$2 million in basic science research grants awarded

Rising faculty members at six Pennsylvania universities get support through Pittsburgh Foundation’s Charles E. Kaufman funding

Posted: Aug 10, 2015

PITTSBURGH, Pa., Aug. 10, 2015 -- The Charles E. Kaufman Foundation, one of The Pittsburgh Foundation’s charitable entities, today announced this year’s grants awarded through its annual competition to support basic research. Nearly $2 million will go to cutting-edge scientific research at universities across Pennsylvania.

A total of ten grants were awarded to leading researchers at six universities: Carnegie Mellon, Duquesne, Pennsylvania State University, Lehigh, Ursinus College and the University of Pennsylvania.

Now in its third year of the awards program, the Kaufman selection team received 241 letters of intent from 33 academic institutions for its two award categories, New Investigator Research and New Initiative Research.

The developer of the program was Charles Kaufman, a respected chemical engineer who built his fortune in retirement through astute investing, much of it in drug and science-based enterprises. When he died in 2010 at age 97, his $50 million estate transferred to The Pittsburgh Foundation. The Charles E. Kaufman Foundation was established with $40 million to support new research initiatives at Pennsylvania institutions of higher learning in chemistry, biology and physics. His foundation is widely respected as one of the few major funding sources for basic scientific research.

Kaufman entrusted his fortune to the Foundation to realize his heartfelt ambition that research support would one day result in Nobel Prize-caliber scientific accomplishments that would contribute significantly to the betterment and understanding of human life.

“This is very exciting grant making, not just because of its size, but because it is realizing the vision that Charles Kaufman had: creating a sustainable funding stream for fundamental scientific research,” Maxwell King, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation said in announcing the grants.


The Charles Kaufman Fund will host an inaugural symposium celebrating the awards on Sept. 18 and 19 in Pittsburgh.  Previous grant awardees from 2013 and 2014 will attend and present results of their research findings and participate in networking opportunities.  Dr. Stephen Benkovic, who holds the Evan Pugh Professorship and Eberly Chair in Chemistry at the Pennsylvania State University will be the keynote speaker for the event.

In describing the program, Dr. Graham Hatfull, the chair of the seven-member Charles E. Kaufman Scientific Advisory Board, said the focus is on identifying promising new investigators. “We can jump-start their careers at a critical juncture, helping them to leverage additional funding for their research efforts.” Hatfull is the Eberly Family Professor of Biotechnology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh.

“The Kaufman grants also create an opportunity for established researchers to work in a team environment often with peers from other scientific disciplines to open up new areas of research,” he said.

The Kaufman board approved grants to seven initiatives in the New Investigator Research category and three in the New Initiative Research category.

In the New Investigator Research category, grants of $150,000 over two years ($75,000 per year) were awarded to each of the following:

-- Maya Capelson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Pennsylvania for research on “The Nuclear Pore as a Novel Scaffold for Spatial Genome Organization”

-- Mark Chen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, Lehigh University for research on “Development of Molecular Biradicaloids for Organic Electronic Materials”

-- Theodore Corcovilos, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Physics, Duquesne University for research on “Experimental quantum emulation of two-dimensional topological insulators and Majorana fermions using ultra-cold atoms”

-- Matthew Good, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Pennsylvania for research on “Building synthetic cell-like compartments to investigate the impacts of cell size and shape on intracellular function”

-- Amish Patel, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Pennsylvania for research on “Uncovering the molecular basis for ice recognition by thermal hysteresis proteins”

-- Jennifer Round, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Ursinus College for research on “Interaction of psychiatric risk factor Ankyrin-G and Slitrk2 in excitatory synapse formation”

-- Nathan D. Gemelke, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Physics, Pennsylvania State University for research on “Quantum measurement and back-action manipulation of many ultra-cold atoms”

In the New Initiative Research category, grants of $300,000 over two years ($150,000 per year) were awarded to each of the following:

-- Justin Khoury, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Physics & Tom Lubensky, Christopher H. Brown Distinguished Professor of Physics, University of Pennsylvania for research on “New approach to Dark Matter”

-- Andrea J. Liu, Ph.D., Hepburn Professor of Physics, Benjamin L. Prosser, Assistant Professor of Physiology & Dennis E. Discher, Robert D. Bent Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Pennsylvania for research on “Mechanical signaling in early hearts: theory and experiment”

-- Brooke M. McCartney, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Jonathan Minden, Professor of Biological Sciences & N. Luisa Hiller, Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University for research on “Mind-altering bugs: Dissecting the gut-microbiome-brain connection using a multidisciplinary approach in Drosophila melanogaster

Summaries of all grants and funded research projects are available at: http://kaufman.pittsburghfoundation.org/Awards.

Further information on the Charles E. Kaufman Foundation is available at its website at: http://kaufman.pittsburghfoundation.org/.

For further information contact:
Christopher Whitlatch, Manager of Marketing and Communications
The Pittsburgh Foundation
412-394-2620
whitlatchc@pghfdn.org

 
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