BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Two University at Buffalo physicists and one
engineer have received the National Science Foundation's (NSF) most
prestigious award for junior investigators, bringing nearly $1.5
million in new research dollars to Buffalo.
The NSF CAREER award recognizes and supports the activities of
early-career faculty members who are outstanding teachers and
researchers. Peihong Zhang and Wenjun Zheng, assistant professors
of physics, received awards in 2010. Sheldon Park, an assistant
professor of chemical and biological engineering, will receive
funding starting this February.
"The CAREER award is a major honor that recognizes the excellent
research and teaching these young faculty members have done to
date," said Alexander Cartwright, UB vice president for research.
"The recognition and funding will position professors Park, Zhang
and Zheng for further success in their research and education
careers. The award process is extremely competitive, and having
three awardees this year demonstrates the excellent quality of our
Zhang, an assistant professor of physics, is using $450,000 from
the NSF to support computational and theoretical research that will
enable more accurate and efficient calculations of how
semiconductors and nanostructures produce and interact with
This work will help the scientific community better understand
the fundamental properties of materials and exploit their full
potential in energy-related applications such as solar cells and
To increase the reach of his work, Zhang plans to create a
web-based, interactive tool that will enable researchers to
visualize various solid-state properties. This project will be
incorporated into the successful Physics and Art project in the
Department of Physics at UB, which targets both physics students
and the general public to promote physics education.
Zheng is receiving $610,000 from the NSF to support research on
kinesins, a class of molecular motors whose movements help drive
cellular functions including cellular divisions and intracellular
transport. Just several nanometers across, kinesins are the
smallest-known molecular motors.
Zheng will use novel computer modeling techniques to investigate
important movements of kinesins, working with a team of experts to
test modeling predictions using state-of-the-art experimental
techniques. The goal is to create a powerful computational
framework for efficient and realistic modeling of a variety of
biomolecular systems. He will disseminate new computer modeling
tools and results through an online database available to
researchers around the world.
Park will use $400,000 from the NSF to engineer and study the
characteristics of high-affinity, high-specificity peptide
inhibitors of the Erk-2 kinase, which plays a role in cell
development, proliferation and malignancies.
Park's research aims to design peptide and protein inhibitors
that regulate kinase activity more effectively than small molecule
drugs, reducing unwanted side effects and minimizing resistance to
treatment. The ability to better target the activity of specific
kinases should yield better therapeutics for genetic diseases
caused by overactive kinases.
Park, Zheng and Zhang also will engage in a variety of education
and outreach activities to raise awareness about their fields of
inquiry and train a new generation of scientists. Projects include
the creation of new college courses in the faculty members' areas
of expertise; the development of training programs for high school
students; and public presentations.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.