National Science Foundation Awards Nearly $2.5 Million to Kent State Researchers

University receives funding for research in biology, physics and the science of liquid crystals

Kent State University faculty members have been awarded nearly $2.5 million in funding from the National Science Foundation for research over the next three years in biology, physics and the science of liquid crystals.

The awards will fund basic research on:

  • How plants respond to environmental stress such as drought 
  • The microstructures of liquid crystals, which are used in electronic displays and other technologies
  • The fundamental substructure of the proton and neutron, the basic constituents of nuclear matter
  • How prenatal exposure to the hormone oxycotin affects aggressive behavior in adulthood
  • Advancing the physical understanding of organic materials used in solar cells

All of the faculty investigators have active roles planned in the research projects for students – undergraduate and graduate students and, in two cases, outreach to area high school students through research internships, science fairs and Upward Bound college preparation.

“Our research strengths at Kent State benefit students, giving them first-hand experience in the lab with our faculty experts and preparing them for careers in which they can carry forward discoveries in science and technology,” said Grant McGimpsey, vice president for research at Kent State. “The success of our faculty in obtaining awards in this competitive funding environment is an indicator of the high quality of their work and its potential impact on society.” 

The projects recently funded and the principal investigators for the awards are:

Edgar E. Kooijman, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences at Kent State, was awarded $324,000 to study “The Secret life of DGPP: Physicochemical Properties and Function of an Enigmatic Signaling Lipid.” This fundamental work on how plant cells respond to environmental stress could ultimately lead to “a new set of tools” for dealing with drought and disease in crop production.

Robin L. Selinger, Ph.D., professor of chemical physics and a member of the Liquid Crystal Institute at Kent State, and Jonathan V. Selinger, Ph.D., professor of chemical physics and Ohio Eminent Scholar at Kent State’s Liquid Crystal Institute, were awarded $375,000 to study “Programmable and Emergent Structures in Soft Matter: Chirality, Polarity and Auto-Origami.” They are studying responsive liquid crystal polymers, a form of plastic that spontaneously changes shapes when heated or cooled. In computer simulation studies, they explore the mathematical relationship between blueprinted structures and the resulting shape change. The materials have potential applications in robotics, touch displays and biomedical devices, among other uses.

Earlier this month, Jonathan Selinger received the Samsung Mid-Career Research Excellence Award from the International Liquid Crystal Society at the 25th International Liquid Crystal Conference at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

Gerassimos G. (Makis) Petratos, Ph.D., professor of physics at Kent State, and Mina T. Katramatou, Ph.D., associate professor of physics at Kent State, were awarded $570,000 to fund their continued research in experimental nuclear physics, focused on work at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab). They are studying the proton and neutron, basic constituents of nuclear matter, looking at the even smaller substructure of quarks and gluons. They also are studying the structure and dynamics of the lightest nuclei in nature, deuterium and helium. Basic experimental nuclear science is steadily advancing our understanding and theoretical modeling of subatomic particles, Petratos noted, leading to technological and medical applications, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Petratos is a fellow of the Nuclear Physics Division of the American Physical Society.

Oleg D. Lavrentovich, Kent State’s Trustees Research Professor of chemical physics and the Liquid Crystal Institute, was awarded $460,000 to continue studying the “Structure and Properties of Twist-Bend Nematic Phase” liquid crystals. Lavrentovich reported the structure of this new type of liquid crystal in the journal Nature Communications last fall. The structure had been predicted theoretically but never before seen. A research group led by Lavrentovich observed the structure using a Cyro-Transmission Electron Microscope at Kent State’s Liquid Crystal Institute. The twist-bend structure allows the molecule to bend and twist in a tilted spiral, causing enormous structural differences with “classic” liquid crystals. Investigating the new structure could lead to the development of new materials. Lavrentovich is the editor of Liquid Crystals Reviews.

Heather K. Caldwell, associate professor of biological sciences at Kent State, was awarded $400,000 to study “Oxytocin and the Ontogeny of Aggressive Behavior.” Her project will look for evidence in early brain development of how a particular hormone, oxytocin, can affect aggressive behavior in adulthood. Learn more.

Barry D. Dunietz, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry, was awarded $326,000 for the project, “Charge Transfer, Injection and Mobility in Organic Semi-conducting Materials: Modeling for Insight on Mechanistic Aspects.” He develops computational models to study how organic materials used in photovoltaics work at the molecular and nanoscale level. The goal is to improve solar cell efficiency.

For more information about research at Kent State, go to

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Media Contacts:
Cindy Weiss,, 330-672-0731
Emily Vincent,, 330-672-8595

POSTED: Sunday, July 27, 2014 04:34 PM
Updated: Thursday, March 23, 2023 11:57 PM
Cindy Weiss