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BYU's 2013 NSF CAREER Awardees

  • Clinton Whipple, Biology
  • Jessica Purcell, Mathematics
  • Bradley Bundy, Chemical Engineering
New NSF CAREER awardees earn more than $1.2 million in grant money

Three of BYU’s youngest and brightest faculty members have been awarded the most prestigious award handed out to young faculty in the nation.

Chemical engineering professor Bradley Bundy, mathematics professor Jessica Purcell and biology professor Clinton Whipple have each received the National Science Foundation CAREER award.

The awards, totaling more than $1.5 million, recognize junior faculty across the nation who are outstanding teachers, scholars and researchers. The awards generally support five years of research, and programs of education and outreach for local public schools.

Ramping up the building blocks of life

Chemical engineering professor Brad Bundy not only received the NSF CAREER award this summer, but he’s also received the prestigious DARPA Young Faculty Award. Dr. Bundy plans to use the awards to research methods to introduce new amino acids into proteins.

“Proteins are predominantly made from just 20 amino acids that serve as building blocks,” Bundy said. “If trillions of chemical reactions occur from the combination of just 20 amino acids, what would happen if we could economically and reliably include new amino acids? We want to find out.”

Bundy, who came to BYU’s Chemical Engineering Department four years ago, also recently received a grant from the National Pork Board to develop vaccines against agro-bioterrorism threats. The three awards give Bundy nearly $1 million in research funding.

To leaf or not to leaf, that is the corny question

Biology professor Clinton Whipple will use his NSF grant money to better understand one of the most important crops in the world: corn.

His project will include identifying the genetic mechanisms that determine when leaves grow out on a corn stalk. (Leaves grow when corn plants are in the growth phase, but they stop growing during the reproductive stage. Thus, corn stalks have a tassel at the top.) The hope is that a clearer understanding of leaf development will inform efforts to improve corn productivity.

Whipple’s corn research includes the discovery of a gene function that may have helped transform a wild grass into modern-day corn. The study appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Plus, and can be read here.

Diagraming the shape of the universe

Mathematics professor Jessica Purcell is no stranger to prestigious honors. Her NSF CAREER comes two years after she was awarded a Sloan Research Fellowship – an honor given to only 20 mathematicians nationwide.

Purcell will use the NSF grant to continue her research of three-dimensional spaces called three-manifolds, which includes the space of our universe.

“These spaces appear in physics, mechanics, microbiology and chemistry, and we need to better understand their mathematical properties,” Purcell said.

Purcell’s NSF-funded project, like those of Bundy and Whipple, will provide ample opportunities to provide mentored research for both undergraduate and graduate students. All three professors will also use the funding to assist in outreach and education for the public school system.