Five faculty members win 2009 NSF CAREER awards

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

By Daniel Strain, UCSC Public Information Office

Joshua Stuart, associate professor of biomolecular engineering and William Dunbar, assistant professor of computer engineering

Five UC Santa Cruz faculty members have won prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2009. Three of the recipients are faculty in the Jack Baskin School of Engineering: William Dunbar, assistant professor of computer engineering; Pascale Garaud, assistant professor of applied mathematics and statistics; and Joshua Stuart, associate professor of biomolecular engineering. The others are Yat Li, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics, both in the Division of Physical and Biological Sciences.

NSF presents the CAREER award to faculty "who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research." The awards provide funding to support the recipients' research, teaching, and outreach activities.

Using nanopore technology pioneered at UCSC, Dunbar examines single molecules of DNA and the dynamics of enzyme interactions with DNA molecules. The nanopores are tiny channels in membrane-bound proteins that allow the passage of only a single molecule or polymer chain. Dunbar's research focuses on the direct control of DNA molecules inside these protein channels, allowing in-depth study of enzymes that bind to the DNA. His CAREER award, totalling $400,000 over five years, also supports education and outreach efforts that include high school, undergraduate, and graduate courses at UCSC. Dunbar also recently received a $460,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to fund related research.

Garaud's research interests cover a broad range of topics in astrophysical fluid dynamics. In particular, one of her research topics focuses on the effects of rotation and magnetic fields on the interior dynamics of stars. Her CAREER award ($795,000 over five years) will support the creation of a computational model of stellar evolution that takes into account magnetic fields, rotation, and other associated dynamical effects. Garaud is also developing the International Summer Institute for Modeling in Astrophysics, a multidisciplinary research forum for international faculty members, postdoctoral researchers, and graduate students. Beginning in 2010, the institute will be held alternately in Santa Cruz and abroad.

Stuart uses computational models to study the genome-wide effects of interactions between genes. A single gene responding to environmental stimuli, for instance, can activate or change the function of any number of other genes. Stuart studies networks of gene interactions in both normal and abnormal cells in an attempt to discover the pathways that cause diseases like cancer. His CAREER award ($1.1 million over five years) also supports the expansion of the UCSC Interaction Browser, available through the UCSC Genome Browser (, which provides researchers around the world with free access to a wide database of genetic interactions.

Li investigates the construction and application of semiconductor nanowires, ultrathin inorganic "wires" that grow in a controlled form. Li designs and synthesizes these nanowires to study their fundamental electronic and optical properties, and explores their function as electrically driven nanolasers, microscopic devices that emit light in a controlled manner. These devices may lead to significant advancements in the fields of nanoscale electronics and photonics. Li will also use his CAREER award ($400,000 over five years) to support UCSC undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds working on their own research projects in his lab.

Ramirez-Ruiz studies compact objects such as neutron stars and white dwarf stars. He is working with Hartnell Community College in Salinas to provide outreach to Hispanic students (see earlier story about his $500,000 CAREER Award).


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