Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute Awards Research Grants

Hannah Fuchs

The Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute announced research grants to Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Jonathan Levine and Associate Professor of Biology Krista Ingram for their respective projects. The Institute supports research endeavors that are interdisciplinary in nature and that seek to address and answer new scientific questions.

Levine’s project has been granted $30,000 to work with colleagues at the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado on the development of a novel kind of mass spectrometer that will be capable of flying to Mars on a future rover mission and determining the ages of the rocks it encounters there. 

“We already have a prototype instrument working at theSouthwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado,” Levine said. “The technique that our spectrometer uses is called ‘laser-desorption resonance ionization mass spectrometry,’ allowing us to determine the energy masses of certain atoms there. The research looks into the basic physics of how the multiple lasers we must use for desorption, resonance and ionization interact with the atoms whose masses we are trying to determine.”

Levine will conduct this research in part at Colgate in Ho Science Center, and in part at the Southwest Research Institute. He is spending his faculty leave this current semester in Boulder to work on the spectrometer prototype.

The research project reflects the aims of Picker Institute research because of its interdisciplinary approach; it simultaneously integrates physics, geology and astronomy. While Levine is a physicist, each of his colleagues contributes a different expertise to the project.

“The Picker Institute is a wonderful resource for us at Colgate, because interdisciplinary work often isn’t recognized by funding agencies that are more narrowly focused on work within a single field,” Levine said. “It is very unusual for a four-year college to have a role in a spaceflight mission or even in the development of a spaceflight instrument. We’re still at the instrument development stage, and our participation in NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is far from assured. Nevertheless, one day in the not-too-distant future, I hope to be getting regular installments of data back from Mars to my lab at Colgate.”

The Picker Institute also awarded $120,000 to Ingram’s project examining the influence of circadian rhythms and gene-environment interactions on human task performance and risky decision-making.

“Even small disruptions in circadian timing (jetlag or daylight savings time changes) can lead to declines in performance (e.g. traffic accidents or lower stock market returns), yet little is known about whether the associations found in human performance and circadian rhythms have a genetic basis, are influenced by the environment, or both,” Ingram said.

Ingram, along with colleagues Associate Professor of Decision Sciences at INSEAD Business School in Singapore Neil Bearden, Clinical Professor of Management and Organizations at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University Allan Filipowicz and Organizational Behavior and Human Resources Professor at the IE Business School in Madrid Kriti Jain, will begin research this summer and plan to complete the project by the summer of 2016. Genetic analysis will take place here at Colgate and the sampling and psychological tests will be done at the Johnson Business School at Cornell and the INSEAD School of Business in Singapore and France.

Like Levine’s research, Ingram’s also takes an interdisciplinary approach characterized as “sociogenomics.” The project employs both psychology and biology to determine the molecular basis of circadian rhythms and the effect of these rhythms on human behavior.

“The Picker Institute provides an extraordinary opportunity for Colgate faculty (and students) to explore novel, exciting, interdisciplinary ideas at the cutting edge of research,” Ingram said. “It is very difficult to obtain funding for non-traditional or innovative projects that span fields outside of a single researcher’s field of expertise.”

The Picker Institute grants also benefit the Colgate student body, as the projects present opportunities for student collaboration. Levine will look for a few Colgate students to work with him on the project in the summer of 2015. Ingram has included funding for a number of Colgate students through summer and in-semester research and her research tutorial students will be involved in the project as well.

Contact Hannah Fuchs at [email protected]