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Chemistry faculty member receives prestigious research award from NSF

Citing it as exemplary of Indiana University’s ability to recruit and attract leading young scientists from around the world, Indiana University Vice President for Research Jorge José has recognized five IU investigators for receiving the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for junior faculty.

INDIANAPOLIS -- “The breadth of their work -- spanning four schools and five departments on two campuses -- speaks to Indiana University’s ability to identify, recruit and welcome the leading young teacher-scholars of this generation,” José said. “It is also a clear reflection of IU’s history of building the foundations necessary for nurturing lifetimes of leadership in education and research.”

The Faculty Early Career Development Award, known as the CAREER Award, identifies junior faculty members with the ability to integrate education and research. So every award includes an educational or outreach component that allows the investigator to possibly connect with students at every level of formal education, from grade school to graduate students working on dissertations.

With funding spread out over five years, this year’s winners to date (more could be named later in the year) reflect individual awards ranging from over $2.2 million to an expert on interactions between social identities and group memberships to $455,000 to a theoretical mathematician whose work reaches into physics and quantum computing. Cumulatively, the awards total over $4.4 million for the five.

“These awardees are representative of a young, diverse faculty that present a clear picture of a future that bodes well for Indiana University,” José said.

School of Science CAREER Award winner:

Lei Li, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis 

The National Science Foundation awarded Lei Li $650,000 to investigate DNA damage and repair related to ultraviolet light in endospore-forming bacteria that are responsible for a number of serious diseases in humans, including anthrax and botulism.

Two endospore-forming bacterial strains, Clostridium botulinumand Bacillus anthracis, are Category A bioterrorism agents. The unusual tolerance of endospore-forming bacteria to high-dose UV irradiation arises from the action of spore photoproduct lyase (SPL) -- a metalloenzyme that repairs the "spore photoproduct" dithymine DNA lesion. The research will evaluate spore photoproduct repair in different DNA local environments and reveal the detailed reaction mechanism.

Understanding how SPL repairs DNA UV damage will help scientists develop inhibitors to prevent the damage repair process. The ultimate goal of this research, which begins receiving CAREER funding in May, is to establish the SPL mechanism, leading to novel decontamination means against deadly spores.

(Courtesy of IU Communications)