Million Dollar Summer for MHC Sciences

Posted: September 10, 2007

Three Mount Holyoke science professors have received grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) in support of their ongoing research projects. Wei Chen, associate professor and chair of chemistry, was awarded $218,568 by the NIH for her project, The Exploration of New Bio-Relevant Materials Using Surface-Initiated ROMP of Low-Strain Cyclic Olefins in the Vapor Phase. Chen's research involves a new synthetic approach to growing functionalized polymers from solid/vapor interfaces. These new materials will be evaluated for their potential use as biocompatible implants. The grant extends Chen's previous NIH funding for the project by an additional three years.

The NSF awarded Sean Decatur, Marilyn Dawson Sarles, M.D. Professor of Life Sciences, professor of chemistry, and associate dean of faculty for science, a grant of $399,412 for his project, Effects of Solvent-backbone Hydrogen Bonding and Backbone N-methylation on Peptide Conformation. The grant is the third consecutive award from the NSF for this project, giving it ten consecutive years of NSF support. "The focus for this proposal builds on some interesting observations made by MHC students on the role of water molecules in stabilizing particular protein conformations," Decatur said.

In addition, the NSF awarded Becky Packard, associate professor of psychology and education, a grant of $426,502 for her project, Working-Class Women Using Community College Pathways to Four-Year STEM Degrees, through the Gender in Science and Engineering Division. Packard is thrilled by the award. "It's such an important topic--how women from working-class backgrounds, with an emphasis on first-generation college students, get on track and stay on track to a four-year degree in science and technical fields," she said. "It is very synergistic with my CAREER grant, which continues for the next two years." In the CAREER grant, Packard will continue to study the transition that lower-income students with science and technical career interests make into higher education or the workplace, including a look at several trades. "Her work is so exciting that the NSF agreed to extend funding well before her initial grant has officially expired," Decatur said.

Commenting on the three awards, Dean of Faculty Don O'Shea said, "These particular grants are even more impressive than the ones we usually announce. Although it is difficult for a faculty member to obtain a first research grant, it is even more difficult to obtain funding for a second and third grant. At that point, the honeymoon is over, and the break that peer reviewers give to promising scientists just embarking on their careers gives way to a more hardheaded approach to value of the science. These awards are a stunning testimonial to the caliber of the science being done with students at the College."

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