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Discovery Spring 2000

Main Page On the Web Grants Corner Featured Stories


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 members.

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 said.

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 volcanoes.

Evelyn Boswell writes for the MSU Office of Research, Creative Activity and Technology Transfer

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