Thanks to High Point University’s stellar faculty, high-level scientific research is frequently being conducted on the HPU campus. This research is receiving national attention while providing students with incredible learning experiences that will benefit their future careers. Below is a sample of grants that HPU faculty have recently been awarded in support of their research.
$412,000 NIH Grant – Chemistry
Faculty in the Wanek School of Natural Sciences have been awarded a nearly $412,000 Academic Research Enhancement Award from the National Institute of Health through its General Medical Sciences Institute. This is the first NIH grant awarded to HPU’s Department of Chemistry, and the first AREA grant awarded to HPU. Drs. Heather Miller, associate professor of chemistry, and Meghan Blackledge, assistant professor of chemistry, will use the funding to continue to investigate the enzyme Stk1, a novel drug target in the bacteria, MRSA. The grant provides funding to support 11 undergraduate students to participate in research over the next three years. They will research how Stk1 functions promote antibiotic resistance and biofilm formation in MRSA.
The NIH grant will allow Miller and Blackledge to develop these small molecules into more potent inhibitors and use those to expand their studies into Stk1. They hope to use their molecules to learn more about other proteins that Stk1 interacts with and find new pathways that it may control. This information will provide insight that can be integrated into novel therapies to treat MRSA infections and will provide a roadmap for studying similar enzymes in other medically relevant bacteria.
$299,500 NSF Grant – Chemistry
Drs. Pamela Lundin, Andrew Wommack and Meghan Blackledge, all assistant professors of chemistry, received a $299,500 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrumentation program. The grant money supported the purchase of a 400 MHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer to continue undergraduate research in HPU’s new Wanek School of Natural Sciences. The NMR spectroscopy is one of the most powerful tools available to chemists to determine the structure of molecules.
NMR spectroscopy allows chemists to examine the structure of unknown molecules and to confirm what kind of molecule they formed in the lab. With this new technology, Lundin continues her research in conjugated polymers, which are conductive plastics. These materials can be used to build bendable smartphones, tablets and flexible portable solar chargers.
$172,000 NSF Grant – Chemistry
Dr. Andrew Wommack, assistant professor of chemistry in the Wanek School of Natural Sciences, was awarded a $172,000 grant from the Chemistry of Life Processes Program within the NSF’s Division of Chemistry.
This grant will support nine HPU undergraduate research students as they investigate biochemical signaling related to how peptides and proteins use disulfide bonds. Characterizing these intricate chemical mechanisms is important to better understand exercise-induced stress, cellular function during aging, and stages of disease. In addition to inventing new chemical methods for exploring how disulfide bonding affects biological processes, Wommack’s project directly impacts the training of undergraduate research students.
In August 2018, Dr. Wommack joined a $418,000 grant from the NSF in collaboration with Dr. Leslie Hicks, assistant professor of chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill and Dr. Sorina Popescu, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Mississippi State University.
The project focuses on how plants react to internal and external stressors to maintain and adapt their physiology on a cellular and biochemical level. Using chemistry, cellular biology, and whole plant analysis, the interdisciplinary team is uncovering how plants recruit biochemical responses to environmental challenges. The potential impacts of these fundamental investigations will contribute to our understanding of how native plants and food crops survive changing climate and ecology.
$350,000 NSF Grant – Astrophysics
The National Science Foundation, through the Division of Astronomical Sciences, has awarded Dr. Brad Barlow, assistant professor of astrophysics, nearly $350,000 to investigate the effects that small objects, like planets, might have on the future evolution of stars similar to the sun.
Barlow’s research focuses on small stars known as “hot subdwarfs,” which are formed when a red giant has its outer layers removed by gravitational interactions with a nearby companion. Working with other astronomers at the University of Potsdam in Germany, he and the team have recently found evidence some hot subdwarfs are orbited by low-mass stars, brown dwarfs (failed stars), and possibly even planets. This grant will help Barlow and his students further explore the full impact of small objects on how a star changes over time and whether they can survive engulfment by a red giant.
Barlow will use the grant funds to attend and present research results at national and international conferences, hire a full-time, post-baccalaureate student to help with research and pay several HPU undergraduates to conduct research part-time during the semester and full time during the summer.
$528,107 NIH Grant – Physical Therapy
Dr. Kevin Ford, director of the Human Biomechanics and Physiology Laboratory, secured a $528,107 National Institutes of Health grant (NIH), the largest in HPU’s history. The grant, in conjunction with Dr. Jeff Taylor, assistant professor of physical therapy; Dr. Yum Nguyen, associate professor of athletic training; and Drs. Mark Paterno and Bin Huang from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital will research over the course of three years how different training programs impact ACL injury risk in females.
He also received a $200,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct athletic injury prevention research. His research focuses on how growth spurts during puberty may contribute to the risk of knee injuries in young female athletes. Dr. Ford also has a separate research partnership with Adidas.
Drs. Kevin Ford, Yum Nguyen and Jeff Taylor oversee a separate study funded by Adidas that provides local high school football players with free cleats. The athletes test and complete questionnaires about the footwear throughout the football season.