Biology Professor wins Prestigious NSF Grant

Posted on February 6, 2017 by Arts and Sciences
Arts and Sciences

I just couldn’t believe it when I got the letter,” said Dr. Glen Borchert, speaking about his grant award from the National Science Foundation. “I applied never expecting to actually receive the funding, but this is a huge step for students in my lab and for my career.”

An Assistant professor in the Department of Biology for the past two years and a graduate from both the University of Tennessee and University of Iowa, Borchert teaches Genetics and Computational Genetics. He is one of two USA recipients and the first in USA’s Biology Department awarded a grant through the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program for Computational Genetics.

The grant, totaling over $532,000 and spanning over a five year period, is the most prestigious award offered by the foundation and is presented to professors to help them to continue their research and expand knowledge in the fields of science. NSF recipients are typically individuals or a small group of investigators. Other awards, like Borchert’s, provide funding to scientists, engineers and students for research centers, instruments and facilities. In his favorite class, Computational Genetics, Borchert and his undergraduate students are researching how to better understand microRNAs, tiny molecules regulating the body and controlling up to 30 different types of genes. Each is important to basic cell function and, according to Borchert, there are thousands yet undiscovered in our bodies. The opportunity for undergraduate students to conduct research and contribute their findings into a published academic article is typically one they would not have until graduate school.

“This is great for my students,” Borchert said. “The opportunity to publish findings is a great experience for them in the world of science.” With respect to his application, Borchert highlighted his and his students’ work with microRNAs and the process he takes them through for scientific publication in his grant application. There were 40 applicants who submitted proposals for the type of grant Borchert received. Many of these applicants were from elite schools such as Harvard and Stanford. Borchert’s research with microRNAs and his inclusion of undergraduate students in his project made for an impressive application.

With the NSF award, the university was presented with $369,000 for use in the first three years, and as Borchert verifies significance in his research, the additional funds will be divided over the last two years. Currently, he has installed a fully functional tissue culture lab for his students and added a computer lab to the Life Sciences Building. Moreover, additional funds have provided extra graduate assistantships in the department. The grant is big step for Borchert and for his students’ future as they are able to contribute to these projects. Borchert has big plans for the remainder of the grant and knows it will provide great opportunities for the department, his students and himself. “Ultimately, I want to be a researcher for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the largest philanthropy project in the world, and this is a huge step towards that goal,” he said.

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