Accelerating Research in the Sciences
Having mapped the genome of hundreds of organisms, including humans, scientists are now studying the significance of genetic differences from one organism to another. Jason Papin, associate professor of biomedical engineering, is part of an international research team that has developed an improved method of determining how differences in genomes lead to differences in cell function. They compared the harmless bacteria Pseudomonas putida with its relative Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is responsible for 10 percent of hospital-acquired infections. This research is an important first step in uncovering the genetic source of the pathogen's toxicity and in making hospitals safer.
Engineering professor Scott Acton, working with Barry Condron, associate professor of biology, developed an algorithm that allows computers to represent accurately the shape of neurons, a key characteristic that determines how neurons function. This breakthrough is a fundamental part of an effort to create a detailed picture of the central nervous system. A $483,000 NSF grant will support this project over the next three years.
Computers have also made this a golden age for astronomical research, and the Department of Astronomy is a leader in infrared analysis. The Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE) will survey more than 100,000 stars with a high-resolution, infrared-sensitive spectrograph largely designed and built at U.Va. The goal is to gain new insight into how the Milky Way formed and evolved. Astronomy professor Steven Majewski is the project's lead scientist. APOGEE is one of four major experiments of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III.
U.Va. astronomers helped confirm that NASA's $320 million Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer observatory had identified its first cool brown dwarf, a tiny ultracold star. Michael Skrutskie, professor of astronomy, is part of the team that planned and designed the observatory.