National Science Foundation Awards Top $1 Million

Ryan Deuel, June Peoples

Since 2015, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded St. Lawrence University more than $1 million for various faculty-led projects in the sciences. With nearly 40,000 proposals each year, the NSF awards process is highly competitive.

St. Lawrence faculty nearly doubled the number of proposals to the foundation last year, reflecting increased interest in grant seeking across STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. And their efforts are paying off. The University’s growing success rate demonstrates not only the merit of the faculty’s teaching and research, but also their capacity to collaborate effectively with colleagues on campus and throughout the country. Collaboration is particularly important to grant reviewers because projects that extend their reach beyond a single campus or researcher have the potential to broaden scientific discovery and participation in the sciences in a way that leads to even greater outcomes.

Currently, five active NSF awards are funding critical research and program efforts on campus. The newest award of $282,390 will expand current and future research, teaching, and training in the sciences through the purchase of a Nikon C2+ spectral imaging confocal microscope. This microscope will help support the research of 11 St. Lawrence faculty and science professionals in cell and developmental biology, ecology, and evolution. In the true spirit of collaboration, the new instrument will also be made available to other St. Lawrence faculty and students, as well as faculty and students from the Associated Colleges of the St. Lawrence Valley: Clarkson University, SUNY Canton, and SUNY Potsdam.

“St. Lawrence is the only institution in northern New York that offers free access to microscopy resources to all Associated Colleges students and faculty,” says Joseph Erlichman, project principal investigator (PI), professor and a previous R. Sheldon ’68 and Virginia H. Johnson Chair of Science. “The new microscope will impact over 200 St. Lawrence students annually through courses and faculty–student research projects, including over 40
St. Lawrence students immersed in confocal research methods training,
upper-level research activities, or both.”

Aileen o’donoghue, associate professor of physics, received NSF funding last fall to support student research at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico through a collaborative grant among multiple institutions.

Last summer, the NSF awarded the University two separate grants for projects involving research changes in climate. The first was granted to Jon Rosales, associate professor of environmental studies, and Jessica Chapman, associate professor of statistics, to study remote Alaskan indigenous populations, where babies are named after storms to remember those events. Together, with the assistance of student interns, they will generate a storm map by combining birthdates with an analysis of driftwood accumulations to substantiate claims by villagers that storms have intensified over recent decades. Researchers at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks will also support the driftwood analysis. The second climate-related award went to Alexander Stewart, associate professor of geology, who is working with colleagues at the University of Cincinnati to study leaf waxes preserved in lake sediments as a way to determine past precipitation to better understand future changes in precipitation.

The latest of the five NSF grants awarded to St. Lawrence went to Chapman in 2015, providing $618,524 to create a Liberal Arts Science (LAS) Scholars Program. Chapman and her faculty team work with 20 LAS scholars, majoring in mathematics, geology, chemistry, computer science, physics or a non-clinical track of biology. The goal of the project is to strengthen the pipeline of students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue graduate education and careers in STEM fields by providing scholarship and support during their undergraduate years.