Research project funding more than $5 million

Dawn Einsel

Recovery Act money helps 16 professors

Funding this year for Kent State’s research projects has surpassed $5 million. The financial support came in the form of grants through programs under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the total amount has continued to rise throughout the semester.

“We are constantly submitting proposals,” said Lori Burchard, assistant director of Sponsored Programs.

The university’s Sponsored Program Office reviews proposals and submits them on behalf of faculty members’ interests for special funding sources.

President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion recovery plan into law Feb. 17. The three main goals of the Recovery Act are to create and save jobs, spur economic activity and invest in long-term economic growth and foster accountability and transparency in government spending, according to its official Web site,

“Before the Recovery Act, a lot of grants were not being funded completely,” said assistant biology professor Heather Caldwell, one of Kent State’s 16 recipients to date.

Caldwell was awarded more than $200,000 from the National Institute of Mental Health for her research project on how specific hormones in the brain interact with neurotransmitters and regulate behavior. She said the goal of her project is to find better therapeutic agents for those suffering from problems with these neurotransmitter systems and hormones.

Successfully fulfilling two of the Recovery Act’s main goals, Caldwell was able to start her research three months earlier, support a doctorate student as a research assistant and keep a full-time technician on her payroll.

Anthropology professor Maryann Raghanti is doing the same. Before starting three undergraduates and two graduate students in active research, Raghanti was unsure of how long she would have to wait to begin her study on how human and animal brains differ, specifically looking at neurotransmitters and neurodegenerative diseases.

Raghanti’s proposal had been through two rotations, and she feared a third was looming.

“The National Science Foundation had a back log of excellent proposals,” Raghanti said. “The Recovery Act enabled the NSF to fund the majority of proposals in the highest-ranked categories.”

The project receiving the largest reward this year was also a top competitor in the NSF. Professors Laura Leff, Christopher Woolverton and assistant Darren Bade received more than $2 million over a five-year period through the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training project. Their proposal was one of 25 chosen for this year’s funding from universities across the country, after being narrowed down from a group of 400 pre-proposals.

“Our primary goal is to allow new science Ph.D. students to work across disciplines so they can see all the aspects of a research and development project,” Woolverton said.

The project’s members were initially asked to make budget cuts, he added.

“One of the things that we strive for in the program is to come up with things that will transform education,” Leff said. “Some way, 10 or 15 years from now when this is all done, there will be lingering effects that change the way we educate our doctoral students.”

The training grant combines Kent State with Miami University. This year, three graduate students from each campus will participate in the research that uses sensors to find bacteria and viruses in freshwater sources. Each student is in a different area of the science department. The project will teach them how to combine their strengths and then translate findings into the business world.

“I’m just thrilled to be funded,” Caldwell said.

Contact graduate and undergraduate studies reporter Dawn Einsel at [email protected].