June 2014

National Science Foundation Awards Plant Biologist Nearly $440,000 for Diatom Project

A scanning electron micrograph of the marine diatom, Triceratium, one of the species that will be studied under the National Science Foundation grant. Copyright Elizabeth Ruck

Plant biologist Andrew J. Alverson will use a nearly $440,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to reconstruct the origin and evolution of the genetic makeup of diatoms, one of the world’s most diverse groups of microalgae.

“Diatoms are microscopic, single-celled algae that are found in oceans, lakes and rivers; practically anywhere where there is sunlight and moisture,” said Alverson, an assistant professor of

biological sciences in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.

“They are prolific photosynthesizers. They produce the oxygen for one of every five human breaths, so they’re extremely important in global cycling of carbon and oxygen.”

With an estimated 200,000 species, diatoms represent one of the most diverse lineages in the “tree of life.” Only a handful of diatoms have had their genome sequenced, however. This project will double the number of diatoms with fully sequenced genomes.

Under the grant, Alverson will examine genomic factors that will help explain the extraordinary diversity of diatoms. His research team will sequence the full genomes of five species and all the expressed genes — the parts of the genome that encode for proteins — from another 200 species. Using resources available through the Arkansas High Performance Computing Center at the University of Arkansas, Alverson’s team will use mathematical and statistical models to reconstruct the historical pattern of large-scale genomic changes.

The NSF grant will also fund collaboration between Alverson’s research laboratory and the lab led by Norman Wickett, assistant conservation scientist in genomics and bioinformatics at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The research will be showcased through an exhibit at the botanic garden that will highlight the numerous parallels between diatoms and flowering plants.

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Engineer Receives NSF Grant for Terahertz Imaging


Magda El-Shenawee

Madga El-Shenawee, professor of electrical engineering, will further her work on an alternative, non-invasive method of detecting breast cancer in excised tumors in real time through a $388,913 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The award will allow El-Shenawee’s research team to continue developing terahertz imaging for real-time assessment of excised breast-cancer tumors following lumpectomy surgery. El-Shenawee will collaborate on the project with co-investigator John Gauch, professor of computer science and computer engineering.

Many patients choose to have a breast-conserving lumpectomy. The excised tumor is then sectioned, stained and examined by pathologists to determine if there is cancerous tissue, called “positive margins,” near the boundary of the sample. This examination can take several days due to the large number of very thin sections — 3 to 4 microns — used in pathology.

The investigators will use their expertise in electromagnetic modeling, terahertz measurements, inverse scattering algorithms, medical imaging, image segmentation and visualization to achieve real-time assessment of breast cancer tumor margins. This will allow surgeons to know sooner whether they have removed all cancerous tissue.  

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New Research Frontiers Website Introduces Blog

Research Frontiers

Research Frontiers, the twice-a-year magazine showcasing University of Arkansas research, has launched a new and more dynamic website. For 14 years, Research Frontiers has offered thoughtful examinations of the broad cross-section of research and scholarly activity at the university.

The website features a blog, with contributions from editor Barbara Jaquish, science writers Matt McGowan and Chris Branam, and guest contributors from across campus. They will visit the Research Frontiers blog daily with updates on ongoing stories, heads-up on coming stories, and behind-the-scenes peeks at the intriguing world of research and researchers at the University of Arkansas.

The new website is a two-way street. Readers can scroll down to the comment section to add observations, experiences and questions. The Research Frontiers Facebook page and Twitter feed @UArkResearch will alert readers to additions to the page and the blog.

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NIH Rolls Out New Grant Biosketch Format


The National Institutes of Health recently announced a major change in how researchers portray their body of work when applying for NIH funds.

The new biosketch format, supported by NIH leadership, emphasizes an applicant’s accomplishments instead of a list of publications. The primary focus of the biosketch will be the magnitude and significance of the scientific advances associated with a researcher’s discoveries and the specific role the researcher played in those findings.

“This change will help reviewers evaluate you not by where you’ve published or how many times, but instead by what you’ve accomplished,” wrote Sally Rockey, NIH’s deputy director for extramural research on her “Rock Talk” blog.

“Hopefully, this change will redirect the focus of reviewers and the scientific community more generally from widely questioned metrics, like the number of published papers, the number of citations received by those papers, or one of several statistical approaches used to normalize citations.”

The new format will allow up to five pages for the entire biosketch, and researchers will be permitted to describe up to five of their most significant contributions to science, the influence of their contributions on their scientific field, and any subsequent effects of those contributions on health or technology.

The new format also will allow researchers to describe their specific role in those discoveries and to annotate their description with up to four publications.

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NSF Awards Plant Biologist Nearly $440,000 for Diatom Project

Engineer Receives NSF Grant for Terahertz Imaging

New Research Frontiers Website Introduces Blog

NIH Rolls Out New Grant Biosketch Format


Campus Health Experts Selected to Present at SEC Symposium

Earth Organisms Survive Under Martian Conditions

Ascendant Dx Developing Early Breast Cancer Detection Test


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Grant Award Winners

The following is a sampling of the top grants awarded to faculty in May, with the principal investigator, the award amount and the sponsor. An asterisk (*) indicates the continuation of a previous award.
• Magda El-Shenawee, $388,913, National Science Foundation
• Tim Cavell, $328,112, U.S. Department of Education
• Alan Mantooth, $90,338, Honeywell Federal Manufacturing Technologies
• Judy Ganson, $70,000, National Science Foundation/Arkansas Science and Technology Authority
• Shengfan Zhang, $60,000, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences


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