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The Magazine of The College of Sciences


UTSA students showcase their research at State Capitol in Austin

UTSA seniors Erin Josserand and Ann Reyes took their research on the road to participate in Texas Undergraduate Research Day, held February 14 at the State Capitol in Austin. The event, themed “Transforming Texas through Undergraduate Research,” included more than 140 Texas undergraduate students representing approximately 50 universities and colleges.

Josserand, an Honors College student majoring in biology and minoring in mathematics, was nominated to represent UTSA at the event by her faculty research advisor David Senseman, associate professor of biology and a member of the UTSA Neurosciences Institute. Josserand conducted her research through the Undergraduate Mathematics and Biology (UMB) Scholar Program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation


Reyes, double-majoring in biology and mathematics and minoring in chemistry and computer science, was nominated by her faculty advisor Janakiram Seshu, associate professor of microbiology and a member of the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases. Reyes is supported by the MBRS-RISE (Minority Biomedical Research Support- Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement) program.

The students participated in an open forum featuring more than 80 research posters. Josserand presented a poster describing her neurobiology research on the spiral waves found in a turtle’s visual cortex. The research included the use of a computer model of the turtle brain to see what processes occur at the cellular level to produce such interesting wave forms.

Reyes presented a poster describing her research on the microbiology and microbial pathogenesis of Lyme disease. She researched the polyamine transport system of the microbe that causes Lyme disease to determine whether the system is needed for the pathogen to survive in a host environment.


Brady McMicken Awarded Research Fellowship

Doctoral student Brady McMicken was UTSA’s first student to be awarded a fellowship with the Consortium Research Fellowship Program. The program provides research opportunities at the Air Force Research Laboratory, which is designated as a US Department of Defense research facility, and is a national leader in laser and spectroscopy research applied to biophysical problems.

McMicken’s research examines the structure of proteins and how that structure changes under the influence of various types of visible light. This research has potential applications in developing light-based therapies to treat cancer. The best part of the fellowship, McMicken said, is having access to all the tools both laboratories offer.

Through the program, students become acquainted with working in federal settings and receive training from working industry experts in their areas of interest. The fellowship also offers a stipend based on each fellow’s progress and degree for as long as the fellow advances in his or her research and coursework. This stipend, equivalent to working part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer, offsets costs associated with a graduate program, including travel to conferences.


Sheila Pritchett Joins Cohort of Teaching Fellows

Sheila Pritchett ’07, biology, was named as a Woodrow Wilson Indiana Teaching Fellow who, along with a cohort of 80 others, will enter an innovative teacher preparation programs at one of four Indiana universities.

Pritchett will receive a $30,000 stipend to complete a special intensive master’s program at one of the four partner universities, and then she will teach for at least three years in a high-need urban or rural school in the state of Indiana

The program attracted 505 applicants from Indiana, as well as former Hoosiers and residents of neighboring states. All finalists were screened by a group of Indiana-based selectors, who observed sample teaching, conducted personal interviews with the candidates, and reviewed applications and writing samples.

Pritchett graduated from UTSA in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in biology, and recently worked as an academic lab technician at the Indiana University School of Medicine.


Mitra Miri Awarded $182,500 in Graduate Fellowships

Mitra Miri

Alumna Mitra Miri ’08 was admitted in 2009 to the Yale University interdepartmental neuroscience program, a highly competitive graduate program that accepts only a handful of new students each year. In the past several months, Miri has received two grants totaling $182,500 to support her graduate studies.

Over the next three years, she will receive $122,500 from the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship program, which offers competitive funding to graduate students in the United States and abroad.

Miri also won a three-year, $60,000 Ford Foundation Diversity Fellowship, one of 40 awarded annually. The Ford Foundation predoctoral fellowship program encourages diversity in higher education by supporting promising American students from diverse backgrounds, with $20,000 annual stipends for their graduate studies. Fellows are chosen based on academic achievement and commitment to a scholarly career incorporating diversity in the classroom

In 2008, Miri graduated with honors, earning a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in political science. Ultimately, she hopes to build an academic career in science policy and translational research.


Alumna Receives Two Major Honors

Shirlyn B. McKenzie, Ph.D., who earned her M.S. degree in biology from UTSA, has received two prestigious awards: the TIAA-CREF Distinguished Medical Educator Award and the Member of the Year Award from the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS).

McKenzie is the first woman and second non-physician winner of the TIAA-CREF award. The statewide award honors outstanding medical education professionals in Texas whose work and educational contributions have set a standard of excellence in the medical community and contributed on a national and international scale to the field.

McKenzie also was named the ASCLS Member of the Year. She has been a longtime, active member of ASCLS, serving as chair of the scientific assembly, member of the board of directors and president.

Recipients are selected based on lifetime contributions to the ASCLS and to the profession, including participation in clinical laboratory science honor organizations, professional honors achieved and work that promotes clinical laboratory science in the community.


Manuel Berriozábal Honored for Teaching

Manuel Berriozabal

Mathematics professor Manuel P. Berriozábal was honored by The American Society for Cell Biology with the Bruce Alberts Award for Excellence in Science Education.

The award recognizes his contributions to preparing minority junior high and high school students for careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) though the San Antonio Prefreshman Engineering Program (TexPREP), which he established at UTSA 30 years ago.

Berriozábal is hesitant to take credit for PREP’s success. “Thanks to the many years of its dedicated and competent faculty and staff, and support from its benefactors, PREP is recognized as an intellectually challenging quality educational program that prepares middle school and high school students to excel in college and to successfully pursue careers in science, engineering and other professional areas,” Berriozábal said. “I am very proud of our PREP graduates, whose leadership and contributions are helping build a better society.”


Floyd Wormley Named Youngest President of Association

Floyd Wormley

Floyd L. Wormley Jr., Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, was named on an Express- News list of San Antonians poised to make a big impact in 2010. Wormley was t

The impact he has made in the field of medical mycology, a subspecialty of microbiology and infectious diseases that deals with fungal infections, has been appreciated both at local and national levels. As an active researcher and member of the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, Wormley has rapidly made significant contributions to the profession of medical mycology. Elected at the age of 38, Wormley is the youngest president in the history of the Mycological Society of the Americas, the leading professional organization for mycology researchers in North, Central and South America.

Wormley’s primary interests involve using the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans as a model organism to study host-fungal interactions for the purpose of developing novel immune therapies, anti-fungal drugs, and vaccines to treat or prevent invasive fungal infections. He employs stateof- the-art technologies in areas of immunology, proteomics and fungal genetics.


Doug Frantz Wins Young Investigator Award

Doug Frantz

Doug E. Frantz, assistant professor of chemistry, received the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund’s 2010 Young Investigator Award of $450,000 over the next three years to propel his medicinal chemistry research program.

This is the first time a UTSA researcher has received the award, which recognizes promising medical research underway by a San Antonio assistant professor who has the potential to positively impact patient care in one of five key areas of medical research: heart disease, cancer, arthritis, muscular dystrophy, or macular degeneration of the retina

In the area of heart disease, Frantz is working to identify molecules that will nudge adult stem cells to grow into new heart muscle cells instead of generating scar tissue after a heart attack. In brain cancer, his research involves the discovery of new molecules that will turn cancerous stem cells into normal benign neurons.

“The research we are conducting in the laboratory is perfectly aligned with the broader issues of treating cardiovascular disease and cancer by combining stem cells and medicinal chemistry,” said Frantz. “I am extremely grateful to the trustees of the Voelcker Fund for recognizing the potential of this research and generously supporting my laboratory’s research program.”


Dakai Zhu Receives $400K NSF CAREER Award

Dakai Zhu, assistant professor of computer science, received a five-year, $400,000 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the NSF to research how multi-core processors can be used to develop smart car technology.

The CAREER award goes to junior faculty members who embody the role of teacher and scholar by integrating teaching excellence with outstanding research. Zhu is the fifth faculty member in the UTSA Department of Computer Science to receive the award.

Zhu will study ways to ensure that each processor in a multi-core system completes its required tasks in the proper sequence and amount of time.

Examples currently on the market include vehicles that parallel park themselves or warn their drivers of an obstacle. The technology also is used to control anti-lock brakes and fuel injection systems. Zhu, however, envisions that research like his will contribute to the development of the ultimate smart vehicle, one that will drive itself while properly navigating obstacles or detecting the distance to another car to help avoid collisions.


Ashlesh Murthy Named Emerging Scholar

Ashlesh Murthy

Ashlesh Murthy, research assistant professor of biology, was named one of a dozen emerging scholars under the age of 40 in Diverse Issues in Higher Education. Murthy, a medical doctor by training and the first graduate student to receive a Ph.D. in Biology from UTSA’s Cellular and Molecular Biology program, is one of a trio of San Antonio researchers working with Merck and Co. to develop and commercialize a vaccine to prevent chlamydia infection.

Murthy’s research focuses on the pathogenesis of Chlamydia trachomatis, the bacterium that causes chlamydia. In the United States alone, nearly 2.3 million people are infected with chlamydia, which is most prevalent among those in the 14-39 age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Each year, Diverse Issues in Higher Education profiles a dozen young scholars from around the country who are making their mark through teaching, research and service. Honorees are chosen based on their research achievements, educational background, publishing record, teaching record, and the competitiveness and uniqueness of their field and areas of study.


Three Chemists Receive Funding from Welch Foundation

Cong-Gui Zhao Cong-Gui Zhao

Funding over the next two years will help develop more effective chemical reactions to assemble important compounds and materials.

Cong-Gui Zhao, associate professor, will receive $130,000 to improve the way chemists make organocatalysts, carbonbased molecules used to speed up chemical reactions. Traditionally, chemists make organocatalysts from scratch, a time-consuming and laborious process. Zhao, however, will design and produce precatalyst modules that will self-assemble when mixed. By developing a series of chemical building blocks, Zhao will create a chemical assembly line, reducing the time and labor it takes to develop a series of effective catalysts for a given chemical reaction.

Through $100,000 in support from the Welch Foundation, Associate Professor Banglin Chen will carry out research on the self-assembly of new metal-organic porous materials for gas storage, gas separation and other chemical processes. Chen’s research team has already developed and patented porous materials for commercial acetylene storage, separation and removal. Acetylene is used in plastic production, welding and metal cutting. Over the next two years, the researchers will focus on how the metal ions in porous materials recognize and interact with various types of gases with the goal of developing functional porous materials for gas storage and separation.

The remaining Welch Foundation funding will support Assistant Professor Doug Frantz’s research on allene synthesis. Allenes are an important class of molecules that serve as the building blocks for various compounds, including new drugs and biologically active natural products. Using hydrogentransfer processes, Frantz’s research team will provide chemists with a practical and powerful tool to synthesize allenes for academic and commercial use.


Miguel José Yacaman honored at American Physical Society

Miguel Jose; Yacaman

Miguel José Yacaman, UTSA professor of physics and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy received the John Wheatley Award. Presented by the American Physical Society with support from the Forum on International Physics, the award recognized Yacaman for his work in the field of physics throughout Latin American countries.

Given every odd year at the general meeting of the American Physical Society, the award recognizes a physicist who has made an outstanding contribution to the development of physics in a developing country by working with local physicists in research or teaching.

For seven years, Yacaman has directed the International Center for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (ICNAM), which promotes partnerships between scientists and engineers in Mexico and the University of Texas System. His laboratory has hosted numerous graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from Mexico and other Latin American countries, and Yacaman believes the experience benefits all parties involved.

Hard work is important, Yacaman said, but higher education opens doors that hard work alone cannot. He hopes to instill that value in his students at UTSA.


Sciences dean elected as member of Mexican Academy of Sciences

George Perry, dean of the UTSA College of Sciences, was elected as a corresponding member of the Academia Mexicana de Ciences. He is one of the world’s leading Alzheimer disease researchers, specifically in the area of oxidative stress. Perry has been studying the disease and its effects on the brain for more than 30 years, and is the most prolific and sixth-most cited author of scientific papers in Alzheimer disease in the world.

With more than 2,000 total members, the academy only has 82 corresponding members, ten of whom are Nobel laureates. Corresponding members are researchers who are recognized in their field who also have contributed in some way to the development of research in Mexico.

Perry is also a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, among the world’s most prestigious neuroscience groups, and has multiple ties to the science in Latin America. In 2009 he was elected a Foreign Correspondent Member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences, and this year has received the National Plaque of Honor from the Republic of Panama Ministry of Science and Technology.


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