Sept. 14, 2001
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NEWS COLUMN
A time of mourning

Honor System's credibility may be put on trial this fall
Carrying the Honor Code into cyberspace
Honoring the code: How to promote academic honesty

Hot Links -- U.Va. Top News Daily

U.Va. awards first FEST grants to fund excellence in science and technology
Office strengthens research support
Orientation on research set for Sept. 20
Notable -- awards and achievements of faculty and staff
Clarification -- article on diabetes
In Memoriam
Conference gets jiggy with creativity
Cabinetmaker builds career crafting raw wood into pieces with Jeffersonian elegance

U.Va. awards first FEST grants to fund excellence in science and technology

Staff Report

Last fall, the University established a new science and technology grant program, called Funding Excellence in Science and Technology (FEST), as a result of the Virginia 2020 Science and Technology Commission’s recommendations.
President John T. Casteen III set aside a $1 million annual fund for research, particularly collaborative initiatives.

FEST is meant to encourage innovative and high quality research, foster the creation of multidisciplinary groups and attract major external funding. It includes two programs: exploratory grants (up to $10,000) for pilot projects, feasibility studies and proposal development, and excellence grants (from $50,000 to $500,000) for individual or multidisciplinary groups who propose to solve a major scientific and/or technological problem. Projects eligible for a FEST grant are not limited to the research themes identified by the commission.

Erik Fernandez
Tom Cogill
Erik Fernandez

Erik Fernandez, associate professor of chemical engineering, was awarded $107,150 to develop interfaces constructed at the nanoscale level for biological applications. Fernandez and assistant professor Andrew Hillier of chemical engineering, associate professor of biomedical engineering Michael Lawrence, and associate professor of chemistry Cassandra Fraser and associate professor of chemistry James Landers are working on the molecular engineering project. The team is crafting surfaces with multifunctional chemical and biological features for two different biological applications.

In the first, the group of investigators will tailor surfaces to aid in basic biomedical studies of cell adhesion relevant to wound healing. “Ultimately, this might help develop new artificial materials to manipulate cell adhesion that could be used in implants and other medical applications,” Fernandez said.

The group is also “exploiting their engineered surfaces for ‘lab-on-a-chip’ devices,” he said. These tools are crafted from microscale channels, materials, and structures, often to chemically analyze exquisitely small samples. “Such tools are critically needed for rapid and inexpensive diagnostic tests, as well as high-throughput analysis of potential drug candidates emerging from the Human Genome Project.”

Thomas Skalak, biomedical engineering professor, received $100,000 for research using computer simulations and experimental studies to understand the gene circuitry that controls tissue development and functioning. Skalak is collaborating on several projects that combine state-of-the-art computer technology and the latest genetic knowledge with Dr. Ariel Gomez, recently named interim vice president for research, and two others in the Medical School: Gary Owens in molecular & biological physics and Doug Desimone in cell biology.

The researchers will apply the computer simulation to represent cell to cell interactions as they occur through large circuits of signal molecules. The circuits control behavior and interaction of cells that become or make up functioning tissues or organs, such as blood vessels or kidneys.

“This approach to understand tissue assembly will underpin new therapies for organ diseases and wound healing, such as heart disease, kidney failure or sight loss from diabetes-induced blood vessel disorders,” Skalak said.

John Albertson
Rebecca Arrington
John Albertson

John Albertson, associate professor of environmental sciences, has received $93,000 to continue work on the dynamical interactions between climate and the biosphere. Albertson and U.Va. environmental sciences colleagues Howie Epstein and Michael Mann are studying how change and variability in climate affect vegetation, and how this, in turn, causes changes to climate, Albertson said. “We want to understand these changes in terrestrial vegetation to be able to predict how they may amplify or dampen changes in the weather and climate system,” he said.

Their research, which incorporates field investigations in southern Africa along with computer simulations, will produce more accurate models for environmental scientists to use in long-term projections. Most research now relies on models that have static vegetation, he said, but “things tend not to stay constant” in the face of changes in the weather and climate.

Robert Jones
Tom Cogill
Robert Jones

Robert Jones, an associate professor in the physics department, has received $156,000 for his work using high intensity laser beams to shatter molecules in an effort to understand what pieces they break into. He said the research is basic physics that gives a glimpse into what happens inside a molecule.

“It’s like hitting a watch with a hammer to figure out how it works by watching the springs fly out,” he said.

In his research, Jones works with Eric Wells, a post-doctoral research fellow in the physics department.

Jones said the laser equipment needed for his work will be constructed in a joint facility with the chemistry department, so it will also be available for use by researchers from engineering and chemistry as well as physics.

“The equipment can do more than we can do with it,” Jones said. “That is why we are building it instead of just buying it.”

Exploratory FEST grant winners

Milton Brown, chemistry: $9,860 for a porteomic approach to Epiloptogenesis

David Carr, biology: $8,685 for research on genetic variation and resistance to insect-vectored viral infection in natural plant populations

Laura Galloway, biology: $10,000 for a project on producing evolutionary potential in polyploids

Lisa Palmer, pediatrics: $10,000 for study of nitric oxide regulation of HIF-1 expression in vivo

Bellave Shivaram, physics: $10,000 for extension of acoustic microscopy to 3-D elasticity of imaging of biological studies

Kevin Skadron, computer science: $9,954 for research for high throughput branch prediction for next generation microprocessors

Terry Turner, urology: $9,950 to organize the third international conference on the epididymus

 

Ivy Foundation grants

The recently established private Ivy Foundation set up a Biomedical Sciences Enhancement Fund last fall to support innovative research initiatives that will enhance the research priorities identified by the 2020 Science and Technology Commission. Pamela Norris, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and biology professor Robert Grainger are the first award recipients. Norris received $100,000 to support her work on production of chromatographic microchips using sol-gel derived chromatographic media. Grainger was given $99,700 to work on the development of gene-targeting strategies in xenopus.

Pamela Norris
Tom Cogill
Pamela Norris
Robert Grainger
Tom Cogill
Robert Grainger

 


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