Two scientists at the University of Rochester have been awarded Alfred P. Sloan Foundation research fellowships. Todd Krauss, assistant professor of chemistry, and David Pinto, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy and biomedical engineering, are two of 116 award recipients who will receive $40,000 each toward their research programs over the next two years.
Krauss is working to understand the properties of materials with sizes of just a few billionths of meter. Some of his research involves carbon nanotubes, recently created cylinders of tightly bonded carbon atoms that have dazzled scientists and engineers with their seemingly endless list of special abilitiesófrom incredible tensile strengths to revolutionizing computer chips. Krauss, along with other University researchers, recently found that under the right conditions, these nanotubes can produce a narrow and steady photon emission that can potentially make such fields as quantum cryptography and single-molecule sensors a practical reality.
Krauss is also working on methods to detect pathogens using custom-designed loops of DNA that emit colored light in the presence of a specific organismís DNA. A loop-laden chip could be used to detect anything from a bacterium or virus, to the specific DNA of a plant or person.
Another one of Kraussí research interests is in using pieces of semiconductor only a few molecules in diameter for medical purposes. For instance, such semiconductor units, called quantum dots, could be used to sense pathogens like the bacterium E. Coli.
Pinto is using rat whiskers to better understand how the brain processes the sense of touch. The whisker system is well-suited for the study of sensation because with just their whiskers, rats can discriminate texture nearly as well as humans. Each whisker on the ratís face sends information to discrete neuronal circuits in the brain, called whisker barrels. This unique arrangement enables the study of localized brain circuits in a model thatís simple to understand.
Using his strong background in mathematics, Pinto also is looking to uncover the common mechanisms that govern neurological processes, which may lead to new medicines to control aspects of brain function, such as epilepsy or behavioral disorders. The normal, controlled processing of sensory information and the pathological, uncontrolled propagation of epileptic activity both originate in the brainís neocortex. Understanding the function of brain circuits under normal conditions may provide a baseline for restoring the system when things go wrong through injury or disease.
Sloan fellowships are designed to fund young scholars in the early stages of their careers. The foundation has given more than $103 million to 3,900 researchers since the program began in 1955. Twenty-eight former Sloan Fellows have received Nobel Prizes.