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DNA strands.

Research grants to seed the next great idea

By Grace Peterman

College seed funding supports diverse projects with the power to directly impact human quality of life.

Seed funding from the College of Science Research and Innovation Seed (SciRIS) program continues to bolster ambitious and expansive projects, empowering our scientists to delve into fundamental research discoveries and translate them into revolutionary applications. Founded in 2018, the SciRIS program provides funding for collaborative projects that pursue fundamental discoveries and create societal impact, accelerating the pace of research, discovery and innovation in the College of Science.

Between 2019 and 2021, the SciRIS program provided $763K in seed funding to scientists leading research projects in both basic and applied science and mathematics, with the potential to produce practical solutions for industry, people and the planet.

There are two pathways through this program, the SciRIS Stages 1-3 awards and the SciRIS individual investigator award (SciRIS-ii). The SciRIS Stages 1-3 program funds teams in three stages, ranging from $10K to $125K, to foster team development, build capacity and accelerate project development for procuring larger external grants, while the SciRIS-ii program provides funds ranging from $10K to $20K to individual investigators to establish partnerships, accelerate project development, generate data and manuscripts and foster proposal submissions.

The 2022 Science Research and Innovation Seed Individual Investigator awards (SciRIS-ii) are catalyzing initiatives that will open fresh pathways in science.

Supporting pure and applied mathematics, agriculture, gene therapy, molecular movie technology and quantum mechanics

Radu Dascaliuc, a man with glasses and a beard.

Radu Dascaliuc, associate professor of mathematics

Dascaliuc researches stochastic cascades and energy transfer in equations of fluid dynamics. The mathematics of fluid flows allow us to understand and predict the complexity of behaviors exhibited in fluids. Deeply rooted in questions of applied science and engineering, the proposed research is a part of a larger program aimed at exploring connections between the mathematics of equations of fluid motions and physics of fluids.

Part of the proposal is to organize a two-week summer collaborative research program for graduate and undergraduate students. This program will be devoted to attracting students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in STEM and especially in the field of fluid dynamics. The project will be structu­­red so that students without advanced knowledge in differential equations, mathematical analysis and probability can contribute and hopefully become interested and motivated to learn more about the mathematics involved. Funds for Dascaliuc’s SciRIS-ii project titled, “Stochastic Cascades and Energy Transfer in Equations of Fluid Dynamics” are provided by a generous gift made to the Robert W. Lundeen Science Faculty Development Award Fund.

Yanming Di, a man with glasses standing outside.

Yanming Di, associate professor of statistics

In partnership with the Oregon State Seed Lab, Yanming Di innovates seed sampling devices and protocols. Seeding testing — used for determining seed lot quality and establishing seed value — is a fundamental phase of the agricultural marketing system. Getting an accurate subsample of seed depends on the accuracy and precision of the device used.

Devices and protocols developed by the OSU Seed Lab and the USDA in the 1970s are still considered state of art today, leaving ample room for further improvements. With SciRIS funding, Di and collaborators aim to start a new wave of groundbreaking innovations by incorporating recent advances in robotics, computer vision, machine learning and stochastic modeling into seed testing. Funds for Di’s SciRIS-ii project entitled “Innovating Seed Sampling Devices and Protocols” come from the College of Science’s Education & General Funds.

Colin Johnson, a man with a red beard.

Colin Johnson, associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics

Colin Johnson’s research uncovers new connections between the ferlin family of genes and disease. Mutations in dysferlin are linked to muscular dystrophy, while mutations in otoferlin and myoferlin have been linked to deafness and breast cancer, respectively. Previous research led by Johnson uncovered key components of otoferlin gene therapy, moving one step closer to restoring hearing for the congenitally deaf.

In partnership with collaborators from the College of Engineering and College of Agricultural Sciences, Johnson’s new project will focus on ferlin gene Fer1L6, which has been linked to ovarian failure and neural tube development deficiencies. It will be the first study to unpack the effects of Fer1L6 on organismal development and neural tube defects. Funds for Johnson’s SciRIS-ii project, entitled “Establishing a Zebrafish model for the study of the Ferlin gene Fer1L6,” come from the College’s Education & General Funds.

Chong Fang, a man in glasses.

Chong Fang, associate professor of chemistry

SciRIS-ii funding will support a research collaboration between OSU and Stanford University led by Chong Fang. The project will implement state-of-the-art femtosecond laser spectroscopy at the Linus Pauling Science Center. By advancing the mechanistic knowledge and rational design of reversibly photoswitchable fluorescent proteins, this emergent tool for super-resolution microscopy and bioimaging will elevate both labs’ research to new heights while further enhancing the visibility and impact of “molecular movie” technology at OSU.

Funds for Fang’s SciRIS-ii project, entitled “Elucidating primary events of engineered photoswitchable fluorescent proteins with a powerful ultrafast spectroscopy toolset,” are provided by a generous gift made to the Ben and Elaine Whiteley Materials Research Fund.

Man smiling in front of a bush of flowering azaleas

Clay Petsche, associate professor of mathematics

Petsche is working with graduate students Chifan Leung, Chatchai Noytaptim and Peter Oberly to develop new ways to measure the arithmetic complexity of dynamical systems – a mathematical construction which takes input data and feeds it through a repetitive process – and to show that certain families of arithmetic dynamical systems can be divided into the simple and the complex. Using mathematical techniques including Galois theory, which is the study of symmetry in the solutions to polynomial equations; potential theory; and the analytic theory of Berkovich spaces, a fully modern construction that has recently given mathematicians the ability to apply classical analytic techniques toward modern number theory applications.

Funds for Petsche’s SciRIS-ii project, entitled “Exceptional maps in arithmetic dynamical systems,” are provided by a generous gift made to the Robert W. Lundeen Science Faculty Development Award Fund.

 Axel Saenz Rodriguez, a man with dark hair.

Axel Saenz Rodriguez, assistant professor of mathematics

According to quantum mechanics, we can only know the probability for the location of an electron at any given moment. Yet, if the electrons are confined to a one-dimensional space, the system exhibits certain symmetries that may allow one to obtain exact formulas for the statistics of the electrons. Axel Saenz Rodriguez aims to develop the mathematical theory to determine these statistics and to host a conference focused on this research topic. The two-day conference at OSU in Fall 2022 will build a regional network of collaborations; develop research projects suitable for grant proposals; and build research activity and a community on campus for graduate students and faculty. Funds for Saenz Rodriguez’s SciRIS-ii project, entitled “Probability law for 1D quantum electrons,” are provided by a generous gift made to the Robert W. Lundeen Science Faculty Development Award Fund.

Bolstering medicine through interdisciplinary research

As part of the SciRIS program, the College of Science offers other donor-funded awards to bolster research and innovation. The Disease Mechanism and Prevention Fund (DMPF) supports research into the mechanism, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of human disease by the College of Science faculty. These funds are provided by a generous gift from David and Donna Gould. The awardees are Swati Patel, assistant professor of mathematics and Adrian Gombart, professor of biochemistry and biophysics.

Swati Patel, a woman with dark hair.

Swati Patel, assistant professor of mathematics

Swati Patel’s DMPF proposal is titled “Mathematical modeling of Anthelmintic resistance in soil-transmitted Helminths.” Patel’s research addresses soil-transmitted helminths (STH), parasitic worms that infect an estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide, particularly in developing tropical countries that lack adequate sanitation systems. Periodic de-worming is necessary to treat and prevent infection, but STH are developing resistance against the drugs used. Patel develops projects to investigate the mechanisms that lead to resistance and strategies to prevent it through systematic mathematical modeling.

Adrian Gombart, professor of biochemistry and biophysics.

Adrian Gombart, professor of biochemistry and biophysics

Gombart’s DMPF project, “The role of the cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide in the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” continues work from a previous DMPF award, studying the potential use of an antimicrobial peptide called cathelicidin to curtail the development of Alzheimer’s. Vitamin D and other nutrients regulate expression of the peptide. Gombart’s project could lead to further development of effective preventative therapies or treatments of Alzheimer’s disease. Gombart is a principal investigator at the Linus Pauling Institute and is known for his extensive research on the uses and functions of vitamin D, including using it to combat infection via wound dressings and sutures.