Saint Michael's receives $200,000 grant from NSF for collaborative research project

Saint Michael's College Professors Joanna Ellis-Monaghan and Greta Pangborn.
Photo credit: Andy Duback

September 8th, 2010
Principal Investigator, Professor Ellis-Monaghan of Grand Isle, and co-principal investigator Dr. Greta Pangborn, SMC assistant professor of computer science, of Winooski, have been awarded a three-year National Science Foundation grant of $200,000 for the period from September 1, 2010 through August 31, 2013.
"With this support, we'll be able to explore math questions that have never been raised before," said Dr. Joanna Ellis-Monaghan, Saint Michael's College associate professor of mathematics, "and those are the interesting questions."
"This NSF grant allows us to continue the collaborative work between math and computer science of designing nanoconstructs, with student assistants, that has the potential for wide practical application," Dr. Ellis-Monaghan said.
The professors, who have been collaborating for several years now, will involve four, funded, research assistants, who are Saint Michael's students: Mary Spuches, a junior math major from North Syracuse, N.Y., Thomas Dickerson, a sophomore computer science major from Bristol, Vt., Christopher Lessard, a sophomore mathematics major from Stoneham, Mass., and Kelsey King, a sophomore mathematics and education double major from Lyndonville, Vt. These, and other students, will work on the project over the course of the three-year project.
Awarding of this grant was enhanced by the strong track record these professors and others at Saint Michael's have in propelling their students into post-graduate studies. Professors Ellis-Monaghan and Pangborn have co-authored a number of journal articles with students, and they have now or have had former students pursuing advanced math- and CS-related degrees at RPI, UNH, Colorado State, UVM, Notre Dame, NC State, Dartmouth, WPI, Johns Hopkins, the University of Chicago and elsewhere.
The NSF funded project titled, "Collaborative Research: New Graph Theory from and for Nanoconstruct Design Strategies," focuses on using mathematics and computers to design nanoconstructs to carry out practical jobs in the future. These could be applied to such tasks as directing medicines within the body to precisely the right location for effective drug delivery, or any number of other challenges in chemistry, biology and other areas.
Nano (tiny) technology has great promise for biosensors, nanoelectronics (inside high tech equipment), biomolecular computer activity, as well as drug delivery.
DNA self-assembly of nanostructures
"Recent research has focused on DNA self-assembly of nanoscale geometric constructs," Professor Ellis-Monaghan said, because DNA replicates itself. Working with biologists, the mathematicians and computer scientists have developed a variety of three-D structures from self-assembling DNA, including cubes, octahedrals, buckyballs, and even tiny boxes with opening lids.
One essential element in the process is designing the molecules needed for the nanostructure, the fewer needed the better the design. The NSF grant specifically supports the professors and their students in developing the tools needed to minimize the number of molecules to be created for a given nanoconstruct. Professor Ellis-Monaghan says the potential for putting these constructs to practical use are boundless. In the meantime, she and Professor Pangborn and their student assistants will forge ahead in developing the necessary tools.
Source: Saint Michael's College. 9.8.2010

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