National Science Foundation

Tag: National Science Foundation

Lawrence University Awarded $552,000 NSF Grant for Advanced Research Instrumentation

The largest instrumentation grant in Lawrence University’s history — $552,666 from the National Science Foundation — will fund the purchase of a confocal microscope system to support biological research and strengthen hands-on research training.

Confocal microscopy is a cutting edge technique that provides the best available resolution of microscopic images and allows the reconstruction of three-dimensional structures from images obtained through the microscope. Seven teams of faculty mentors and student researchers — six from Lawrence and one from the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley — will use the microscope to advance understanding in developmental biology, cell biology, physiology and biochemistry.

Current research projects the microscope will aid include age-related synaptic decline found in Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, the role a particular protein may play in ALS and some kinds of
tumors and how protein signals in a developing embryo help properly position various parts of the body.

The instrument also will provide Lawrence students opportunities to gain valuable experience through summer research with faculty members as well as upper-level lab courses and Senior Experience projects.  As many as 32 students a year are expected to assist with research involving the confocal microscope.

“It’s incredibly exciting to have a sophisticated instrument like this. We have recognized for several years the critical need for this particular type of microscope if we want to continue providing our students and ourselves with the tools needed for modern biological research,” said Nancy Wall, associate professor of biology. “We’ll finally be able to undertake research projects we have wanted and needed to undertake but couldn’t without a confocal microscope. This is a major boost for faculty research programs and an essential tool for undergraduate training. Professor Beth De Stasio’s hard work and leadership were instrumental in securing the grant funding for this microscope.”

In recommending the grant, NSF reviewers said Lawrence should be considered “a leader and model for undergraduate engagement in research. They have invested significant efforts to move toward inquiry-based learning approaches in their curriculum, with early experiences that feed different but similarly intensive and research based experiences in the summers or during senior years.”

Another reviewer praised the Lawrence faculty for “an impressive track record in successful research collaborations with undergraduate students” while a third mentioned “a culture of “engaging undergraduates in meaningful ways with active research.”

Lawrence faculty researchers incorporating the confocal microscope into their research include Wall; Beth De Stasio, professor of biology and Raymond H. Herzog Professor of Science; Kimberly Dickson, assistant professor of biology; Judith Humphries, assistant professor of biology; Nicholas Maravolo, professor of biology; and Brian Piasecki, postdoctoral fellow in biology.

Strengthening an existing partnership with UW-Fox Valley, the microscope also will be used for research training by Dubear Kroenig, associate professor of biological sciences at the two-year college.

Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a world-class conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. Ranked among America’s best colleges, it was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,520 students from 44 states and 56 countries.

Lawrence University LU-R1 Undergraduate Research Program Pairs Students with Leading Alumni Scientists

Lawrence University student Bennett Pang never imagined he would be isolating “natural killer” cells from human blood samples as an undergraduate. The biology major from Honolulu, Hawaii contributed to a novel immunology study this summer at the University of New Mexico Cancer Center.

Lawrence junior Grace Rothstein spent her summer at the University of Georgia’s Complex Carbohydrate Research Center exploring ways to modify plant cell walls so they can be used more efficiently for biofuel production. Part of her responsibilities included creating a database for more than 2,000 plants.

Pang and Rothstein were among 11 students who participated in an innovative undergraduate research program launched by Lawrence: LU-R1: Partnership Opportunities for Students.

The program pairs qualified Lawrence students with Lawrence alumni scientists who are directing research laboratories at major universities (R1 institutions) across the country, including the University of New Mexico, Michigan State University, the University of Utah, the University of Pennsylvania and the Mayo Clinic, among others.

LU-R1 takes undergraduate research to the next level, providing significant opportunities typically reserved for graduate students at major universities, clinical research settings and government agencies, while strengthening ties between Lawrence University and its alumni. An ancillary goal of the program is to provide research experiences that can enhance students’ Senior Experience capstone projects.

“The LU-R1 program provides undergraduate students with innovative learning opportunities that are beyond the normal resources of most colleges,” said Lawrence President Jill Beck. “By tapping our alumni as distinguished mentors, we’re enabling our science majors to engage in cutting-edge questions, learn new methodologies and gain vital experience toward their graduate studies and careers.”

Dr. Stuart Winter '83 and Bennett Pang '11

Working under the direction of Dr. Stuart Winter, a 1983 Lawrence graduate and chief of pediatric oncology at the University of New Mexico Cancer Center, Pang spent 10 weeks in the center’s hematologic malignancies research program. Pang assisted on a potential drug therapy for the treatment of leukemia that uses the body’s own immune system. Seeking alternatives to existing chemotherapy drugs, Winter began work on an “immuno-chemotherapy” model last spring.

“When I first arrived, I knew very little about immunology and leukemia. Now I have experience in both fields,” said Pang, who is considering biomedical research as a career option. “The LU-R1 program was an opportunity to participate in top-level research. I could see myself working in a lab like that some day.”

Winter admitted to some initial doubts, but discovered Pang was up for the challenge and was well-prepared by his Lawrence teachers.

“Bennett did a great job in the lab helping isolate the natural killer cells in the blood,” said Winter. “At the undergraduate level, a lot of learning is done around basic human biology concepts. This research takes those concepts and applies them to human medicine.”

Rothstein, a self-proclaimed science junkie from Whitefish Bay, Wis., says she came away from the experience “with a tremendous amount of respect for anyone who does research. How much work and independent study goes into everything isn’t necessarily something I would have known had I not had an opportunity like this.”

University of Missouri biochemist Scott Peck, a 1988 Lawrence graduate whose research focuses on boosting plant immunity against potential pathogens, sees training young scientists as future colleagues as an important part of his job. He served as a mentor for Lawrence biology major Jeff Nichols.

“This program is incredibly valuable on so many levels,” Peck said. “Lawrence students receive additional laboratory training that reinforces their excellent classroom education and makes them more competitive in the job market or in their applications to professional school while the host universities receive assistance in advancing our research.”

LU-R1’s potential bigger impact, says Peck, is helping the United States improve its position in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

“While STEM-related jobs continue to increase, the number of U.S. students pursuing careers in these areas continues to decrease. Bright, capable students interested in science often pursue careers as doctors. By exposing students to research and discussing career alternatives, we may open the door for a student to a fulfilling career that otherwise would have gone unconsidered.”

According to a National Science Foundation report, Lawrence University ranked 37th nationally among undergraduate institutions, per capita, in producing the most students who went on to earn Ph.D.s in engineering and the sciences.

At its core, LU-R1 is about energizing undergraduate students about science says Professor of Biology Nicholas Maravalo, the program’s director.

“One of the objectives is to have these students bring these projects back to campus, excite the other students and the faculty, bring the techniques and approaches back to campus and use them as a focus of their own Senior Experience.”

The LU-R1 program is supported by a gift from the estate of Maurine Mueller in memory of her husband, Robert, a 1936 Lawrence graduate, and other alumni donations.

A video of the program in action can be watched below:

Lawrence University Physicist Awarded $178,000 National Science Foundation Grant

A curious visitor peering through the glass of Room 044 in the basement of Lawrence University’s Science Hall and seeing the large, elevated, aluminum “drum,” its wide sides wrapped with thick, black bundles of wire amid an array of other attached tubes and hoses, might conclude they had just stumbled upon an industrial-strength, high-tech washing machine. Or perhaps a remnant of eccentric “Doc” Brown’s “Back to the Future” workshop.

Far from being a fancy Maytag or a mad scientist movie prop, the contraption is the cornerstone of Lawrence University associate professor of physics Matthew Stoneking’s scientific research. The drum, a “toroidal vacuum chamber” to be exact, which Stoneking brought with him to Lawrence from his research associate days at the University of Wisconsin, is at the heart of his work on pure electron plasmas.

Now, thanks to a three-year, $178,000 grant Stoneking has received from the National Science Foundation, he soon will begin constructing a new and greatly improved apparatus, permitting more sophisticated experimentation. Stoneking’s NSF grant will enable him, in conjuction with Lawrence physics students, to build a less imposing, but much more precisely designed and constructed vacuum chamber out of stainless steel and copper in his new laboratory in the recently renovated Youngchild Hall.

Pure electron plasmas are collections or “clouds” of electrons confined in a vacuum chamber using magnetic and electric fields. Stoneking’s research focuses on the criteria needed for confining a stable electron plasma in a toroidal — donut-shaped — magnetic field and the factors that limit the duration of the confinement in such systems.

A toroidal magnetic field can be visualized as a bundle of lines wrapped into a circular loop, allowing charged particles, such as electrons, to stream or “flow” along those lines like beads on a wire.

Plasma physics is the scientific foundation for the potential future production of electric power by nuclear fusion.

“Although they do not occur in nature, electron plasmas have proved to be excellent systems for testing our understanding of the behavior of ‘complex’ fluids,” said Stoneking. “They can serve as a kind of ‘wind tunnel’ for testing mathematical theories of fluid dynamics.”

In previous experiments, Stoneking successfully confined electron plasmas in a toroidal magnetic field for as long as 2 one-hundredths of a second (or 20 milliseconds). Stoneking estimates the new chamber he will build will improve the purity of the vacuum by approximately 100 times and strengthen the magnetic field by a factor of five, resulting in confinement times approaching one second. Durations of that length would provide a more refined comparison of experimental results with existing theoretical predictions.

The NFS grant will also provide both summer research and travel stipends for Stoneking and his students to attend national physics conferences. In addition, it provides Stoneking with funds to establish a collaboration with physics colleagues at the University of California-San Diego.

This is the third grant Stoneking has received in support of his research since joining the Lawrence physics department in 1997.

“This grant will enable us to extend our understanding of electron plasmas and offer excellent research opportunities for our students,” said Stoneking, who earned his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Wisconsin.