Five from IU Bloomington, IUPUI receive prestigious research awards from NSF

Two of five previously recognized by IU Research for collaborative research funding

  • March 23, 2015


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Citing it as exemplary of Indiana University’s ability to recruit and attract leading young scientists from around the world, Indiana University Vice President for Research Jorge José has recognized five IU investigators for receiving the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for junior faculty.

“The breadth of their work -- spanning four schools and five departments on two campuses -- speaks to Indiana University’s ability to identify, recruit and welcome the leading young teacher-scholars of this generation,” José said. “It is also a clear reflection of IU’s history of building the foundations necessary for nurturing lifetimes of leadership in education and research.”

The Faculty Early Career Development Award, known as the CAREER Award, identifies junior faculty members with the ability to integrate education and research. So every award includes an educational or outreach component that allows the investigator to possibly connect with students at every level of formal education, from grade school to graduate students working on dissertations.

With funding spread out over five years, this year’s winners to date (more could be named later in the year) reflect individual awards ranging from over $2.2 million to an expert on interactions between social identities and group memberships to $455,000 to a theoretical mathematician whose work reaches into physics and quantum computing. Cumulatively, the awards total over $4.4 million for the five.

“These awardees are representative of a young, diverse faculty that present a clear picture of a future that bodes well for Indiana University,” José said.

Mary C. Murphy, assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences

Mary Murphy, whose funding begins in June, will receive more than $2.2 million to advance research designed to increase the number of women who enter and remain in STEM careers -- science, technology, engineering and math -- which are higher-paid and more male-dominated compared to other fields.

Unlike previous research focused on the effect of overt prejudice and stereotyping on women’s decisions to pursue careers in these areas, Murphy’s work will examine the effect of subtler, situational cues in the classroom that may signal to women whether they belong, and are valued in, these disciplines. She and her team will use a variety of methods, including interviewing women about their experiences, to create concrete recommendations, educational materials and videos for teachers designed to improve all students’ interest and motivation in STEM.

Murphy was a 2013-14 recipient of the IU Office of the Vice President for Research’s Collaborative Research Grants program, receiving funding with IU Bloomington’s Maurer School of Law associate professor Victor Quintanilla to investigate what shapes legal system procedural references in family law cases.

Noah Snyder, assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics, IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences

Also in June, Noah Snyder will begin receiving more than $455,000 over five years to advance the study of quantum groups and subfactors, a form of theoretical mathematics with potential applications in areas such as physics and quantum computing. In addition to advancing knowledge in the field, Snyder’s grant will support the development of new curriculum based on his work -- which employs a technique known as higher dimensional algebra -- for high school students at Canada/USA Mathcamp, an elite mathematics summer program.

The grant will also fund dissertation fellowships for graduate students with an established record of extraordinary education and outreach in mathematics, with a strong emphasis on underrepresented groups, as well as support undergraduate research and the establishment of a math club for mathematics education majors at IU Bloomington.

Lei Li, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

The National Science Foundation awarded Lei Li $650,000 to investigate DNA damage and repair related to ultraviolet light in endospore-forming bacteria that are responsible for a number of serious diseases in humans, including anthrax and botulism.

Two endospore-forming bacterial strains, Clostridium botulinum and Bacillus anthracis, are Category A bioterrorism agents. The unusual tolerance of endospore-forming bacteria to high-dose UV irradiation arises from the action of spore photoproduct lyase (SPL) -- a metalloenzyme that repairs the "spore photoproduct" dithymine DNA lesion. The research will evaluate spore photoproduct repair in different DNA local environments and reveal the detailed reaction mechanism.

Understanding how SPL repairs DNA UV damage will help scientists develop inhibitors to prevent the damage repair process. The ultimate goal of this research, which begins receiving CAREER funding in May, is to establish the SPL mechanism, leading to novel decontamination means against deadly spores.

Chien-Chi Lin, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI

Chien-Chi Lin will begin receiving over $496,000 in July for his research on developing reversible dynamic hydrogels to study stemness -- the quality that sets stem cells apart from other cells -- and drug responsiveness of cancer stem cells. Lin’s work has focused on the development of highly tunable hydrogels, a type of cross-linked polymer that imbibes large amounts of water without dissolving, for tissue regeneration and drug delivery applications.

His interdisciplinary research project integrates knowledge and technology from polymer science and engineering, and peptide and macromolecular chemistry, as well as cellular and molecular biology related to cancer stem cells. Cancer stem cells are highly metastatic and resistant to drug treatment, and many believe that understanding the behaviors of these cells may one day lead to the discovery of effective treatments against highly metastatic tumors, such as pancreatic cancer.

Like Murphy, Lin was also a 2013-14 recipient of the IU Office of the Vice President for Research’s Collaborative Research Grants program. He received support with IUPUI’s Guoli Dai, an assistant professor in the School of Science’s Department of Biology, to develop 3-D hydrogels for functional liver tissue engineering.

Ryan Newton, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Informatics, IU Bloomington School of Informatics and Computing

Newton began receiving over $530,000 in CAREER support last month for his work to advance new programming techniques designed to more completely utilize the parallel processing power now found in most consumer electronic devices. Most software employs sequential programming, in which single sets of commands are executed in order, despite the fact that devices such as smartphones and laptops now contain multiple processors capable of carrying out multiple, concurrent sequential processes to improve speed.

Since parallel programming also introduces the potential for highly unpredictable, extremely difficult-to-diagnose bugs, the technique is only employed in highly specialized environments, such as supercomputing and the video game industry. Newton’s work will advance research and practice that aims to take parallel programming from the realm of advanced theory to everyday use. This includes the launch of new parallel programming tools in an introduction to computer science course at IU in 2016, and a high school classroom in 2017.

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