NSF Career Award

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

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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> Visit SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering homepage

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