Five University of Michigan researchers have received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor the United States government bestows on scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent research careers.
Christine Aidala and Corinna Schindler of LSA, Joanne Michelle Kahlenberg and Lana Garmire of Michigan Medicine, and Colter Mitchell of the Institute for Social Research each earned PECASE awards.
Established in 1996, the PECASE acknowledges the contributions scientists and engineers have made to the advancement of science, technology, education and mathematics education, and to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education and community outreach.
Aidala is an associate professor of physics who works in experimental high-energy nuclear physics, on the border between nuclear and particle physics. Her research is focused on nucleon structure and quantum chromodynamics, the theory of the strong force. She is particularly interested in spin-momentum correlations inside the proton.
“I am honored to be among the recipients. The award is an important recognition of individuals carrying out cutting-edge basic research in the sciences, leading to the technologies of the future and enabling our modern society,” Aidala said.
Garmire is an associate professor of computational medicine and bioinformatics, with affiliations in biomedical engineering and biostatistics. Her PECASE award was granted for work done as an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, where she was tenured in 2017 before moving to U-M in September 2018.
Her work in translational bioinformatics includes developing computational methods and open-source tools for multi-omics data integration and single-cell bioinformatics, as well as applying them to biomedical and public health context. She has published more than 50 scientific papers and trained more than 40 junior scientists, ranging from undergraduate students to junior faculty.
“This award makes all the hardship in my life look small,” she said. “It propels me to reach for higher scientific summits, despite all the obstacles that I am going through currently.”
Kahlenberg is the Giles G. Bole M.D. and Dorothy Mulkey M.D. Research Professor of Rheumatology, and associate professor of internal medicine. She is interested in understanding how the immune system is “turned on” to cause patients to get sick from their autoimmunity. Specifically, she is studying how sunlight and other factors act as triggers for skin and systemic disease in patients with autoimmune diseases such as lupus.
“This award is a great honor, and it validates the importance of the work we are doing to help patients with lupus and other autoimmune diseases,” Kahlenberg said. “I hope it also encourages patients to participate in our research studies so that we can keep working to find better treatments for them.”
Mitchell is a research assistant professor of family demography in the Center for Human Growth and Development, and a faculty associate of the Population Studies Center and the Survey Research Center, both in the Institute for Social Research.
He examines how social contextual factors such as poverty, parental incarceration, neighborhood characteristics and family processes interact with and influence genetic, epigenetic and neurodevelopmental measures. He investigates how these biomarkers in turn predict later life health and well-being. He also examines methods for novel biomarker data collection in the population-based studies.
“I am deeply honored that the National Institutes of Health, and especially the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, nominated me for the PECASE award,” Mitchell said. “I am extremely indebted to the participants and staff of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study and for my incredible colleagues at the Institute for Social Research for enabling me to conduct this interdisciplinary research linking social, biological and health sciences.”
Schindler is an assistant professor of chemistry whose laboratory focuses on developing new synthetic methods that rely on environmentally benign metal catalysts such as iron. Many industrial processes that provide new and more advanced technologies, medicines and materials use rare metals such as gold, platinum, palladium and ruthenium. The need for rare metals has led to the mining and refinement of increasingly lower grade metal ores via processes that require harsh chemicals and generate large amounts of waste that is detrimental to both the environment and human health.
Recently, Schindler’s lab has developed what’s called a iron-catalyzed carbonyl-olefin metathesis reaction. This approach represents a sustainable, complementary approach to the metathesis reaction that has resulted in profound advances in the petroleum, materials, agricultural, and pharmaceutical industries.
“I am honored to be part of this outstanding group of scientists and deeply grateful to the National Science Foundation for nominating me for this award,” Schindler said. “It is a testament to the hard work and effort of my students and postdocs in the area of sustainable catalysis.”
(Editor’s note: This article has been updated from its original version to reflect the addition of another PECASE recipient.)