UDRF funds research projects in health science, energy
Sharon Rozovsky, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and colleague Brian Bahnson, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, won a UDRF strategic initiative grant to explore the structure and function of selenoprotein K (SelK), which has been shown to reduce internal levels of reactive oxygen species and protect cells against oxidative stress.
Joshua Hertz, right, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Ajay Prasad, professor of mechanical engineering, are devising a novel fuel cell in their UDRF research project.

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10:26 a.m., Jan. 28, 2010----The University of Delaware Research Foundation (UDRF) has funded five UD projects ranging from development of a novel fuel cell, to understanding the metabolic mechanisms that lead to obesity, in its 2009 strategic initiatives grants competition.

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Chartered in 1955, UDRF is a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation that supports fundamental research in all fields of science at the University. It is governed by a research committee of scientists, physicians, and engineers. The grants, which are merit-based and administered by the UD Research Office, focus on assisting untenured early-career, tenure-track UD faculty.

The UDRF strategic initiatives grants specifically support collaborative projects focusing on one of the three research areas emphasized in the University's Path to ProminenceTM strategic plan: life and health sciences, energy, and the environment.

The two-year, $35,000 awards include $25,000 in UDRF funding, which is matched by $5,000 from the provost and $5,000 from the faculty member's respective dean.

“Each project focuses on a strategic priority for the University and involves both a junior and senior investigator, a collaboration that is designed to provide faculty who are early in their careers with valuable mentoring from a veteran researcher,” said Mark Barteau, senior vice provost for research and strategic initiatives.

The 2009 UDRF strategic initiatives program is the second in UD's history. The first grants were awarded in 2008.

The traditional UDRF awards for early-career faculty will be announced in May, Barteau said.

The 2009 UDRF strategic initiatives projects include the following:

Developing a Floodless Fuel Cell -- A fuel cell converts hydrogen and oxygen into water, producing electricity in the process. However, fuel cells are hampered by the fact that their waste product - water -- can collect at the electrodes, reducing power output, an effect called “flooding.” Joshua Hertz, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Ajay Prasad, professor of mechanical engineering, are devising a novel fuel cell that uses two electrolytes: one that conducts hydrogen ions, and the other that conducts hydroxide ions. The water byproduct collects in a porous membrane at the interface of the two electrolytes rather than at the electrodes, thus eliminating flooding. Through collaboration with the Intellectual Property Center within the Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP), a non-provisional patent application has been filed.

A Systems Biology Approach to Understanding Obesity -- Obesity is a growing epidemic in the U.S., but the metabolic mechanisms that promote fatty tissue formation (adipogenesis), affect fat storage, and ultimately lead to obesity are poorly understood. Maciek Antoniewicz, DuPont Young Professor and assistant professor of chemical engineering, and Eleftherios Papoutsakis, Eugene du Pont Chair of Chemical Engineering, are using a systems biology approach to characterize fat metabolism in 3T3-L1 fat cells. They also will evaluate the effect of fat-specific protein FSP27, whose knockout in mice increased fat burning and protected the animals from diet-induced obesity and insulin resistance.

Overcoming Efficiency Limits in Organic Photovoltaics -- Solar cells made of organic molecules such as polymers can absorb a large amount of sunlight with only a small amount of material; however, their efficiency -- the conversion of sunlight into electricity -- is low, currently only around 7 percent. In this research project, Matthew Doty, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, and Michael Mackay, Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, are developing new optical techniques to probe the photo-physical processes that limit the efficiency of organic photovoltaics and using the results to design new device architectures that overcome these limitations.

Selenoproteins in Human Health -- Sharon Rozovsky, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Brian Bahnson, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, are working to elucidate the presently unknown structure and function of selenoprotein K (SelK), which has been shown to reduce internal levels of reactive oxygen species and protect cells against oxidative stress. Their long-term goal is to delineate the biochemical role of SelK, the unique contribution of selenium to its reactivity, and the potential of SelK to be used as a biomarker for a membrane's oxidative stress and hence personalized medicine.

Intelligent Search in Health and Biomedical Science Databases -- Health and biomedical research data are growing at an exponential rate. Taking full advantage of the data will require tools that enable the translation of research findings to patient care. Benjamin Carterette, assistant professor of computer and information sciences, and Cathy Wu, Edward G. Jefferson Professor of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, are researching models and algorithms toward a search tool that would intelligently combine full-text documents from biomedical research and health databases into a single display, allowing a user to discover new connections between research and care.

While UDRF grants are made primarily in the fields of engineering and the natural and physical sciences, any proposal that uses scientific methods and promises quantitative results is eligible for a grant, regardless of academic department. For more information, visit the UDRF page on the Research Office Web site.

Article by Tracey Bryant
Photos by Ambre Alexander and Kathy F. Atkinson

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