By Erin Matheson '18
National Science Foundation (NSF) has recently awarded the W.M. Keck Science Department a number of competitive research grants, putting the department among the top in the nation in federal funding. The new grants, along with 11 other awards dating back to 2010, make a total of 17 active federal research grants, totaling $4.3 million, for Keck Science faculty.
Associate Professor of Biology Emily Wiley is the lead Principal Investigator on a grant that just recently won a NSF grant. The total award amount, shared between 5 institutions across the country, was $710,000. The amount coming to Keck is a little over $500,000.
Professor Wiley typically has about eight students working on projects in her lab exploring the genome of Tetrahymena, a free-living ciliate protozoa. The students are at all different levels, from first-year students to senior thesis students. According to Wiley, “This is a grant aimed at getting more undergraduates across the country involved in genome research that is helpful to a lot of people. The funds will allow more students, from here or elsewhere, to work with other researchers across the country at other institutions.”
The funds will go toward training faculty and students to collaborate on a large-scale initiative to understand the function of different pieces of genetic information, specifically genes. This knowledge will advance the research of many investigators at a wide range of institutions around the world. “For me, it will definitely help advance my research on proteins that influence the packaging of the genome and the control of gene expression,” said Wiley. Funds will go toward faculty-student workshops, student research exchanges in other labs, summer student research stipends, development of research modules for existing courses, and supplies for genomics research.
When Professor Wiley won the award she was elated. She truly worked her way to the grant because she started this same undergraduate genome research initiative eight years ago under a different award from NSF. “I am a strong believer in the model and its potential impact on undergraduates, providing them with a deeper, richer, more effective science education experience through engaging research,” said Wiley, “By training faculty to incorporate research modules into the courses they teach, this award will allow a broader range of students to experience the exhilarating process of making novel discoveries, and train them to do science, not just learn about it.” The grant competition was strong--only 14% of biology proposals were funded, but Wiley was able to earn the grant. “It was beyond exciting to find that NSF believes our genomics initiative has a lot of promise to accomplish this on a large scale,” she said.
Since starting in the Keck Science Department, Wiley has put a lot of effort toward finding ways to more broadly engage students in the scientific discovery process. This grant will allow Wiley and her team to further develop their ideas and try new methods to this end. It will also fund students to learn different research techniques in a variety of labs on other campuses across the country, and provide more funding for summer research.