March 2015

Engineers Awarded NSF CAREER Awards

Kartik Balachandran (left) was awarded a $500,000 Early Career Development Program grant by the National Science Foundation. Photo by Russell Cothren, University of Arkansas

Professors Jing Yang and Kartik Balachandran in the College of Engineering have been awarded Faculty Early Career Development Program grants through the National Science Foundation.

The five-year grant, better known as a CAREER award, is one of the highest honors given by the foundation to junior faculty members. Recipients are selected based on high-quality research and the integration of that research with education

initiatives in the context of the university’s mission.

Thirty-three professors at the University of Arkansas have received CAREER awards since 1991. In addition, five current faculty at the U of A received CAREER awards at other campuses.

“We strongly encourage faculty to apply for CAREER awards,” said Jim Rankin, vice provost for research and economic development. “It’s quite an honor. A CAREER award gives tenure-track faculty a chance to really jumpstart their research.”

Yang, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, was awarded $500,000 to continue developing sensing and transmission systems for energy-harvesting, wireless sensor networks. Balachandran, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, was awarded $500,000 to further his research in heart valve disease.

Yang’s work will enable perpetual, large-scale wireless sensor networks that match energy supply and demand in data-intensive applications. The research will improve the design and deployment of sensor networks that perform critical functions related to health care and environmental monitoring, surveillance and disaster relief. Her research eventually could be adapted to smart-grid applications and micro-grid technologies with renewable energy sources.

Balachandran’s research focuses on understanding the multi-scale relationship between structure, architecture and mechanics related to the biological behavior of cells and tissues in disease processes. The award will allow him to study the role mechanical forces and cell shape play in dictating endothelial-mesenchymal transformation, a process involved in fetal development and also in diseases such as heart valve disease and cancer.


NIH Awards Grant to Study Brain Function


Woodrow Shew

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health has awarded $375,000 to researchers at the University of Arkansas who are investigating the interplay of two types of signaling in the brain.
Woodrow Shew, assistant professor of physics, and Julie Stenken, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, are the co-principal investigators on the grant.

The constant exchange of chemical and electrical signals among neurons in the cerebral cortex is responsible for our thoughts and actions. Understanding the interplay of these two types of signaling is essential for insight into neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s as well as healthy brain function.

Under the grant, Shew, a biophysicist, and Stenken, an analytical chemist, will develop new tools which – for the first time – will measure changes in the electrical signals due to carefully controlled and measured changes in chemical signals within a neuronal circuit. 

Julie Stenken

The expertise of Shew’s group is in measuring the electrical signals of neurons during sensory information processing using implanted microelectrode arrays. Stenken’s research group specializes in precise control and measurement of chemicals in the brain using microdialysis implants.

Combining the tools and skills of the two labs promises to advance the frontiers of brain research in new directions that would be impossible without such interdisciplinary collaboration.

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Researchers Capture, Document Rare Owl

Northern saw-whet owl

Wildlife biologists have captured and documented the first northern saw-whet owl in Arkansas.

Between 1959 and 2010, only a dozen sightings of this rare bird – much smaller than screech, barred or great horned owls – had been recorded in the state prior to the adult female recently captured by Kimberly Smith, University Professor of biological sciences, and Mitchell Pruitt, an Honors College undergraduate student majoring in crop, soil, and environmental sciences.

Using mist-nets, a technique that includes a fine-gauge, black nylon net to ensnare birds, the researchers captured and banded the owl at the Ozark Natural Science Center near Huntsville in late November. Alyssa DeRubeis, a naturalist and teacher at the center, assisted Smith and Pruitt, who had previously tried the method at other locations in Northwest Arkansas, including Devil’s Den State Park.

The northern saw-whet, whose habitat is typically the northern United States and along various ranges of the Appalachian Mountains, is a small, secretive species that prefers low, brushy areas, especially cedar forests. They eat mice and spend their days silently perched at eye level in trees. Their main predators are other species of owls – barred and great horned owls.

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Symposium To Focus on Innovation, Creativity


The third annual Southeastern Conference Symposium will focus on the role universities play in preparing students to be entrepreneurial, innovative and creative thinkers and will explore the ways universities impact the economy.

Titled, “Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship: Driving a 21st Century Economy,” the symposium is scheduled for September 20-22 at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.

Established by the SEC presidents and chancellors in 2013 to address a significant scholarly issue by utilizing the range of disciplinary strengths of the conference's 14 member universities, the two previous SEC Symposiums have focused on renewable energy and obesity prevention, respectively.

Each day of the 2015 SEC Symposium will have a specific focus: “Creativity at the Intersection of the Arts and Other Disciplines” on September 20; “Innovation in Education” on September 21; and “New Paradigms in IP Management” on September 22.

Learn More


Engineers Awarded NSF CAREER Awards

NIH Awards Grant to Study Brain Function

Researchers Capture, Document Rare Owl

Symposium To Focus on Innovation, Creativity


Arkansas Research and Technology Park Adds Nearly $55 Million to State Economy in 2013-14

Chaffin, Pummill Named Interim Co-Directors of Arkansas High Performance Computing Center

U of A Nursing Graduate Invents Device to Lessen Needle Sticks


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Grant Award Winners

The following is a sampling of the top grants awarded to faculty in February, with the principal investigator, the award amount and the sponsor. An asterisk (*) indicates the continuation of a previous award.
• Reeta Vyas, $330,000, National Science Foundation
• Kalesha M. McGraw, $238,446, Law School Admission Council
• Laurent Bellaiche, $95,578, Office of Naval Research
• Jackson Cothren, $89,060, University of Maryland
• Matthew B. Day, $57,543, National Science Foundation


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