Physics Professor Awarded NSF Grant that Provides Research Opportunities for Interdisciplinary and Minority Students
The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded a $300,000 grant to Thorsten-Lars Schmidt, Ph.D., to develop molecular tools that allow researchers to study membrane proteins.
Schmidt, assistant professor of the Department of Physics in the College of Arts & Sciences, began developing this project while still at the Technical University Dresden, before accepting a position at Kent State University.
“Cell membranes that surround all cells contain a large number of membrane proteins,” Schmidt said. ”Without these proteins, cells would quickly die, as they take over a large variety of vital cellular functions including material transport and cellular communication. Membrane proteins are also the target of many pharmaceutical molecules.”
The grant will not only cover the cost for research-related expenses but will also provide research opportunities for graduate, undergraduate and high school students for two years. The project will offer extensive learning opportunities for underrepresented minority groups through several established programs, exposing students to experimental research and potential career opportunities.
Schmidt and his student team will develop molecular tools that are needed to determine the molecular structures of membrane proteins, which are among the least understood components of cells.
“The students are exposed to high-end research techniques. They get a lot of freedom in my lab to explore these projects and to learn,” Schmidt said. “There's a high need for students with an interdisciplinary background, and so there will be great career opportunities for students that have been exposed to research in such an area.”
To better equip students with that broad, interdisciplinary perspective on life sciences, Schmidt will develop an introductory course on single molecule biophysics at Kent State for the upcoming fall semester. Both undergraduate and graduate students with a broader interest in chemistry, biology and physics can enroll in the course (PHY 44600 / 54600).
“Biophysics is a very fast growing and exciting field that all strong research universities offer courses and research in, and I am looking forward to developing a new course here as well,” Schmidt said. “The benefit for students is that this is a very interdisciplinary and novel type of research. Students with such training are in high demand in life sciences, the pharmaceutical industry and many academic research labs.”