), Dr. Larry Halverson (MCB Program Director for Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB)), and Dr. Reyda González-Nieves (MCB Acting Operations Manager) traveled to Puerto Rico to support the “How to Write an Excellent Proposal” workshop hosted by the University of Puerto Rico at Carolina (UPRC).

This workshop provided an overview of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and MCB, discussed best practices in NSF grant writing and submission, and highlighted funding opportunities in MCB and across NSF. Prior to the start of the workshop, Drs. Hyman, Francisco, and Halverson met with workshop coordinators at the University of Puerto Rico at Carolina to strategize how best to conduct personalized outreach during the workshop given the larger than expected number of registrants. The workshop was attended by over 60 participants from eight different institutions throughout the island of Puerto Rico. During the morning session of the workshop, MCB representatives gave three presentations: “Overview of NSF and the Directorate for Biological Sciences,” “Cluster Overviews and Opportunities between MCB and other Divisions/Directorates,” and “How to Write an Excellent Proposal.”

Image of MCB Workshop Presenters: (top) Dr. Linda Hyman; (bottom left) Dr. Wilson Francisco; and (bottom right) Dr. Larry Halverson

MCB Workshop Presenters: (top) Dr. Linda Hyman; (bottom left) Dr. Wilson Francisco; and (bottom right) Dr. Larry Halverson

These presentations were followed by individual meetings between MCB representatives and PIs, faculty, and graduate students from the University of Puerto Rico at Carolina to discuss project ideas and their fit for funding opportunities within MCB and NSF. These personalized sessions provided attendees the opportunity to have their questions answered by MCB experts, and to get to know MCB Division Leadership, Program Directors, and staff. In post-workshop feedback, attendees rated their experience “excellent.”

Drs. Hyman, Francisco, Halverson, and González-Nieves felt this workshop was a unique opportunity to encourage new collaborations, cultivate new ideas, discuss funding opportunities, and keep inspiring new and undiscovered talent in the scientific community. The Division of MCB would like to thank the University of Puerto Rico at Carolina for hosting MCB at Your Meeting. To find out about our future travel plans, visit the “MCB at Your Meeting” page on the MCB Blog.

FAREWELL TO DR. SUSANNE VON BODMAN

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(Left to right); Dr. Charles Cunningham, Dr. Wilson Francisco, MCB Deputy Division Director Dr. Theresa Good, Dr. Steven Clouse, Dr. Richard Cyr, Dr. Susanne von Bodman, Dr. Engin Serpersu, Dr. Greg Warr, Former CBET Program Director Dr. Friedrich Srienc, and Dr. Bill Eggleston

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) gave a warm send off to Dr. Susanne von Bodman, former Program Director and cluster leader in the Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB) program. Among the many reasons she enjoyed her time at NSF are “interacting with amazingly bright and forward thinking colleagues across the agency who share a commitment to advancing molecular and cellular biosciences through cross-disciplinary collaborations; getting to know a community of remarkable investigators in the fields of Systems and Synthetic Biology; the camaraderie between colleagues at the NSF and a fun, but dedicated staff creating many opportunities for memorable social events and recreational experiences outside of work; and living in the greater DC area with its art, food, music, sports, museums, and recreation.”

As cluster leader, Dr. von Bodman provided a clear vision and direction for how best to support investigator-driven scientific proposals. She noted, “I believe that Systems and Synthetic Biology will change the field of molecular and cellular biology as we know it. Recognizing that biology is non-linear; the responses to perturbations uncertain; and the whole being greater than the sum of its parts necessitates the integration of mathematical and computational biological research.” Dr. von Bodman offered a few words of advice to young investigators; “Have a conversation with mathematicians, computation biologists, physicists, and/or chemical and bio-engineers about your projects because it may be eye-opening.”

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Back row (left to right): Dr. Stacy Kelley, Dr. Reyda Gonzalez -Nieves, Kelly Parshall, Dr. Karen Cone, Ann Larrow, Philip Helig, and Alexis Patullo. Front row (left to right): Valerie Maizel, Megan Lewis, Dr. Susanne von Bodman, and David Barley

After her years of service to the NSF, Dr. von Bodman is most looking forward to golfing, biking, hiking, and traveling; spending time with her four wonderful grandchildren; reading books she has never finished; and continuing the renovations on her cabin in West Virginia. Dr. von Bodman also plans on “following the science we funded, and learning about the next exciting scientific frontiers.” Lastly, in her words, “I wish to take this opportunity to thank all of you within and outside the National Science Foundation who made my experiences in academia and as a Program Director at the NSF most enjoyable and rewarding. It was a privilege to serve and get to know this community of talented researchers and educators. I particularly valued your service as reviewers and panelists; it is ultimately you who drive the science forward! The very best wishes – Susanne (Susi)”

All of us at MCB thank Dr. Susanne von Bodman for her many years of dedicated service as a Program Director and cluster leader. We will miss Susi’s outspoken advocacy and passion for the science and investigators she supported. We wish her lots of enjoyment in this new chapter.

A few words by Dr. Parag Chitnis, Former MCB Division Director:

“At NSF, Program Directors can make major impacts on the directions of science. In the 1980s, DeLill Nasser’s bold and substantive support of Arabidopsis as a model system revolutionized plant biology. In the 1990s, Kamal Shukla catalyzed the field of computational molecular biophysics. Around 2007, Dr. Greg Warr proposed realignment of programs within MCB, leading to the creation of a Networks and Regulation cluster, when it became clear that projects using network analysis were increasing in signal transduction, cell biology, metabolism and genetic regulation. Dr. Susanne von Bodman, an ardent proponent of systems approaches and synthetic biology, served as a Program Director in this cluster. The cluster was ultimately renamed Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB) due to Dr. von Bodman’s leadership fostering these fields in the MCB portfolio. Her leadership in ERA-SynBio was also responsible for many rewarding partnerships with EU funding agencies. MCB had strongly favored interdisciplinary research including areas at the interface with engineering (e.g. metabolic engineering and quantitative systems biotechnology). However, Dr. von Bodman, in collaboration with Dr. Theresa Good, strengthened interactions with engineering far beyond what was historically done. Joint panels and co-funding led to many productive discussions and exciting opportunities for supporting truly interdisciplinary research.

Around 2010, Susanne von Bodman fostered synthetic biology as a major tool to decipher the molecular rules of life. Like DeLill and Kamal, Susanne von Bodman has been an unapologetic proponent of excellence in science and an ardent supporter of young investigators. Like them, she emphasized projects with bold approaches and transformative impacts, often ignoring ‘other factors’ and overly bureaucratic policies. She catalyzed science frontiers in systems and synthetic biology and built strong connections to leverage science investments. She recruited top notch panelists and depended on their advice to understand the frontiers in systems and synthetic biology. She identified CAREER awardees with great potential to be leaders in systems and synthetic biology, many of whom have now made prominent contributions to the progress in these fields. Her impacts on the science supported by MCB has been phenomenal and will last long after her retirement.”