Selected Research Awards and Grants

Dr. Pienaar receives prestigious NSF CAREER award to study tardigrade cryptobiosis

The NSF Faculty Early Career Development, or CAREER, Program is the most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty at NSF. Recipients are recognized as being individuals with the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. With this award, Dr. Pienaar and his team will use an integrated research approach to unravel the ability of tardigrades from the molecular to morphological and ecological interaction levels to persist in an ametabolic state in the complete absence of water. The team will also develop phylogenetic comparative methods to test for coevolution between terrestrial tardigrades and the mosses and liches that they live in. For the educational part of the award, Dr. Pienaar will train undergraduate and K-12 students in tardigrade species discovery through an immersive summer research experience at UA and surrounding middle and high schools. This brings the total number of recent CAREER awards held in the department to four.

Dr. Ciesla receives NIH grant for drug discovery technology transfer

A technology transfer proposal, titled “Cellular membrane affinity chromatography kit for drug discovery,” began in July 2021 and runs for one year. This proposal is in collaboration with Regis Technologies and will develop cellular membrane affinity chromatography (CMAC) kits to allow for the identification of compounds present in complex matrices that specifically interact with immobilized transmembrane proteins. The newly developed CMAC kit will speed up the identification of phytochemicals targeting transmembrane proteins. The CMAC kit can easily be applied in drug discovery laboratories to identify novel drug templates that can be further used to treat certain forms of cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, chronic pain, diabetes, and many other illnesses. Dr. Ciesla is a candidate for the second phase of this grant program to continue research and development of the potential product for a further two years.

Drs. Shogren and Benstead receive a NSF grant to study the role of seston in streams

This two-year project is titled “Collaborative Research: MSA: ConFines: Continental-scale study of the role of fine particles in riverine material fluxes.” Drs. Shogren and Benstead will use data from the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) sensors to increase our understanding of the role of fine particles in ecosystems as they are transported down streams.

Dr. Kevin Kocot received the 2021 President’s Faculty Research award

Dr. Kocot’s award was in the Emerging Scholar category in the area of Physical and Biological Sciences, Mathematics, and Engineering. He will be recognized during the President’s Faculty Research Award Ceremony, to be held at the Bryant Conference Center the afternoon of April 20, 2022 (delayed to next year due to social distancing protocols).

Dr. Laura Reed has been selected as a Distinguished Teaching Fellow for the College

Faculty members with outstanding records of teaching and student learning are selected from nominations made by their department chairs, colleagues, or students. The teaching fellows receive stipends for three years to support teaching-related projects.

Dr. Susan Wiesner received the Editors’ Choice Award

Dr. Weisner is a recent graduate of the department whose paper “Variations in metabolic energy efficiency and entropy production during temperature extremes across a longleaf pine savanna” was recognized as an outstanding research paper by Agriculture and Forest Meteorology in December 2020. The article was part of Wiesner’s research leading to the completion of her doctorate, which focused on using laws of thermodynamics to understand how longleaf pine forests of the Southeastern United States respond to variation in climate and land use and management. The research led to the conclusion that forests that had great human influences, such as past agricultural use prior to reforestation, needed to use their energy reserves more often when faced with extreme weather conditions. The study also found that sites with great biological diversity recovered their metabolic activity and replenished their energy reserves much quicker than sites with lower biodiversity. When discussing Wiesner’s research with her advisor, Dr. Gregory Starr, Starr stated, “Susi’s use of thermodynamics was extremely creative and has not only provided new insight into the functioning of longleaf ecosystems, but her research is a blueprint for ecologists to study and learn about ecosystems in new ways. Not only does her research provide a foundation to push ecosystem ecology forward, but it can also help land managers and decision makers determine what ecosystems are most vulnerable to change if they must deplete their energy reserves for survival, which may allow for better conservation of these ecosystems.” Dr. Wiesner is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Wisconsin and is funded by Natural Resources and Sustainable Agricultural Systems Program in the USDA Agricultural Research Service. Susi’s work supports a project quantifying agricultural sources of methane emissions to the atmosphere.