Volcanoes, Engineers and Cells Become Projects for Young Faculty
by Evelyn Boswell
Curiosity about volcanoes, the mental processes of young engineers, and mysterious signals
between cells have earned major awards for three Montana State University-Bozeman faculty
Valerie Copie, Durward Sobek and Todd Feeley have each received a Faculty Early Career
Development Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Copie, an assistant professor
of biochemistry, will receive $498,952 to study a protein involved when cells signal each
other. Sobek, an assistant professor in mechanical and industrial engineering, will receive
$455,585 to investigate the design processes used by engineering students. Feeley, assistant
professor of geology, will receive $360,719 to study volcanic isotopes.
The five-year grants are given to junior faculty members to help them develop both their
teaching and research careers. Each project must include a research and education component.
Copie is involved in a collaborative project with Frances Lefcort, assistant professor of
biology. Together, they are researching the structure of a protein involved in cell signaling.
Scientists have noticed unusual signaling between cells, but they don't know what's happening
at a molecular level, Copie said. Part of the grant provides for "mini-rotations," which will
allow students to work for about six weeks in her laboratory and then move to other labs.
Sobek's project will focus on students taking senior design courses in MSU's College of Engineering.
He wants to study the design processes they use so he can develop a cross-disciplinary planning tool
for advisors and teachers. He wants to link the results with future investigations of design
processes in professional practices, too.
Feeley will use his grant to study the oxygen isotopes of Mount Lassen and the hydrogen isotopes
of Mount St. Helens. Most elements like hydrogen occur naturally as a mixtures of isotopes, and
they're useful as trace elements to study geologic and other processes. The projects at both sites
could reduce volcanic hazards by giving scientists a way to predict how fast magma will rise, Feeley
The educational part of his project involves undergraduate and graduate students participating in
his research, Feeley said. He will also develop a volcanology course for undergraduate students.
Students will learn about volcanoes and participate in community service projects related to
Evelyn Boswell writes for the MSU Office of Research, Creative Activity and Technology Transfer
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