Award recognizes work of teacher-scholar
RESEARCH | Sharon Rozovsky, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has received a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support her research on proteins that contain selenium.
The highly competitive award recognizes junior faculty for their role as teacher-scholars and is given to those scientists and engineers considered most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century.
“You have thousands of proteins in the human body, and only 25 contain selenium, so that suggests that selenium has a very special role,” Rozovsky says. “It’s important for preventing cancer and also for longevity, so we want to understand how it functions.”
Her research looks at enzymes, which are proteins that accelerate chemical reactions, and how they “fine-tune” their activities so that they bind only to specific reaction partners and accelerate only certain reactions. Rozovsky particularly focuses on enzymes that use selenium and that work as antioxidants in the human body.
“When cells make energy—through normal living—they produce oxygen, and that can damage the cells,” she says, explaining that as that damage accumulates over years, it can result in diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Selenium-containing proteins can help to both slow and prevent that damage, she says.
The benefits of Rozovsky’s research project extend even further by exposing a wide range of students to biochemistry and to science in general. One way in which she hopes to interest more students in pursuing graduate studies and careers in science is by offering an intensive summer program targeted to undergraduates with disabilities.
She and Karl Booksh, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, are exploring ways to implement such a project at UD, in which students would receive career guidance, networking and mentoring opportunities to encourage them to pursue a career in science or engineering.