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Funding of 34 proposals boosts research in labs across campus and in the field, amid the nation's recession
Thirty-four grants totaling $12.3 million have come to University of Oregon researchers under the federal government's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
ARRA funding for scientific research includes major increases from the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, which are the primary focus of UO requests. Of the 34 grants, 18 are from the NIH, 14 from the NSF and one each from the U.S. Geological Survey and AmeriCorps, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, through Oregon Housing and Community Services.
The individual awards range from $9,292 to biologist Chris Doe for a summer educational program to $1.1 million to physicist Jim Brau for the search for gravitational radiation. To date, 12.4 percent of applications by UO scientists for $99.4 million in proposed projects under ARRA have been approved, according to data compiled by the university's Office of Research Services and Administration.
The majority of UO requests remain in the review process. More than $30 million of the pending proposals focus on research facilities' needs, ranging from information technology to genomics.
"We are most grateful to the Obama administration and to the U.S. Congress for recognizing the critical importance of ARRA investments in research and education as a cornerstone to our country's economic competitiveness," said Rich Linton, vice president for research and graduate studies. "I have been especially gratified by the unprecedented response of our faculty in seeking these new research funding opportunities that not only support jobs in our community today, but also lay a foundation for future economic growth. Despite the immense competition for ARRA funds nationally, I am confident that the UO will continue to attract new federal investments in basic and applied research."
For the fiscal year ending June 30, the UO eclipsed its previous record of dollars requested on research proposals by more than 50 percent, mostly because of ARRA-related opportunities.
The largest ARRA grant, from the NSF to Brau, will enable the UO's experimental relativity group to continue its search for vibrations in space, known as gravitational radiation.
"Predicted by Albert Einstein's 1915 theory of general relativity, this radiation is generally expected to permeate the universe, but it has never been directly detected," Brau said. "Indirect effects have been observed in the orbits of binary neutron stars, leading to the 1993 Nobel Prize (Russell A. Hulse and Joseph H. Taylor Jr., both of Princeton University). Once the radiation is detected, it will serve as a probe for new discoveries of outer space, as radio astronomy did with its development following World War II."
The experimental relativity group has eight members, including two graduate students and one undergraduate. Co-principal investigators on the grant are Ray Frey, a professor of physics, and Robert Schofield, a senior research associate. The group's research is conducted with the LIGO interferometers at Hanford, Wash., and Livingston, La., within the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. The UO group focuses on bursts of gravitational radiation, with particular interests that include bursts from gamma rays and supernovae.
The smallest award to Doe, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher at the UO, was part of $225,236 in grants to six UO scientists under a federal program called Summer Research Experiences for Students, which placed numerous students from the UO and other universities in UO labs during the summer.
Other major awards included two NIH grants totaling $1.6 million to biologist Monte Westerfield, two NSF grants totaling $1.2 million to biologists William Bradshaw and Christina Holzapfel, $1.1 million in two grants from the NSF to chemist Dave Johnson, $712,000 from the NSF to George von Dassow, a senior scientist with the Institute of Marine Biology in Charleston and $572,879 from the NSF to biologist Barbara Roy.
The separate NIH grants -- $827,898 and $780,872 -- to Westerfield will allow significant expansion of the Zebrafish International Resource Center, particularly to its center's sperm bank cryopreservation facility and for services. In addition, the NIH funds will allow for growth of the center's database and Web site. To support the expansion several new jobs will be created, Westerfield said.
The center was established as a repository that provides animals, materials and services to the international research community. Zebrafish are used as models to study human development, physiology, behavior, genetics and disease. Recent advances make it easy to study gene function in zebrafish, and the functions of many, if not most, of these genes are conserved among all vertebrates. Thus, studies of zebrafish provide insights into gene function in other vertebrates, including humans.
The two NSF grants to Bradshaw and Holzapfel cover separate climate-change-related projects. A grant for $584,551 supports their long-running inquiry into the physiology, genetics and evolution of climatic adaptation. Previously, they had found genetic shifts in response to recent rapid climate change taking place over as little as five years in the response to day lengths controlling seasonal development of mosquitoes. With the new grant, they will determine whether mosquito populations have also increased their ability to tolerate or exploit higher temperatures over the last decade from Florida to Newfoundland.
Their second grant, for $613,510, also involves mosquitoes. Bradshaw and Holzapfel hope to determine the basis for the evolution of seasonal timing at the level of individual genes and how the involvement of those genes has changed over different evolutionary time scales. Such knowledge, they wrote in their grant application, will allow accurate prediction and mitigation of vector-borne diseases likely to move from tropical to temperate zones as insects and other animals migrate into the increasingly milder northern climates.
The research will emphasize undergraduate research training. Hundreds of UO students have participated in Bradshaw and Holzapfel's laboratory over 30 years and have gone on to diverse professional careers.
The NSF grants to Johnson cover both equipment and research in nanotechnology. A $750,000 award allows the purchase of a specialized "Dual-Beam Focused Ion Beam" instrument that provides advanced scanning electron microscopy capabilities. The equipment, manufactured by the Oregon-based FEI Co., will help researchers prepare multiple slices and cross sections across unique carbon spheres that occur in large quantities within sediments dating to 13,000 years ago, to modifying fractal arrays of nanoparticles, to milling oriented nanolaminated thermoelectric materials.
The instrument will be housed in the Lorry I. Lokey Laboratories, where it will be available to a very broad academic and industrial user community across the Pacific Northwest. The initial proposal to the NSF identified eight research projects spanning materials science, physics, chemistry, geology and anthropology at the University of Oregon and at Oregon State University. It also will provide training opportunities for students, faculty and industrial partners.
Johnson also received a second ARRA grant for $345,385 from NSF that will be used by researchers, including two students, in his lab, over two years to pursue a specific synthesis of a new solid-state compound containing a rock-salt structure and either selenium or tellurium. The proposed research will seek to produce new compounds and an improved understanding of structure-property relationships in a unique class of materials that will be especially useful in nanotechnology and semiconductors.
"The ability to conduct such a targeted synthesis is one of the grand challenges of solid-state chemistry," Johnson said. "The development of new synthetic techniques that allow the targeted synthesis of kinetically stable compounds is a crucial for advancing fundamental science and both current and future technologies."
Von Dassow's NSF grant supports his research involving early cell development, particularly a protein-interaction network, in sea urchin embryos. Von Dassow specializes in the self-assembly and function of the cytoskeletons of marine organism during embryonic cell division. In this research he will use molecular probes to understand and compare embryo development in the sea urchins with other animal embryos that he studies. The project will provide state-of-the-art imaging of live cells in the training of both graduate and undergraduate students at the institute.
The NSF funding to Roy will allow her lab to explore why the 150 species of Dracula orchids exhibit a phenomenon known as fungal mimicry in which the flowers look and smell like mushrooms. The project aims to understand the ecology and evolution of this "mushroom mimicry" by way of field experiments, chemical analyses and genetic examination, Roy said. Benefiting from the research will be her students and a postdoctoral fellow in collaboration with a team of Ecuadorian researchers and a Swiss perfume researcher. The results, she said, will advance our understanding of the evolution of species interactions and benefit conservation efforts by the Fundacion Los Cedros, a private Ecuador-based organization that protects 17,000 acres of rare cloud forest.
Office of Research and Administration: orsa.uoregon.edu/
Office of the Vice President for Research: research.uoregon.edu/
Brau lab: physics.uoregon.edu/physics/faculty/brau.html
Bradshaw/Holzapfel lab: www.uoregon.edu/~mosquito/
Johnson lab: www.uoregon.edu/~chem/johnson.html
Roy lab: ceeb.uoregon.edu/faculty_pages/Roy.shtml
Von Dassow lab: www.uoregon.edu/~oimb/Faculty/GvD.html
Westerfield lab: www.neuro.uoregon.edu/westerf/lab.html
About University of Oregon
The University of Oregon is a world-class teaching and research institution and Oregon's flagship public university. The UO is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), an organization made up of the 62 leading public and private research institutions in the United States and Canada. The UO is one of only two AAU members in the Pacific Northwest.
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Jim Barlow, director of science and research communications
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