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Three Penn State researchers receive scientific grants from Kaufman Foundation

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03 August 2017

The Charles E. Kaufman Foundation has selected three Penn State researchers to receive scientific grants: James Marden, Scott Medina, and Mikael Rechtsman. The foundation awarded eight grants to scientists at institutes of higher learning in Pennsylvania who are pursuing research that explores essential questions in biology, physics, and chemistry, or that crosses disciplinary boundaries.

James Marden, professor of biology, and Scott Medina, professor of biomedical engineering
James Marden, professor of biology, and Scott Medina, professor of biomedical engineering

James Marden, professor of biology, and Scott Medina, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, received a New Initiatives Grant, which fosters interdisciplinary collaboration by supporting research that takes a novel approach to address fundamental scientific questions. Marden and Medina will investigate how newly discovered lectin proteins interact with sugar molecules on cancers cells. These proteins – developed from genes identified in a tropical rainforest – inhibit cancer cells in unusual ways, and lab evidence to date suggests they do not noticeably compromise healthy cells. Variation among these proteins may counteract common cancer cell mutations that cause resistance to treatment. In addition to their therapeutic potential, lectin proteins may provide biochemical tools to identify glycans – sugars that can affect human diseases if altered – on cancer cells. Using proteins to understand glycans could reveal potential new targets for therapy.

Mikael Rechtsman, assistant professor of physics
Mikael Rechtsman, assistant professor of physics

Mikael Rechtsman, assistant professor of physics, received a New Investigators Grant, which provides support to innovative basic scientists at the beginning of their careers. Rechtsman will investigate whether a unique phenomenon regarding the physics of solids in two dimensions applies to four dimensions. The quantum Hall effect describes electrons in a two-dimensional plane that, when cooled to near absolute zero temperature and immersed in a magnetic field, have a conductivity that is incredibly resistant to change. Rechtsman will use ‘synthetic dimensions’ to explore the effect beyond the three-dimensional universe by observing the flow of photons – light particles – in a synthetic material called a ‘photonic crystal.’ This set-up is mathematically equivalent to having extra spatial dimensions.

“Charles Kaufman recognized the potential of scientists, particularly those at the beginnings of their careers, to achieve breakthroughs in the core scientific disciplines of biology, physics, and chemistry and where those fields intersect,” said Maxwell King, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation, which supports The Kaufman Foundation. “His bequest demonstrates the importance of fostering a culture of scientific innovation and interdisciplinary research.”

The Kaufman Foundation is a supporting organization of The Pittsburgh Foundation, which works to improve the quality of life in the Pittsburgh region.

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