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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Major Science Grants Awarded to A&S Researchers in 2020

A&S faculty received funding from organizations including the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense.

Feb. 17, 2021, by Dan Bernardi

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The cutting-edge research and discovery in science labs and classrooms in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) are working to make our world healthier, safer and more sustainable. From developing a new drug to treat diabetes without harsh side effects to designing a nanoparticle that provides a novel way to deliver therapeutic drugs to the brain, the fundamental work of A&S scientists may one day help improve the outlook for millions of people. This high-level research is not possible without funding and support from organizations like the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense. The funding, publications, and results that emanate from these projects contribute toward Syracuse University’s R1 classification from the Carnegie Commission of Higher Education, signifying very high research activity.

Here are some of the major grants awarded to A&S science faculty in 2020, listed by funding agency:

Department of Defense

Robert Doyle, the Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor in the Department of Chemistry, was part of a $3 million grant to develop a new drug to treat veterans with comorbid diabetes and obesity.

Heidi Hehnly, assistant professor of biology, was awarded a $562,000 grant to research the role of a protein called Polo Like Kinase 1 (PLK1) in prostate cancer. Hehnly will investigate the timing of activity of PLK1 and when and where it becomes activated, with the goal of controlling and regulating the protein, which is often expressed in high numbers during cancer.

Jennifer Schwarz, associate professor physics, was awarded the Department of Defense Newton Award for Transformative Ideas during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Schwarz was one of 14 selected from 548 applications, for her research project, “Building Brains Using Synthetic Biology Across Scales.”

John Chisholm, professor of chemistry, is the recipient of a grant from the Department of Defense in collaboration with Upstate Medical University in support of research to target molecules believed to be involved in kidney cancer.

National Institutes of Health

An interdisciplinary team of researchers received a $2.1 million grant to advance the understanding of causes of birth defects. The team includes principal investigator (PI) Lisa Manning, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Physics and founding director of BioInspired Syracuse; co-PI Jeff Amack, Upstate Medical University; co-investigator Heidi Hehnly, assistant professor, biology; and Paula Sanematsu, research associate, physics.

Ellyn Riley, associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorder, was awarded a $458,000 grant to improve aphasia outcomes through TDCS-mediated attention management. Aphasia is a language processing disorder that can occur after stroke or brain injury. She will use the funds to investigate non-invasive brain stimulation as a way to enhance the effects of speech and language therapy, which may ultimately lead to better and faster recovery from stroke and aphasia.

Joseph Ditre, associate professor of psychology received a $1.3 million grant from the National Institute On Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (one of the National Institutes of Health) to create the first computer-based intervention technique to address hazardous drinking or concurrent use of alcohol and opioids in the context of chronic pain.

Eleanor Maine, professor of biology, received a $449,000 grant to investigate questions related to fertility and early embryonic development, specifically processes that are required for formation of eggs and sperm, and for viability of the early embryo.

Soren Lowell, a professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, is the recipient of a $449,000 grant to help patients suffering from a voice disorder called muscle tension dysphonia, where excessive and poorly coordinated muscle activity affects speech production. Her research will determine the effects of treatment designed to improve the way that breathing and voice are used during speech production.

Carlos Castaneda, assistant professor of biology and chemistry, has received a $1.5 million grant to study the regulation of liquid-like protein droplets in hopes of determining what causes diseases like ALS.

Melissa Pepling, professor of biology, is the recipient of nearly $585,000 grant for the purchase of a Zeiss LSM 980 with Airyscan 2 microscope. The microscope will provide fast image acquisition and enhanced resolution of dynamic changes in living cells. This instrument will allow investigators to extend their studies of diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and renal failure. Pepling serves as principal investigator on this grant following the retirement of biology Professor George Langford, who submitted the proposal with Torsten Wollert, research assistant professor of biology.

National Science Foundation

Alison Patteson is the recipient of three grants from the National Science Foundation: A $196,000 RAPID Response Research initiative grant to study the role of the structural protein vimentin on the entry of novel coronavirus into cells; a $300,000 EAGER (EArly-Concept Grant for Exploratory Research) award to examine dramatic, emergent collective behavior, such as swarming and predation in Myxococcus xanthus, a type of bacterium; and a $690,000 grant to investigate multicellular communities called bacterial biofilm to determine why microorganisms stick together on different surfaces.

Stefan Ballmer, associate professor of physics, is the recipient of a $541,000 grant for his team’s LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) Center for Coatings Research project. Ballmer and his colleagues are researching new types of coating for the mirrors inside the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, which will improve the device’s ability to detect gravitational waves.

Charles Brightman Endowed Professor of Physics Duncan Brown is the recipient of a nearly $100,000 EAGER grant to lead a project that will enable scientists to reproduce published astrophysics results and make these methods accessible to a larger audience including students. Brown will use the grant to generate data and workflows to enable researchers and students at various levels of education to regenerate scientific findings, learn about the scientific methods, and engage in new research.

Jennifer Schwarz, associate professor in physics, along with co-PIs Lisa Manning and Mingming Wu (Cornell), received a $450,000 grant to explore how structural biomarkers such as cell shape and fiber alignment may affect tumor invasiveness in a patient.

Eric Coughlin, assistant professor of physics, received a $291,000 grant for his project, “Understanding the Long-term Evolution of Tidal Disruption Events.” A tidal disruption event (TDE) is a phenomenon that occurs when a star approaches too close to a supermassive black hole and is pulled apart by the black hole's gravitational pull. Coughlin will simulate tidal disruption events to enhance the understanding of TDEs and will also work with a professional artist and teacher at a high school to create new and innovative teaching and learning tools, which combine art and science to teach both of these subjects.

Lee Kennard, assistant professor of mathematics, received a three-year grant to study multi-dimensional curved spaces.

Denver Whittington, assistant professor in the Department of Physics, and Weiwei Zheng, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, are principal investigators for separate five-year National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER awards.

Thonis Family Professor Tripti Bhattacharya and Associate Professor Christopher Junium from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES) received a $300,000 Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant to purchase a chromatography-mass spectrometer. The earth scientists will use this new instrument to research how regional patterns of rainfall and temperature respond to global climate change.

A&S chemists Davoud Mozhdehi and Rachel Steinhardt, both assistant professors, collaborated with faculty in the College of Engineering and Computer Science including Assistant Professor Teng Zeng, Professor Jianshun Zhang and University Professor of Environmental Systems and Distinguished Professor Charles Driscoll, to secure a second MRI grant. The $530,000 award will enable the purchase of a liquid chromatograph high resolution mass spectrometer. The chemists will use this device to design viable proteins to improve drug delivery and human tissue engineering.

U.S. Air Force Research Labs

Physics Professor Britton Plourde is the recipient of two grants from the U.S. Air Force. Awards totaling $75,000 and $250,000 will support his lab’s research into new designs allowing quantum communication inside and between quantum computers to serve U.S. military needs. Plourde’s team was one of only 18 out of over 250 from around the world to receive research funding from the U.S. Air Force Research Labs as part of the “Million Dollar International Quantum U Tech Accelerator.”

Are you a PI on a grant that you think should be listed? Let us know!