CSU, Chico News

California State University, Chico Receives Highly Competitive Federal Science Grants

Date: 10-07-2016

Joe Wills
Public Affairs

California State University, Chico received two prestigious federal grants last month totaling nearly $900,000 that will enhance undergraduate research and student success in the sciences.

An interdisciplinary team of faculty from CSU, Chico's College of Natural Sciences and College of Engineering, Computer Science and Construction Management received $544,000 from a National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant.

The award provides funds for the University to acquire a fluorescence-activated cell sorter, a device that allows faculty and student researchers to separate cells for biomedical and other types of research as well as for lab projects.

The CSU, Chico faculty involved in securing the grant are Carolynn Arpin of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; Elena Harris of the Computer Science Department; and Troy Cline, Dave Keller, David Stachura and Gordon Wolfe of the Department of Biological Sciences.

This is the second MRI grant in two years that College of Natural Sciences faculty have received. In 2015, Biological Sciences professors Wolfe and Emily Fleming-Nuester and Geological and Environmental Sciences professors Russell Shapiro and Jochen Nuester received $207,000 to purchase a new scanning electron microscope.

“These are highly competitive grants,” said College of Natural Sciences Dean David Hassenzahl. “Our faculty have the qualities that the National Science Foundation is looking for.”

Hassenzahl said the new scientific equipment fits well with CSU, Chico’s emphasis on undergraduates being involved in research. Only two weeks after the new scanning electron microscope was on campus, he said, a student had included images taken by the microscope in a research paper.

Biology professor Keller is also involved in the other major federal grant received, a $355,000 award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support his research into the genetic regulation of type 2 diabetes.

The grant will cover three years and will primarily fund student assistants, including master’s students during the academic year and undergraduates during the summer. The grant will also fund supplies and release time from teaching for Keller to pursue his research.

Keller is researching a gene that functions differently in people with type 2 diabetes. A new drug treatment for the disease, based on a hormone that lowers blood sugar and reduces appetite, could be more effective if the actions of the gene were better regulated.

Similar to the NSF grant, Keller said CSU, Chico vied with schools across the country for the NIH grant in a very competitive process. He said since he was hired in 2008, CSU, Chico has received three NIH grants. Prior to that, there had been one over a 10-year span, he said.

“Grants like this are great job training for students. They often don’t get a chance to participate in independent research like this involved with modern biotechnology,” he said.

When he was an undergraduate, Keller said he was motivated to pursue a career in biology after seeing other students involved in research. “I saw others doing that work, and I wanted to do it, also,” he said.

The type of cutting-edge research Keller is producing, and the questions it poses, “are exactly the things our students need to be thinking about after they leave us,” Hassenzahl said. “They will not only know science, but know how to think. They will be well prepared for the future,” he said.

Keller said CSU, Chico will see benefits from the NSF and NIH grants beyond the funding and prestige they provide. The added research time for students and faculty, plus the new scientific equipment, will boost current research and make new research directions possible, all of which will attract more high-quality faculty and students, he said.

Reflecting on his own career path, Keller is gratified to have a hand in helping the next generation of scientists. “We are paying it forward,” he said.