June 28, 2017
‘A Perfect Three for Three’: Emmanuel Faculty Members Awarded $1 Million in National Science Foundation Grants

Emmanuel College in June secured nearly $1 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF), advancing the College's reputation as a force in scientific research and education.

Emmanuel College in June secured nearly $1 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF), advancing the College's reputation as a force in scientific research and education.

Despite intense nationwide competition, Emmanuel faculty members won grants for each of the three projects they submitted for funding in NSF's most recent application cycle. The resources will drive scientific discovery at Emmanuel by underwriting student research internships during the summer and throughout the academic year. These hands-on collaborations with distinguished faculty members prepare Emmanuel undergraduates exceptionally well for success in prestigious graduate programs and in science-related fields. At many other institutions, such experiences are available only to graduate students.

"This is an amazing achievement," said Josef Kurtz, professor of biology and Emmanuel's dean for strategic program development and partnerships. "In today's funding climate, the need for federal grant applicants to demonstrate both outstanding scientific merit and student engagement is greater than ever. Given the odds, winning even one NSF grant would have been remarkable. Our faculty was a perfect three for three."

The grants bring the cumulative value of federal research funds received by Emmanuel's faculty to over $2 million, covering projects across biology, chemistry, mathematics, neuroscience and physics. In 2015, Emmanuel College ranked among Massachusetts' top 10 primarily undergraduate institutions conducting research actively funded by grants from the NSF and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Other institutions included Amherst College, Wellesley College and Williams College.

Totaling $977,914, the latest NSF grants will fuel the progress of three groundbreaking research projects at Emmanuel:

  • Dr. Padraig Deighan, assistant professor of biology, was awarded $351,536 over four years to explore how bacteria rapidly adapt to their changing environments. In particular, the project aims to discover and characterize the protein-to-protein interactions that influence gene expression profiles in E. coli, information that will facilitate a greater understanding of how bacteria cause disease.
  • Dr. Allen Price, associate professor of physics, received $341,217 over three years to investigate how protein molecules are able to find specific locations in the genome accurately and quickly—work that could have beneficial implications for the emerging field of gene editing, as well as the treatment of genetic diseases. This is Dr. Price's second NSF grant in five years.
  • Dr. Benjamin Allen and Dr. Christine Sample, assistant professors of mathematics, were awarded $285,161 over three years to study evolution as a mathematical process. Their project may aid the understanding and treatment of cancer, which can be seen as unwanted evolution occurring inside the body. Dr. Allen was the lead author of an article on the topic recently published in Nature, a prestigious multidisciplinary scientific journal.

"These grants prove what we have long known: that the Emmanuel College faculty engages students in the very highest levels of scientific research," said Dr. Sample. "The skills and experience they gain set them apart in whatever field or career they choose." In recent years, Emmanuel graduates have gone on to top-ranked doctoral programs at institutions including Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Graduates have also applied their science backgrounds as professionals in areas such as the life sciences, technology, finance, business and education.

According to Dr. Price, the NSF funding will expand opportunities for students to co-author articles in respected academic journals and present at national and international conferences. Recently, Emmanuel students have attended meetings of organizations including the American Chemical Society, the American Society for Microbiology, the Society for Neuroscience and the Beijing Association for Science and Technology. 

Dr. Price added that many faculty-student collaborations take place in the Wilkens Science Center. Dedicated in 2009, the facility offers leading-edge laboratories and equipment for both instruction and research. "Working in a funded research lab on campus at a liberal arts college is unique," Price said. "There aren't too many places you can get that kind of experience."

One reason for Emmanuel's surging strength in the sciences is its location within Boston's Longwood Medical and Academic Area, one of the world's foremost concentrations of biomedical resources, knowledge and technology. For years students have participated in internships at institutions including Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston Children's Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

In addition, Emmanuel faculty members are actively engaged in scholarly collaborations with peers at innovation powerhouses such as Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Tufts University School of Medicine.

"I am very proud and thrilled with this achievement," said Dr. Deighan. "I know it will make a huge impact on our student-scientists, and it affirms Emmanuel as a destination for inquiry-based learning and scientific discovery."

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