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2019 Newsletter Highlights

Link to the complete newsletter 2019 School of Biological Sciences Alumni Newsletter .

Biological Sciences awarded over $1.8 million in NSF support

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the part of government charged with promoting scientific progress in the U.S. across all fields of science. NSF is smaller than the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with a budget of $7.8 billion vs. $39 billion. Thus NSF tends to exclude research that is directly targeted to human disease, but it does support all other areas of biology. NSF and NIH can overlap in their areas of support, especially in the fields of molecular/cellular biology and physiology and good basic research that ultimately informs medicine may be supported by either agency.

A major part of NSF’s mission is to “ensure that research is fully integrated with education” (, a goal that is well aligned with our mission at the School of Biological Sciences. We encourage all of our undergraduate students to pursue mentored original research in a faculty lab, and conversely our research is closely integrated with our courses, in the form of lectures, activities, and lab or field work. This shared value has been increasingly recognized at NSF, as our NSF funding has significantly increased in recent years, peaking in 2018 with $1,879,369 for the school’s research, as well as participation in a $1,771,556 collaborative educational project.

A key feature of successful NSF proposals, beyond their intellectual merit, is their set of “broader impacts” for the benefit of society. ( These impacts include training the future scientific workforce, a major function of the school, but they can also include outreach to the public, generating online resources, enhancing participation in science by underrepresented groups, and other important practical outcomes. These types of broader impacts are usually an inherent part of our research lab activities, and so the fact that NSF recognizes their importance makes us all the more competitive for support. The combined impact of these grants is to strengthen the entire research infrastructure of the school, allowing us to offer the best possible training opportunities to our students.

We asked our 2018 NSF grantees to discuss their projects. Stein lab group Wolfgang Stein, “Extrinsic neuromodulation is a general mechanism to stabilize neural network function during temperature changes” ($495,000). How nerve cells in the brain deal with temperature changes is not well understood. The electrical activity that nerve cells produce relies on a well-balanced flow of ions across the cell membrane. It is this balance that is critically altered by temperature, leading to failures in neural activity and accordingly severe consequences for vitality.

To read more, download the Summer 2019 newsletter from the link above.

Director's message

Craig Gatto Ph.D. Director, School of Biological Sciences

Enrollment in Biological Sciences has grown once again; our total student population exceeds 800, making us the second largest unit in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS). Some of the most successful subdisciplinary programs are the molecular and cellular biology major, which just turned four years old, and the zoology and physiology, neuroscience, and behavior sequences.

We were excited to see the state of Illinois pass a budget in 2017; this enabled us to embark on two national faculty searches, in the areas of microbiology and ecology. Six candidates were brought to campus for seminars and interviews in spring 2018, and we recruited two new colleagues to join the faculty for the 2018-19 school year. Maintaining faculty numbers is crucial, especially given enrollment growth and several retirements in the recent past.

The research productivity of the school remains strong. We once again brought in over $2 million in extramural support, which enabled faculty to mentor over 100 undergraduate and 60 graduate students in their laboratories. These efforts have resulted in over 60 peer-reviewed publications with the majority of these including student co-authors. Additionally, our faculty and students combined to give nearly 100 presentions at national and international scientific conferences last year. Regularly attending scientific conferences is necessary to stay current in one’s field as information that comes out in publication is usually one to two years old the day it is published.

I would like to congratulate Dr. Benjamin Sadd for winning the University Outstanding Research Initiative Award, which is given to the most successful scholars among ISU pre-tenured faculty. In addition, I also congratulate Dr. Laura Vogel for being named the CAS Distinguished Lecturer, the highest honor CAS can bestow on a faculty member.

I would like to thank all the folks who donated to the school in 2018. We are in the middle of a comprehensive campaign at ISU, and these gifts critically contribute to our ability to provide scholarships, as well as support student research and travel. The fact of the matter is that many of the opportunities afforded our students are only possible from the generosity of our alumni. Whether students realize it, most of them have benefited greatly from similar alumni support while they attend ISU.

Please remember, we love to hear from our alumni, so please drop me (or any of us) an email or like us on Facebook, and let us know what you’re up to.

Wishing you much success,

Craig Gatto, Ph.D. Director, School of Biological Sciences