Emory leads state in sponsored research

Emory was the top research university in Georgia in external sponsored research for fiscal year 2004. Of the three major research universities in the state, Emory brought in $352 million, a 10 percent increase from last year; Georgia Tech brought in $342 million; and the University of Georgia brought in $228 million.

"This is actually a fantastic compliment to our faculty, schools, and units, as well as our post-docs, fellows, and students," says Frank Stout, vice president for research. "Emory continues to make its name and science known within the nation and the world, which means we’ll continue to be able to attract additional support."

The Woodruff Health Sciences Center, which includes the schools of medicine, nursing, public health, and Yerkes National Primate Research Center, received $328.9 million, or more than 93 percent of the University’s total external research funding.


Increasing transplant tolerance
The American Society of Transplantation has awarded Christian P. Larsen, Carlos and Marguerite Mason Professor of Surgery and director of the Emory Transplant Center, the 2004 Roche Basic Science Award. Larsen’s specialty is finding ways to increase the body’s tolerance of transplanted organs. 

Hope Clinic receives $2.2 million
The Hope Clinic of the Emory Vaccine Research Center has received a contract of about $2.2 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct clinical trials of promising topical microbicides to prevent HIV.

Vaccine expert honored by CDC
The CDC honored Walter A. Orenstein, former director of the National Immunization Program, with the Charles C. Shepard Lifetime Scientific Achievement Award. Orenstein is director of Emory’s Program for Vaccine Policy and Development, and associate director of the Vaccine Research Center and the Southeastern Center for Emerging Biologic Threats.













































































































Exploring the frontiers
of physics in outer space

In certain physics experiments, gravity can pose quite a problem.

"On earth, particles are heavier than liquid. Over time, they sink and become more concentrated," says Associate Professor of Physics Eric R. Weeks. "The sedimentation effect can kill you."

Weeks (below) studies colloidal suspensions–microscopic plastic particles placed within a flowing liquid–as a model to better understand one of the remaining mysteries of science: When is the exact moment that a liquid becomes a solid and not just a slow-moving liquid? This pivotal instant is known as the "glass transition."

A gravity-free environment would provide more favorable conditions for carrying forward his research, Weeks concluded, so he wrote a grant proposal to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. "NASA has had really good luck with flying experiments like this on the space shuttle," he says.

Not only did NASA approve the grant, but on May 4, Weeks and three other scientists nominated by the agency received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on outstanding scientists and engineers early in their careers. Fifty-seven scientists and engineers were honored in all.

The NASA nominees were selected from investigators in its science programs who have proposed "exceptionally meritorious, innovative research in areas that will benefit NASA’s understanding of the earth’s systems, the solar system and the universe, the exploration and development of space, or the development of advanced astronautics and space technologies."

"We are thrilled to honor these promising researchers, and we certainly will look to them to lead the way for NASA’s future scientific and engineering endeavors," said NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe.

Weeks, whose research is more routinely conducted in his earthbound lab in Cherry Logan Emerson Hall, also studies various "squishy" substances that exist at the intersection between solid and liquid, such as hair gel, foam, and salad dressing. These experiments have attracted media attention–Weeks was on National Public Radio in January speaking about the texture of food.

His work has potential applications in everything from beauty products to heavy machinery.

"Why don’t the small bubbles drift upward in hair gel?" Weeks asks. "What causes shaving cream to flow differently than toothpaste? Why does mayonnaise act both like a liquid and a solid? How does the texture of butter change when you take out the fat? How do you make a longer-lasting industrial lubricant?"

Donning a pair of 3-D glasses, Weeks examines an image captured by the lab’s state-of-the-art confocal microscope–an optical microscope hooked to a laser, which can peer deep inside substances and provide a three-dimensional movie of their flow.

"We kind of understand atoms, crystals, why water freezes, chemical bonds," he says. "But the glass transition, no one understands. It’s all one very big conjecture right now."–M.J.L.



For most of us, the sound of birds singing serves as a happy, tranquil soundtrack to time spent outdoors.

But for Assistant Professor of Psychology Donna Maney (below), bird song is one piece of a fascinating neurological puzzle, and she hopes to gain a deeper understanding of its place among the various regions of the brain.

“Songbirds possess a talent rare among non-human animals: the ability to learn complex vocalizations,” Maney says. “The system of brain regions that controls the learning and production of song has become perhaps the most popular model for studying the neural basis of a complex learned behavior. Despite this popularity, few researchers have investigated how the song system is connected to and affected by brain regions outside it.”

While humans might assume that birds simply sing when they’re happy or content, the way cats purr, they actually sing only in very specific social contexts, Maney explains–generally courtship and territorial behaviors. She means to discover how the song system interacts with the parts of the brain that influence social behavior in general, such as motivation and arousal.

“I’ve always been interested in how the brain works–studying behavior and neurobiological processes almost feels like a selfish occupation, because of course I learn a lot about my own brain,” Maney says. “In college I became very interested in the evolution of behavior, especially communication. A professor . . . allowed me to do a small project on songbirds in his lab. I did a lousy job (I was afraid to touch anything in the lab), but I fell in love with the research and continued to study songbirds throughout my graduate and postdoctoral work.”

Maney, who joined the Emory faculty in 2002, recently received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty and Career Development Award of more than $500,000, which will fund her songbird research for the next five years. These highly sought-after and competitive awards are given to researchers who not only show tremendous promise in their fields but also develop innovative techniques to incorporate into their teaching.

Maney plans to place special emphasis on writing in her courses, asking students to write and rewrite papers about their scientific research and discoveries. Last fall she taught a class on hormones, brains, and behavior that met the Emory College requirements for a writing-intensive course; in the spring, she taught a class in behavioral neuroscience that included the study of bats, owls, crickets, dolphins, and of course, songbirds.

“My goal is to engage students as participants in the field of neuroscience, so I encourage them to write as scientists, for scientists,” Maney says. “In my writing course, students spend a lot of time reading journal articles written by scientists and learning to write in a similar style. Many students arrive with the assumption that this style of writing is colorless and dry and that their own creative tendencies will be stifled by it. Over the course of the semester, however, most students realize how wrong that assumption is. The best scientists are passionate about their work, and this comes through in their writing.”

One of Maney’s students made a remark last year that made her particularly proud: “A scientific paper can unfold as eloquently as any piece of fiction.”–P.P.P.



© 2004 Emory University