November 23, 2018

Faculty in College of Sciences & Mathematics Earn Nearly $1M in NSF Grants

WCU classroomSo far this year, five faculty members in the College of the Sciences & Mathematics have earned $974,664 in grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the independent federal agency that supports research in engineering and all sciences except medical-related. NSF ensures that research is fully integrated with education so that today's revolutionary work will also be training tomorrow's top scientists and engineers.

Jessica Sullivan-Brown, Biology
Shawn Pfeil, Physics

“MRI: Acquisition of an advanced imaging system at a primarily undergraduate institution to promote research, teaching, and science outreach,” $462,940. This Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant supports the acquisition of a confocal imaging and total internal reflection microscopy (TIRF) system, which will enable WCU researchers (and those from other regional institutions) to perform cutting-edge research, provide transformative undergraduate research experiences, and promote STEM career advancement for trainees. … Research projects enabled by the new confocal system include: (1) using in vivo approaches to study how folic acid, an essential vitamin, affects embryonic development; (2) biophysical in vitro studies on the folding of a novel nucleic acid structural motif in the presence and absence of molecular crowding; (3) discovering novel mechanisms of mitochondrial dynamics and cell adhesion in single-celled parasites; and (4) using ex vivo explant cultures to examine cell sorting behavior and changes in cell-cell adhesion during early embryonic development in Xenopus laevis (African Clawed Frog). The imaging system will enhance faculty research capabilities, serve as a catalyst for future initiatives, and promote interdisciplinary and cross-institutional research among its broad user base.

Vishal Shah, Biology

“RUI*: Fate and Impact of CuPro 5000 and Kocide 3000: A Microcosm Based Study,” $330,427.

The goal of this project is to confirm whether the commercial copper nanoparticle-containing microbicide products used by vegetable and fruit growers influence the diversity and fertility of the soil microbial communities over short and long term. Shah anticipates that successful completion of this research will not only impact the sub-discipline known as nano-ecotoxicology, but also add to the pool of knowledge in the areas of environmental science, molecular biology, agricultural science, and microbiology. He will explore and further scientific understanding of the environmental fate and impact of commercial products containing nanoparticles. In collaboration with Illumina Inc. and Southern University of New Orleans, Shah plans to develop an open-source seven-laboratory teaching module to allow institutions around the world to incorporate state-of-the art hands-on teaching in molecular biology. Shah plans to train four undergraduate students who are interested in learning environmental biology as well as six high school students by involving them in minor research activities.

Kurt Kolasinski, Chemistry

“RUI*: Regenerative Electroless Etching,” $168,927. Applications of nanostructured silicon in, e.g., consumer products, nanomedicine and rechargeable batteries, would benefit from economical production of porous silicon powder on the kilogram-to-ton scale needed in new technologies essential for national prosperity. Electroless etching is an electrochemical process that is recognized as possessing industrial potential but requiring advances in its reproducibility, controllability, purity, cost, and scaling. This research will develop a new electrochemical process called regenerative electroless etching (ReEtching), a new concept in electroless wet etching with the capability of producing nanostructured and hierarchically structured semiconductors. ReEtching is a method in which one oxidant is used to continuously regenerate a low concentration of a second oxidant in the reaction mixture which is used in the reaction. These investigations will transform electroless etching from an irreproducible procedure into a process that can produce homogeneous porous films of arbitrary thickness, produce pillared particles of arbitrary length, produce either crystalline or amorphous pillars, produce hierarchical porous materials with nanopores inside of mesopores or nanopores inside of macropores.

Richard Burns, Computer Science

“Workshop: Doctoral Symposium at the Tenth International Conference on the Theory and Application of Diagrams,” $12,550. Diagrams are wide-ranging and open-ended representations that include sketches, drawings, charts, pictures, 2D and 3D geometric models, and maps. They are a vital tool in human communication in areas such as art and science, as well as commerce and industry. This funding supports a Doctoral Consortium (workshop) for approximately five graduate students from the United States, along with a panel of distinguished research faculty mentors. The event took place in conjunction with (and on the first day of) the Tenth International Conference on the Theory and Application of Diagrams (DIAGRAMS 2018), held June 18-22, 2018, at Edinburgh Napier University, UK, and which was collocated with the 23rd International Conference on Conceptual Structures. The workshop was a research-focused day-long meeting that afforded participants an opportunity to present their work and get feedback from established researchers in the field, who commented on the young researchers' presentations in an informal and constructive environment.

For more information about WCU’s research, visit the webpage for the University’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

* Research in Undergraduate Institutions, a specific NSF funding program