Three Pomona Professors Receive Grants, Fellowships

Over the summer, a number of Pomona professors received grants and fellowships for their research and projects.

The Student Life

spoke with three of these professors to learn more about the current and anticipated direction of their work as well as the process and impact of earning grant money.

PROFESSOR JADE STAR LACKEY

Jade Star Lackey, assistant professor of geology at Pomona College, received $50,000 from the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Petroleum Research Fund for his research project, “Sandstone Silicification in a Caldera Lake: Implications for Cementation at High Geothermal Gradient.” Professor Lackey earned the grant, which is specifically designed for new investigators at undergraduate institutions, for his research in geothermal energy. Magma generation and studies of metamorphic rock are his primary topics of interest. Regarding his research, Lackey said there is “always a broader impact” on the public, since geothermal energy has potential applications as an alternative energy source.One of the geothermal issues Lackey currently investigates is “clogging,” which decreases the efficiency of heated groundwater as an energy source. Lackey said the ACS grant will allow him to understand this problem more completely.Along with professors Robert Gaines and Charles Taylor, from the geology and chemistry departments, respectively, Lackey also received $200,000 from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement Program. The money from the NSF interdisciplinary grant is designed to improve the teaching in Pomona’s Geology and Environmental Chemistry departments.Central to this effort will be the development and maintenance of an X-ray fluorescence laboratory at the college. Lackey said the impact of this instrument will be significant, and students from other Claremont colleges will also have access to the facilities to aid in their research.Professor Lackey also said a portion of grant money is always allotted for attending conferences. To this end, he emphasizes the importance of communication in the sciences, highlighting interdisciplinary synergism in his grant proposals.

PROFESSOR ERICA FLAPAN

Erica Flapan, Lingurn H. Burkhead Professor of Mathematics at Pomona, received a three-year grant of $182,226 from the NSF for her research on “topological symmetries and the intrinsic properties of graphs embedded in 3-space.”In her proposal to the NSF, Professor Flapan discussed her research, its broader impact, and how it will help future researchers in the field of topology.While Flapan said her research is not cost intensive in terms of raw materials, as much of it is done simply “with brain,” the NSF money is invaluable because it provides funding for summer research, student salaries, and conference attendance.Flapan’s research focuses on topology, a mathematical field which views shapes and spaces as flexible, rather than rigid, entities. Her work allows scientists to better understand the chemistry of large molecules, which do not necessarily have rigid symmetries.Flapan said mathematics is a “very fluid, very open” discipline and that it is very difficult to predict the future course of her research. She further emphasized the versatility of the field, citing past students who have successfully entered fields ranging from pure mathematics to bio-statistics to economics.

PROFESSOR KARL JOHNSON

Pomona assistant professor of biology Karl Johnson will receive $519,925 over four years from the NSF Division of Integrative Organismal Systems–Neural Systems Cluster, for his project “investigating the mechanisms of Syndecan (a type of protein) function during nervous system development.”Currently, Johnson’s lab researches the formation of the synapses of the nervous system, which are the basis for learning and memory. The lab examines the process at a molecular level, using the nerve cells of the fruit fly. Potentially, this research may provide the “fundamental tools” for understanding learning disabilities.Johnson initiated the grant-application process in the summer of 2007, when he sent in proposals to both the NSF and National Institutes of Health. By spring 2009, both agencies had awarded him money. Johnson accepted the NSF grant because it provided more funding over a longer period of time.The grant money will fund summer research and the numerous costs of maintaining a molecular biology lab, which include equipment and chemical reagents used in experiments.Johnson also said money from the grant funds student salaries, and allows them to attend research conferences. In particular, the NSF grant will pay for Johnson and student researcher Tori Gillet PO ’10 to attend a Society for Neuroscience conference later this year.

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