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Science Faculty Pull in Grants for Chemistry and Biology Research

The faculty of the School of Science at The College of New Jersey has been busy garnering grants to expand undergraduate research opportunities between themselves and students. Assistant professors of chemistry, Benny Chan and Michelle Bunagan, and assistant professor of biology, Curt Elderkin, have each received grants in their areas of interest.

Chan has been awarded a $50,000 grant, which will fund salaries and supplies for two years of an undergraduate research program in solid-state chemistry and will lead to publications with undergraduate authors. The project was developed to study fundamental synthetic strategies of selenium and sulfur containing inorganic compounds. The future of this project is to begin to design thermoelectric selenide materials that have green chemistry implications, which directly supports the overall missions of the Petroleum Research Fund. Thermoelectrics can be highly efficient in converting heat into electricity or be used in electrical cooling without Freon-like chemicals. A current commercial application of thermoelectrics is the cigarette lighter adapter powered refrigerators that can be found in vehicles. The hope is these materials will ultimately used to generate electricity on the large scale if cheaper and more efficient materials are discovered.

“I am ecstatic to receive recognition for my budding research program,” said Chan. “TCNJ already provides strong support for undergraduate research. With external grants like PRF, we can offer even more research opportunities to students and perform world-class research with our highly talented undergraduates.”

Bunagan, whose research centers on the field of protein dynamics, relevant to protein folding and protein-ligand and oligomerization reaction, is a new member of the department. She was named one of eight recipients of a Camille and Henry Dreyfus Faculty Start-up Award. This unrestricted five-year grant provides $30,000 assistance in the initiation of her research program at TCNJ. She is one of only five faculty from a public institution in the past five years to receive this start-up award. This program is very competitive and further confirms the stature of both the Chemistry Department and the School of Science nationally and will allow her to hire undergraduate research students to study with her.

When discussing the implications the grant will have on undergraduate research, Bunagan notes, “Through involvement in undergraduate research, students will gain skills related to scholarly presentation of science, in addition to hands-on experience, which will ultimately be valuable for future endeavors in graduate school or industry.”

In the field of biology, Elderkin received two grants. “The feeling of being recognized by your peers is an honor,” he said.

One is an $180,000 Pennsylvania State Wildlife Grant for conservation genetics research of fresh water mussels, the most endangered family of organisms in North America and was made possible through the Pennsylvania Fishing and Boat Commission. Elderkin’s research is part of a joint project with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, a private organization that protects, restores and conserves land, water and wildlife. The objective of this project is to preserve the biodiversity of fresh water mussels and insure the long-term viability of populations in the Susquehanna River.

The other grant is a Research Opportunity Award through the National Science Foundation in the amount of $15,000. Through the collaboration of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences and the Illinois Natural History Survey, Elderkin will help the curators of mollusks at these institutions revise the species designations of mussels worldwide. An upcoming project will focus on reclassifying mussels in Zambia, Africa.

Both of Elderkin’s grants will extend to the undergraduate science students at TCNJ. The Pennsylvania State Wildlife grant will fund four students’ salaries and housing when they participate and aid in research in the Mentored Undergraduate Summer Experience (MUSE) over the next two years. Then, money from both grants will be used to sponsor numerous independent study projects with Elderkin.