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Week of November 15, 2010

University professors receive presidential research award




Three U-M researchers are among the 85 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the nation’s highest honor for professionals at the outset of their independent research careers.

The White House announced the awards Nov. 5.

The researchers are:

• Cell biologist Haoxing Xu, an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology.

• Engineer Jerome Lynch, an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

• Industrial ecologist Shelie Miller, an assistant professor at the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Ten federal departments and agencies annually nominate scientists and engineers whose work shows exceptional promise for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge. Participating agencies award these talented researchers up to five years of funding to further their work in support of critical government missions.

Xu, who was nominated by the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke), seeks to understand the signals cells use to sense what’s going on in the environment and respond appropriately. His lab uses a broad-based approach that integrates techniques of molecular biology, bioinformatics, biochemistry, immunochemistry, electrophysiology, fluorescence imaging, confocal microscopy and mouse genetics.

One specific area of interest is TRP channels, a group of membrane-spanning proteins that serve as cellular sensors for a variety of functions and — when defective — are implicated in a range of diseases including type IV mucolipidosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and some cancers.

Lynch, who was nominated by the National Science Foundation, develops sensor technology to monitor the health of large civil structures such as bridges. Such sensors could remotely warn inspectors about cracks and corrosion before catastrophic failure occurs. Lynch will use this $400,000, five-year award to design bio-inspired sensing skins that can be used for the spatial mapping of damage and degradation in infrastructure systems.

Miller, who was nominated by the National Science Foundation, is developing a research tool to predict the environmental impacts of novel renewable energy sources such as switchgrass, a native perennial grass that is considered a promising biofuel candidate. “The idea is that it’s reasonably easy to determine the environmental impacts of systems that are already in use, but the systems we really need to know about are the ones we haven’t created yet,” Miller says. “The ultimate goal is to make sure we’re not creating significant new environmental impacts as we pursue potential solutions to the energy problem.” Miller also will produce an educational video that examines public perceptions about bioenergy and explores some of the myths surrounding the topic.

The researchers will be honored at a White House ceremony. A date has not yet been set.



Jane Sullivan, graduate student coordinator in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, on working at her alma mater:“I always thought it would be a great place to work, and for me it’s turned out to be the case.”


Artist Wangechi Mutu’s lecture “My Dirty Little Heaven,” 5-6:30 p.m. Nov. 18 in the Michigan Theater.

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