UMass physicist named Cottrell Scholar for fluorescence microscopy of microtubule motor proteins

Jennifer L. Ross, a physicist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has been named a 2010 Cottrell Scholar, one of the most prestigious fellowships for early career faculty in the sciences. 

Ross was chosen on the basis of her peer-reviewed research proposal, "Studies of Microtubule Intracellular Highways: Building Bridges between Physics and Biology." This year’s selection was very competitive, with only 12% of proposals receiving funding, according to the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) in Arizona, who gives the awards.

Ross’ Cottrell project involves research on single molecule imaging of microtubule motor proteins.

"These nanoscale proteins shuttle materials and organelles throughout all your body’s cells," says Ross. "These active motility processes are most important in very long cells—like nerve cells—where goods and materials made or recycled in the cell body need to be transported a long way [up to 1 m in nerves connecting your toes to your spine] to be used at the end of the axon. Defects in transport are related to neuromuscular diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease. We are interested in dissecting how nanoscale traffic jams could stop transport inside cells. We study these motors one at a time using fluorescence microscopy that can see single proteins."

Along with providing funding for Ross' research, the Cottrell Award will support an interdisciplinary optics course that she created as well.

"My course is designed to give students a basic understanding of optics design and construction principles, so that they can take these skills to their own research," says Ross. "The course has an extensive laboratory section where groups of students design and build an optics microscope out of component optics pieces. The Cottrell Award will enable me to purchase two more experimental set-ups so that more students can take the class."

Given by the RCSA, the awards recognize leaders in integrating science teaching and research at leading U.S. research universities. They also represent admission to an exclusive group of scholars—now about 240 in total—who have been singled out for leadership in combining teaching and research: a pressing priority for a nation that seeks to perpetuate its history of scientific preeminence in the face of ever-increasing global competition.

The honor carries an award of $75,000 to support Ross' research and teaching. She and the other 10 Cottrell Scholars will be publicly recognized in the journal Science.

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Posted by Lee Mather

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