Several Trinity College faculty members have recently received substantial grants to pursue long-term science projects alongside their students.
Associate Professor of Psychology Michael A. Grubb received an Early Career Development Fellowship (CAREER) from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Additionally, Vernon D. Roosa Professor of Applied Science Susan A. Masino and Associate Research Professor David N. Ruskin received an R15 Academic Research Enhancement Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which also includes a collaboration with the associate professor of neurosciences. Luis A. Martinez.
National Science Foundation Grant
Grubb’s five-year, $470,000 NSF grant supports his research on reward learning, selection history, and attentional control.
“This project advances our scientific understanding of how an observer’s past modulates their attention in the present,” Grubb said. “The educational goal is to develop, deliver, and refine a unique set of educational opportunities: 1) create a data-driven lab course to accompany my undergraduate seminar on Selective Attention, 2) formalize my approach to teaching programming in my research lab by creating a mentorship program in which older students in the lab teach younger students, and 3) creating an on-campus chapter of Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (oSTEM) to promote LGBTQ visibility and inclusive mentorship in support of LGBTQ student retention in science.”
Grubb said his long-term research goal is to advance understanding of the external, internal, and developmental factors that determine the direction of attentional prioritization at any time, in order to better understand the role that attention plays in the perception, action and cognition. . Using behavioral, eye-tracking, and neuroimaging methods, “the research goal of this grant is to test two hypotheses regarding the history of selection, the reflexive prioritization of previously tracked items,” Grubb said.
The CAREER program offers NSF’s most prestigious awards to support early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and advance the mission of their department or organization. “I wanted to apply because the program requires a focus on both research and education, and really trying to tie the two together in a meaningful way,” Grubb added. “It’s a great opportunity – five years to pursue my research ideas, and even better, to embark on this scientific journey with my students. I have a wonderful group of undergraduate collaborators working in my lab, and I’m very excited for all that this grant will bring us.
During the 2022-23 academic year, Grubb will be a lecturer at Trinity’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). This one-year program supports teachers who want to undertake a project of innovation in their teaching and participate in an ongoing conversation about pedagogy. “I’m going to focus on developing a lab course to go along with my attention seminar,” Grubb said. “I will deliver the course annually, making improvements based on feedback from a formal end-of-term assessment that I will develop as part of the CTL project.”
National Institutes of Health Grant
The three-year, $459,000 NIH grant awarded to Masino and Ruskin will fund their continued research into metabolic therapy, this time to modulate brain dopamine systems.
“We’ve had a long-standing research program testing the relationship between the neuromodulatory adenosine and very low carbohydrate diets,” Masino said. “Initially, we focused on basic neurobiology and on epilepsy, autism and pain, but from the start we knew that there were clear interactions between the adenosine and dopamine systems in the brain. This grant proposes to directly test the hypothesis that metabolic therapy with very low carbohydrate diets modulates dopamine-related processes. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter implicated in many behaviors, as well as the effects of drug abuse.
Masino and Ruskin published initial work in collaboration with undergraduate students Martinez and Trinity.
“All of our work involves student researchers,” Ruskin said. “These students learn skills ranging from animal husbandry, handling, and behavioral assessment to small animal surgery and laboratory science, such as performing tests and analyses. Students learn also prepare and present their work as posters both in college and at local and national conferences.Some students earn authorship of major publications.
Ruskin added, “This work is related to my previous R15 grant, ‘Metabolic Therapy for Pain Relief in Women: Ketogenic Diet and the Estrous Cycle.’ The current grant continues this theme of metabolic or dietary therapy.
The NIH is the world’s largest public funder of biomedical research, investing more than $32 billion annually to improve lives and reduce disease and disability. The goals of the R15 program are to support meritorious research, expose students to research, and strengthen the institution’s research environment. The AREA grant specifically supports research at undergraduate institutions.