Three win NSF CAREER awards
Research into reducing debilitating health complications, improving software development and boosting medical treatment options have earned three UNL faculty members National Science Foundation CAREER awards.
These prestigious five-year awards support research by junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar through outstanding research, excellent teaching and the integration of education and research. UNL’s 2013 winners to date are:
• Linxia Gu uses powerful computers to better understand the biological mechanism of restenosis, a debilitating and sometimes fatal complication of a common treatment for coronary heart disease and other conditions. Propping open clogged arteries using tiny mesh tubes called stents sometimes leads to strokes or heart attacks when vascular cells react by making new cells that build up and restrict blood flow.
With a $406,248 CAREER award, Gu, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering and a member of UNL’s Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience, aims to understand the changes cells undergo and how those changes relate to alterations in arterial tissue structures.
She’s building computer models that couple the mechanical behavior of cells with the mechanics occurring at the broader tissue scale. This knowledge will help researchers improve prevention and treatment options, and help manufacturers design better stents. The technique also could be used to interpret other clinical observations, such as aortic aneurysms and traumatic brain injuries.
Read more about Gu’s research.
• With a $500,000 CAREER award, Anita Sarma, assistant professor of computer science and engineering, is developing software to help programmers work more efficiently.
Developing today’s complex computer software can involve thousands of people working ‒ sometimes at cross purposes ‒ in numerous countries. Coordinating the efforts of so many people is challenging, and resolving inevitable glitches is expensive and time-consuming. Sarma’s research aims to reduce costs and software defects.
Sarma uses data-mining techniques to analyze the effects various tasks and file changes had on previous programming efforts. That information allows her to make predictions about future programming, from which she will develop software that can analyze, in real time, the current development situation and identify the best next task. So when a programmer finishes a task, the program analyzes what is currently happening and suggests next tasks that would avoid conflicts with others. As programmers start and finish tasks, the program continually reevaluates the situation. Sarma’s solution will be available as a plug-in for Eclipse, a software development program.
Read more about Sarma’s research.
• Angela Pannier, assistant professor of biological systems engineering, is using a $419,051 CAREER award to develop 3-D nanostructured surfaces to use as gene delivery tools. Employing genes to correct genetic problems or aid in healing holds tremendous potential, but finding an effective, safe method of delivering genes to cells remains a significant hurdle.
The 3-D surfaces Pannier is building are constructed of columns, and the spaces between columns can be loaded with DNA, similar to a toothbrush holding toothpaste. Touching the nanostructure to a cell unloads the DNA. She’s also designing nanostructured surfaces to alter cells in ways that make them more or less receptive to receiving genes.
This delivery method allows the cell to use the beneficial genes without incorporating them into its chromosomes, and is safer than using viruses as delivery tools. Pannier, a member of UNL’s Center for Nanohybrid Functional Materials, envisions numerous applications, such as reducing post-surgery inflammation, promoting bone integration after a hip implant and curing genetic diseases or even some cancers. The nanostructure surfaces also could be used in biotechnology research and as environmental sensors.
Watch for a full story on Pannier’s research soon in Today@UNL.
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