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Three Penn State researchers awarded research grants by the Kaufman Foundation

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23 October 2018

The Charles E. Kaufman Foundation—a supporting organization of The Pittsburgh Foundation, which works to improve the quality of life in the Pittsburgh region—has selected three Penn State researchers to receive scientific grants: Jun Zhu, Chaoxing Liu, and Joseph Cotruvo, Jr. The foundation awards 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.

New Initiatives Grant

Jun Zhu, professor of physics, and Chaoxing Liu, associate professor of physics, received a New Initiatives Grant for research on "Direct evidence for non-Abelian anyons in an interferometer." Grants in the New Initiatives category are awarded to teams examining questions that are beyond the capacity of any one scientific discipline and which require researchers to have a novel approach to the topic in question.

Jun ZhuZhu is an experimental physicist who focuses on the electronic properties of structures just above the atomic scale and in the nanometer range. She studies the behavior of electrons in graphene, a single sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice, as a possible route to the discovery of new, fundamental physical phenomena in low dimensions. Zhu is also interested in exploring the unusual properties of electrons in exotic quantum wires formed at the boundaries of two-dimensional sheets. Her research methods include the use of scanned probe microscopes and resistivity measurements at very low temperatures.

Zhu is a member of the American Physical Society and a past recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Career Award.

Prior to joining Penn State in 2006, Zhu was a postdoctoral scientist at Cornell University from 2003 to 2005. She received a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Science and Technology of China in 1996 and a doctoral degree in physics in 2003 from Columbia University.

Chaoxing LiuLiu is a theorist in condensed matter physics whose current research focuses on a large variety of topological states of matter, including topological insulators, the quantum anomalous Hall state, topological crystalline insulators, and topological superconductors. In particular, he is interested in the relationship between symmetry and topological states, as well as the interaction effect in topological physics. Liu’s group combines theoretical studies with advanced computational approaches and collaborates closely with experimental groups. He is also interested in searching for new materials with exotic properties that may have applications in electronic devices.

Before joining Penn State’s Eberly College of Science, Liu was a postdoctoral researcher with an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship at the University of Wuerzburg in Germany. He also has served as a visiting researcher at both Stanford University and Hong Kong University in China. Liu received a doctoral degree in physics and a bachelor’s degree in fundamental science from Tsinghua University in China in 2009 and 2003, respectively.

New Investigator Grant

Joseph Cotruvo, Jr.Joseph Cotruvo Jr., assistant professor and Louis Martarano Career Development Professor of Chemistry, received a New Investigator Grant for research on "Illuminating transition metal homeostasis in pathogenic bacteria through fluorescent sensors." New Investigator grants are awarded to scientists transitioning to independent appointments and are meant to empower promising scientists at the beginning of their careers.

In his research, Cotruvo uses chemical biology, biochemistry, and cell biology to investigate metal ions in cells. He and his laboratory team employ an array of techniques—including enzymology, protein engineering, microscopy, spectroscopy, and genetics—to develop new molecular sensors to better understand how disease-causing bacteria acquire and manage essential metals like manganese and iron, with the goal of discovering new antibiotic targets. His lab also studies mechanisms by which certain bacteria can use rare earth elements (lanthanides), in order to develop new methods to detect and harvest these technologically important elements from the environment.

Cotruvo was named the Louis Martarano Career Development Professor of Chemistry at Penn State in 2016. His lab’s research has been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Prior to joining the faculty at Penn State, Cotruvo was a Jane Coffin Childs Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley from 2012 to 2016. He earned a doctoral degree in biological chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellow, in 2012 and a bachelor's degree in chemistry at Princeton University in 2006.

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