Early Career Researchers Making Waves with National Awards

From the UA News Center | During the past academic year, five professors at The University of Alabama received national recognition early in their careers for leading-edge research that will advance knowledge and enhance the educational experience.

Four professors were selected by the National Science Foundation for a CAREER Award, one of the nation’s most prestigious recognition of top-performing young scientists, while another was awarded an Early Stage Investigator – Maximizing Investigators Research Award through the National Institutes of Health.

The grants allow each researcher to train and motivate a new generation of scientists and engineers not only at UA through instruction and hands-on lab work, but also through outreach efforts to schools and the community.

“We are proud to have so many young faculty recognized for their contributions,” said Dr. Russell J. Mumper, vice president for research and economic development. “These awards will further their research while elevating the University’s educational mission.”

Using Bacteria to Test for a Virus

Dr. Jack Dunkle, left, in the lab with graduate student Sarah Khwies.

Dr. Jack Dunkle, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, received NIH funding from a program within National Institute for General Medical Sciences. It is designed to provide support for research in an early-stage investigator’s laboratory as well as flexibility to follow new research directions and encourage high impact rather than incremental research.

Dunkle is the second professor at UA to receive this award after Dr. Ayanjeet Ghosh, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, was awarded funding in 2020.

Kickstarted through the University’s Joint Institute Pandemic Pilot Project, Dunkle’s lab is investigating how to use a bacteria’s immune system known as CRISPR-Cas, which are sequences of genetic code inside bacteria that store information on invading viruses, as a low-cost, point-of-care diagnostics test for viruses such as the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. An application could be an alternative diagnostic test through a smartphone app to detect a color change in the sample instead of the labor-intensive test with expensive lab equipment.

The Shape of Spaces

In another CAREER Award milestone for the campus, Dr. Bulent Tosun is the first professor in the UA Department of Mathematics to receive this award. The funding will support approaching solutions to existing complex geometric conjectures and questions that could provide insight into the structure and shape of the universe. The work is within the mathematical field of topology, the study of the shape of different spaces, and Tosun will examine the topology of specific natural spaces called smooth manifolds, of which the universe is classified. He plans to introduce certain complex analytic structures on manifolds to answer questions about the intersection of symplectic and contact topology and smooth manifold topology in low dimensions and complex geometry.

Read the full article on the UA News Center site.