Iowa State announces recipients of fall 2017 PIRS research seed grants

By Dana Wilson and Paula Van Brocklin, Office of the Vice President for Research

Four vastly different research projects — from tracking the economic rebound of smaller cities to understanding the role of trust in science communications — have been selected to receive funding in Iowa State University’s fall 2017 Presidential Interdisciplinary Research Seed (PIRS) Grant Program.

PIRS supports the initial development of new interdisciplinary research with the potential to attract external funding. The awards are designed to support high-risk, high-reward projects that help researchers from different disciplines collaborate on groundbreaking research, including collecting research data, organizing research workshops and building partnerships with other research organizations.

Funding for PIRS is provided by Iowa State’s Office of the President and an endowment from the Mary G. Miller estate.

“Iowa State University is committed to developing research breakthroughs that positively impact the state of Iowa, the nation and our world,” said vice president for research Sarah Nusser. “We are confident that the research being put forth by the latest PIRS recipients will continue to do just that.”

The recipients and a brief explanation of their research follows.

Cristina Poleacovschi, assistant professor, civil, construction and environmental engineering: “Resilient Micropolitan Areas: Evaluating Coping Mechanisms After Economic Shocks.” Poleacovschi and her colleagues from computer science, community and regional planning and sociology will use an interdisciplinary approach to study the factors which make micropolitan areas, with a population between 10,000 and 50,000 individuals, resilient when experiencing an economic shock. Measurements of social, physical and institutional capacities will lay a foundation for evaluating and understanding micropolitan resiliency.

Kevin Schalinske, professor, food science and human nutrition: “The Impact of MicroRNAs from Whole Egg Consumption to Reduce Weight Gain During the Onset and Progression of Obesity.” Schalinske will characterize microRNAs, small nucleic acid molecules, and their effect on obesity. By evaluating an egg-based diet in obese and lean rats, this project has the potential to illuminate the ability of encapsulated microRNA to reduce weight gain and body fat through certain properties of foods.

Zengyi Shao, assistant professor, chemical and biological engineering, Center for Biorenewable Chemicals: “The Molecular Hallmark of Epigenetic Control in High-performing Yeasts.” Shao will study three different high-performing, non-model yeasts that have been shown to be resilient in the growth and production conditions preferred in the bio-based chemicals industry. By utilizing a multidisciplinary approach to study these yeasts, Shao will gain a greater understanding of the relationship between non-genetic and environmental factors for their success.

Dara Wald, assistant professor, Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication: “Building the Gap: Understanding the Role of Trust and Credibility in Science Communication.” Wald and her collaborators aim to develop a model of perceptions of scientific trustworthiness and credibility and public acceptance of scientific claims. Wald will use interviews and surveys of scientists and non-scientists involved in three controversial science topics to create and test the model.

Funding for the PIRS program is a maximum $50,000 total per project, over a two-year period. Applications for the next round of funding are due to the Office of the Vice President for Research by Oct. 31.

Additional information and an application for the program is online.