National Science Foundation

SMU chemist Alex Lippert receives 2017 NSF CAREER Award

Alex LippertSMU chemist Alex Lippert has received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, expected to total $611,000 over five years, to fund his research into alternative internal imaging techniques.

NSF CAREER Awards are given to tenure-track faculty members who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research in American colleges and universities.

Lippert, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Science, is an organic chemist and adviser to four doctoral students and five undergraduates who assist in his research. Lippert’s team develops synthetic organic compounds that glow in reaction to certain conditions. For example, when injected into a mouse’s tumor, the compounds luminesce in response to the cancer’s pH and oxygen levels. Place that mouse in a sealed dark box with a sensitive CCD camera that can detect low levels of light, and images can be captured of the light emanating from the mouse’s tumor.

“We are developing chemiluminescent imaging agents, which basically amounts to a specialized type of glow-stick chemistry,” Lippert says. “We can use this method to image the insides of animals, kind of like an MRI, but much cheaper and easier to do.”

Lippert says the nearest-term application of the technique might be in high-volume pre-clinical animal imaging, but eventually the technique could be applied to provide low-cost internal imaging in the developing world, or less costly imaging in the developed world.

But first, there are still a few ways the technique can be improved, and that’s where Lippert says the grant will come in handy.

“In preliminary studies, we needed to directly inject the compound into the tumor to see the chemistry in the tumor,” Lippert says. “One thing that’s funded by this grant is intravenous injection capability, where you inject a test subject and let the agent distribute through the body, then activate it in the tumor to see it light up.”

Another challenge the team will use the grant to explore is making a compound that varies by color instead of glow intensity when reacting to cancer cells. This will make it easier to read images, which can sometimes be buried under several layers of tissue, making the intensity of the glow difficult to interpret.

“We’re applying the method to tumors now, but you could use similar designs for other types of tissues,” Lippert says. “The current compound reacts to oxygen levels and pH, which are important in cancer biology, but also present in other types of biology, so it can be more wide-ranging than just looking at cancer.”

“This grant is really critical to our ability to continue the research going forward,” Lippert adds. “This will support the reagents and supplies, student stipends, and strengthen our collaboration with UT Southwestern Medical Center. Having that funding secure for five years is really nice because we can now focus our attention on the actual science instead of writing grants. It’s a huge step forward in our research progress.”

Lippert joined SMU in 2012. He was a postdoctoral researcher at University of California, Berkeley, from 2009-12, earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania in 2008 and earned a bachelor’s in science at the California Institute of Technology in 2003.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…” NSF is the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities.

— Kenny Ryan

For the Record: April 5, 2013

Anthony Cortese, Sociology, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, presented a paper, “Ethical Approaches to Ethnoviolence: An Interdisciplinary Team-Taught Course,” at the 2013 annual meetings of the Pacific Sociological Association in Reno, Nevada in March.

Matthew Rispoli, a Master of Science candidate in electrical engineering in Lyle School of Engineering, has received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship for study in condensed-matter physics. His graduate fellowship will provide a stipend of $30,000 per year for three years.

Jewel Lipps, a sophomore environmental science and chemistry major in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, has received a grant through the NSF’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Sites Program. She will participate in environmental research during Summer 2013 at the Forest Lakes site in New Jersey.

Han Na Kim, a senior political science and marketing major in Dedman College and Cox School of Business, has been awarded a 2013 Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Korea.

‘Unconventional geothermal’ a game changer for U.S. energy policy?

SMU-Google geothermal map of North AmericaSMU geothermal energy expert David Blackwell gave a Capitol Hill briefing Tuesday, March 27, 2012, on the growing opportunities for geothermal energy production in the United States, calling “unconventional” geothermal techniques a potential game changer for U.S. energy policy.

Blackwell’s presentation outlined the variety of techniques available for geothermal production of electricity, the accessibility of unconventional geothermal resources across vast portions of the United States and the opportunities for synergy with the oil and gas industry. Also speaking at the briefing were Karl Gawell, executive director of the geothermal energy association, and James Faulds, professor at the University of Nevada-Reno and director of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology.

“This is a crucial time to do this briefing,” said Blackwell, W. B. Hamilton Professor of Geophysics in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and one of the nation’s foremost experts in geothermal mapping. “Everybody is worrying about energy right now.”

The session was one in a series of continuing Congressional briefings on the science and technology needed to achieve the nation’s energy goals, titled collectively, “The Road to the New Energy Economy.” The briefing was organized by the National Science Foundation, DISCOVER Magazine, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada was honorary host for the March 27 briefing at the Senate Visitor’s Center, which included congressional staffers, members of science and engineering associations, government, private and industry representatives.

SMU’s geothermal energy research is at the forefront of the movement to expand geothermal energy production in the United States. Blackwell and Maria Richards, the SMU Geothermal Lab coordinator, released research in October that documents significant geothermal resources across the United States capable of producing more than three million megawatts of green power — 10 times the installed capacity of coal power plants today. Sophisticated mapping produced from the research, viewable via Google Earth, demonstrates that vast reserves of this green, renewable source of power generated from the Earth’s heat are realistically accessible using current technology.

Blackwell began his presentation by debunking the common misperception that geothermal energy is always dependent on hot fluids near the surface – as in the Geysers Field in California. New techniques are now available to produce electricity at much lower temperatures than occur in a geyser field, he said, and in areas without naturally occurring fluids. For example, enhanced geothermal energy systems (EGS) rely on injecting fluids to be heated by the earth into subsurface formations, sometimes created by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Blackwell noted the potential for synergy between geothermal energy production and the oil and gas industry, explaining that an area previously “fracked” for oil and gas production (creating an underground reservoir) is primed for the heating of fluids for geothermal energy production once the oil and gas plays out.

The SMU geothermal energy expert called these “unconventional” geothermal techniques a potential game changer for U.S. Energy policy. Geothermal energy is a constant (baseload) source of power that does not change with weather conditions, as do solar and wind-powered energy sources. Blackwell noted that SMU’s mapping shows that unconventional geothermal resources “are almost everywhere.”

Blackwell closed his presentation with acknowledgment that site-specific studies and more demonstration projects are needed to make geothermal energy a strong partner in the new energy economy.

The briefing was taped and will be posted to the Science 360 website hosted by the National Science Foundation at a later date.

Written by Kimberly Cobb

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Physics professor Jodi Cooley wins 2012 NSF career award

Jodi Cooley, SMU physics professor and NSF CAREER Award winnerJodi Cooley of SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences has earned a National Science Foundation CAREER Award of more than $1 million for her research toward detecting the particles that are believed to make up dark matter.

NSF Early Career Development Awards are given to junior faculty members who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research in American colleges and universities.

Cooley, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics, is an experimental particle physicist working with the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (SuperCDMS), a collaboration of 14 institutions from the United States and Canada. Cooley is SMU’s principal investigator for the group.

Scientists theorize that more than 80 percent of all matter in the universe is dark matter, which consists of material that cannot be seen or detected by conventional means. Cooley’s research in the SuperCDMS project is conducted in the Soudan Iron Mine in Soudan, Minnesota, where researchers are shielded from cosmic-ray radiation as they use detector technology to “listen” for the passage of dark matter through the earth. Cooley’s research uses sophisticated equipment to optimize the chances of detecting “weakly interacting massive particles,” also known as WIMPS, which are the particles hypothesized to make up dark matter.

“Her CAREER Award will enable Professor Cooley to extend this research with additional measurements at higher levels of sensitivity and simulations, placing SMU in a leadership role in this cutting-edge field of physics,” said James Quick, associate vice president for research and dean of graduate studies.

Cooley joined SMU in 2009. She was a postdoctoral scholar in the Physics Department at Stanford University from 2004-09 and a postdoctoral associate in the Laboratory for Nuclear Science at MIT from 2003-04. She received her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2003, a Master of Arts in physics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2000, and a Bachelor of Science in applied math and physics from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1997.

The NSF is the funding source for approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In the past few decades, NSF-funded researchers have won more than 180 Nobel Prizes.

Cooley is SMU’s second NSF CAREER award winner this year. Joe Camp, J. Lindsay Embrey Trustee Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, received a Faculty Early Career Development Award for his research into improved wireless network design incorporating low frequencies.

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Engineering professor Joe Camp wins 2012 NSF career award

Joseph CampJoseph Camp of SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering has earned a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award, given to junior faculty members who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding researchexcellent education and the integration of education and research in American colleges and universities.

Camp, assistant professor and J. Lindsay Embrey Trustee Professor of Electrical Engineering, will receive $450,000 over the next 5 years to fund research toward improved wireless network design incorporating low frequencies previously occupied by analog TV signals.

“The FCC has recently reassigned the frequency bands that were previously used by analog TV – that’s why viewers were forced to switch to an analog-to-digital converter,” Camp said. “It opened up a large portion of bandwidth for data communications, creating opportunities for innovative wireless network design.”

Transmission range improves at lower frequencies, as does as the ability of the signal to cut through obstacles, which makes these newly available frequency bands highly desirable for internet transmission. Being able to establish wireless networks with fewer transmission towers could result in lowering the cost of service delivery in some cases.

“Alongside these policy changes, wireless hardware is becoming increasingly complex and capable of supporting more bands,” Camp said. “As a result, the simple question becomes, ‘How do we use the simultaneous access to many different types of frequency bands to improve wireless network performance?’”

The NSF is the funding source for approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In the past few decades, NSF-funded researchers have won more than 180 Nobel Prizes.

“Joe’s highly competitive NSF award recognizes the extraordinary value of his work and his commitment to share his discoveries and knowledge with students,” said Lyle Dean Geoffrey Orsak. “We are fortunate to have him at the Lyle School and very proud that Joe represents the sixth NSF CAREER awardee on our faculty. Given the small size of our faculty, this is a remarkably strong showing.”

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Research Spotlight: Trial by fire, and how humans respond to it

The 2011 Wallow Fire in ArizonaAn interdisciplinary team of researchers will examine how humans in the Southwest have responded to changes in the surrounding forests over multiple centuries. The research is funded by a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project is about forest fire history, fuels and forests, how human activities have changed them, and the influence of drought and dry conditions, said Thomas W. Swetnam, principal investigator on the grant and director of the University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.

Christopher Roos, archaeologist and assistant professor of anthropology in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, is co-principal investigator for the study, which will use tree-ring and archaeological methods to reveal the fire history of the forest and of the forest close to the human settlement sites.

In addition to Roos and Swetnam, co-principal investigators are T.J. Ferguson, a professor of practice in UA’s School of Anthropology; Sara Chavarria, director of outreach for UA’s College of Education; Robert Keane and Rachel Loehman of the USDA Forest Service’s Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory in Montana; and Matthew J. Liebmann of Harvard University’s department of anthropology.

The scientists are focusing on New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains, where native peoples lived within the ponderosa pine forest in significant numbers for centuries before Europeans came to North America.

While fire is a natural part of the Southwest’s forests and grasslands, the region’s massive forest fires this year were exacerbated by decade-long drought. In addition, more people are living in or near fire-adapted ecosystems, increasing the likelihood that human activities will affect and be affected by forest fires.

The team will study the interplay among human activities at the wildland-urban interface, climate change and fire-adapted pine forests.

“Humans and fire are interconnected all the way back to our beginnings,” Swetnam said. “Drought and dry conditions are going to keep going on, so there’s an urgency in understanding what’s happening. We’re seeking to know how we can live in these forests and these landscapes so they are more resilient in the face of climate change.”

Courtesy of the University of Arizona

Left, Arizona’s Wallow fire, the largest in the state’s history, burned from May 29 to July 8, 2011, scorching more than 538,000 acres in northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. The fire was named for the Bear Wallow Wilderness area, in which it originated. (Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.)

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For the Record: April 16, 2009

Anthony Cortese, Sociology, Dedman College, organized and moderated a session on “Race, Social, and Gender Inequality” at the 2009 annual meetings of the Pacific Sociological Association, which took place April 8-11 in San Diego, California.

Pia Vogel, Biological Sciences, Dedman College, was co-moderator for panel disussions on cancer biology and career opportunities at a Houston conference, “Frontiers of Cancer Research: Biology, Emerging Technologies and Therapeutics,” sponsored by The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas. The Academy was founded in 2004 to provide broader recognition of the state’s top achievers in medicine, engineering and science, and to build a stronger identity for Texas as a center of achievement in these fields. Members include Texas Nobel Laureates and more than 200 National Academy members.

The HBO special “Breaking the Huddle: The Integration of College Football,” featuring SMU alumnus Jerry LeVias (’69), is one of 8 films being honored April 29, 2009 by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. University Archivist Joan Gosnell, Central University Libraries, helped provide photos and materials from the University Archives for the special. Heritage Hall Chair Gerry York (’58) also helped with research.

Daniel Salta, a junior double major in mechanical engineering and mathematics in the Lyle School of Engineering and Dedman College, has been accepted to the National Science Foundation‘s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program for Summer 2009. He will work with Radovan Kovacevic in SMU’s Research Center for Advanced Manufacturing in the Lyle School. The national REU program supports the participation of students nationwide in research labs and projects.

Amy Hand, a Dedman College student double-majoring in physics and mathematics, also has been accepted to the NSF REU program for Summer 2009. She will do her research at CREOL – The College of Optics and Photonics at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Research Spotlight: Learning from the past

Chimu ceramic lizard, PeruAmanda Aland, a graduate student in archaeology in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, has received a prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student fellowship to conduct archaeological fieldwork and research in Peru.

In March 2009, Aland returns to a site on Peru’s northern coast, called Santa Rita B, where she spent several months last year excavating with the support of a National Science Foundation grant.

There, she and students under her direction unearthed evidence that the Incas had left their mark after conquering the region’s Chimú empire in the 15th century.

“We found Chimú pottery and architecture that show Inca influences,” she says, in addition to centuries-old animal matter and human remains.

During her 10-month Fulbright fellowship, Aland hopes to learn the extent of the Incas’ influence on the Chimú people through further excavation and laboratory analysis of her findings. “We want to piece together how the two empires interacted,” she says. “Did they go to war, or make peace living under new rules? We always can learn from the past.”

Aland, a Dallas native, earned a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish from the University of Southern California in 2004. At SMU, she has studied archaeological theory, methods and grant writing while directing summer field research in Peru. She earned her Master’s degree in anthropology from the University in 2006. (Above, a Chimú ceramic lizard from the Santa Rita B site.)

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See a slide show from Santa Rita B in Peru

Research Spotlight: Better, smarter, faster

Army all-terrain vehicleSMU is a partner in a newly designated National Science Foundation research consortium aimed at building both military and commercial superiority by making technology faster, better and smarter.

The Net-Centric Software and Systems Industry/University Cooperative Research Center, which also includes two other universities and 11 companies, will focus on improving how complicated information is gathered, shared and used, from the battlefield to the boardroom.

For example, FedEx’s package tracking system, which links employees, customers, suppliers and partners, is an example of a commercial application of net-centric technology. And on the battlefield, where information superiority already translates to combat power, future net-centric systems will connect ground and air combat, linking shooters, decision makers and sensors toward a common goal.

“This opens a lot of doors,” says Jeff Tian, associate professor of computer science in SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering. “We envision this consortium becoming a leading research alliance in the United States. Because we can cooperate with the expertise of academic institutions and high-tech companies, we have much greater research capabilities than any one institution working alone.”

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