University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


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!

Welcome to MCB Stacy Kelley!


Hear from Biologist Dr. Stacy Kelley

What is your educational background? 

I have a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry/molecular biology, chemistry, and economics with honors from Illinois State University, and a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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

I am a Biologist in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, and I started on November 29th, 2015.

 What attracted you to work for NSF?

The funding provided by the National Science Foundation stimulates some of the most cutting edge research in science. As a graduate student, one often plays a role in the creation of data or text for proposals. You get a glimpse of the merit review process from the outside looking in, feeling the highs and lows along with your advisor. It is intriguing and informative to be on the other side of the curtain, and see the process in action. I also appreciate the philosophy of using data analysis to drive decision making to promote the progress of science. When I saw NSF’s commitment to its employees through benefits, flexibility through telework, and deserved recognition as one of the best places to work in the federal government, it sealed the deal.

 What have you learned so far from your position?

I have learned NSF fosters a healthy work-life balance. Starting in late November was ideal, because I have had the unique opportunity to get to know MCB staff and coworkers at holiday gatherings filled with cheer and delicious food. I love the positive working environment, and greatly appreciate everyone who has reached out to mentor, train, or help me more quickly find my place here at NSF… Thank you all!


This is MCB! Hear from Dr. Susanne von Bodman

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. Susanne von Bodman completed her doctoral degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She currently works as a Program Director and Cluster Leader for the Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster. Dr. von Bodman started working in MCB in September of 2010. As a cluster leader, Dr. von Bodman is involved in Program Management, outreach activities, and community development activities. She also provides advice to investigators, participates on strategic working groups, represents NSF in international funding activities in the area of Systems and Synthetic Biology. She coordinates the funding decision process, maintains cluster budgets, develops post-panel reports, and coordinates cross-directorate activities including multi-disciplinary panels.

Dr. von Bodman area of expertise is in Microbial cell-cell communication, Biofilms, Biotechnology, and Genetic Engineering. Prior to joining the National Science Foundation, she spent 12 years as a professor at the University of Connecticut, Storrs Campus. In her spare time, she greatly enjoys playing golf, and appreciates all the diverse activities the DC and Northern Virginia areas have to offer.