Five projects chosen as initial recipients of LAS Signature Research Initiative awards

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Five projects have been chosen as the initial recipients of the College of Liberal Arts and Science’s Signature Research Initiative.

Craig Ogilvie (professor of physics and astronomy), Sanjeevi Sivasankar (assistant professor of physics and astronomy), William Gutowski (professor of geological and atmospheric sciences), Mark Hargrove (professor of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology) and Volker Hegelheimer (professor of English) were awarded the SRI grants for projects ranging from undergraduate science and math education to developing the first fluorescence microscope with 3D capabilities at the one nanometer size range.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences launched the major research initiative to encourage college faculty to develop and lead interdisciplinary, collaborative research projects.

The college’s criteria for funding the Signature Research Initiative proposals included evaluation of the project’s potential to compete successfully for external funding, and its alignment with one or more of the LAS Signature Themes. Martin Spalding, associate dean for research and graduate studies for LAS, said innovative, forward-thinking research with a significant risk but a high funding potential, if successful, was especially encouraged.

“We had a strong pool of research proposals from which to choose,” he said. “We believed it would be a difficult task, and it certainly was.”

He said the goal of the initiative is to enhance the international visibility and impact of LAS-led research, and to increase the college’s sponsored research expenditures.

“These five projects demonstrate vision and creativity. All have tremendous potential to grow into much larger research thrusts, in support of the LAS Signature Themes,” Dean Beate Schmittmann said, “and to advance university and college priorities, such as increasing sponsored research expenditures and graduate student enrollment.”

LAS announced its five Signature Research Themes earlier this spring: biological structures and systems; complex materials; data-rich environments; economic, environmental and societal sustainability; and global citizens, education and technology.

The five projects that received the Signature Research Initiative awards:

Signature Theme: Biological structures and systems

Mark Hargrove, professor of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology

Mark Hargrove, PI. “Engineering plant proteins to treat stroke and myocardial infarction.” A group of three faculty propose to translate into mammalian hemoglobin the molecular features of plant hemoglobin that enable it to protect against reactive oxygen molecules. This work will provide proof-of-concept for future research evaluating the potential of the modified hemoglobin for therapeutic benefit in the treatment for victims of heart attack and stroke. The project is also closely related to the Complex materials theme.

Signature Theme: Biological structures and systems

Sanjeevi Sivasankar, assistant professor of physics and astronomy

Sanjeevi Sivasankar, PI. “Three dimensional imaging of single biomolecules with nanometer resolution.” A group of three faculty propose to develop the first fluorescence microscope that can image single bio-molecules with an unprecedented resolution of one nanometer in all three dimensions. As a proof-of-concept, this microscope will be exploited to resolve the organization of a large protein machine that extrudes heavy metal ions from cells.

Signature Theme: Economic, environmental and societal sustainability

William Gutowski, professor of geological and atmospheric sciences

William Gutowski, PI. “Water and Climate Change (WACC): Building Community Consensus for a Sustainable Future for Iowa and the World.” A highly multidisciplinary group will develop and apply to the Squaw Creek watershed (1) a prototype water-resources model that combines physical climate and hydrology modeling with agent-based modeling of human behavior and (2) Iterative Participatory Modeling (IPM) to engage relevant communities of practice in co-developing steps toward sustainable water-resources planning.

Signature Theme: Global citizens, education and technology

Volker Hegelheimer, professor of English

Volker Hegelheimer, PI. “CyWrite: Making Automated Writing Evaluation Work for Students, Teachers, and Researchers.” A group of five faculty propose to develop a computer-based system for research on the automated evaluation of student writing and to investigate its use. This project, called CyWrite, will involve research leading to the development and use of the system in addition to expanding the number of students, teachers, and researchers involved. It is also closely related to the Data-rich environments theme.

Signature Theme: Global citizens, education and technology

Craig Ogilvie, professor of physics and astronomy

Craig Ogilvie, PI. “I-AMASE Interdisciplinary Math and Science Education.” A large, highly multidisciplinary group of faculty proposes to establish a nationally recognized, interdisciplinary research and curricular initiative for undergraduate science and mathematics education throughout ISU: The I-AMASE Interdisciplinary Math and Science Education Initiative.