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Continuing the Sequence: Another Chemistry Prof Earns NSF CAREER Award

George Stan and his research on molecular dynamics of proteins garner $660,644 in funding by the National Science Foundation.

Date: 1/24/2010
By: Kim Burdett
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Photos By: Dottie Stover, photojournalist
Like amino acids strung together to form a protein, George Stan is another strand in a sequence of Department of Chemistry faculty to become a recipient of the National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award.

George Stan.
George Stan, seen here with a student, received funding from NSF to study mechanics of proteins.

“CAREER: Computational Modeling of Biological Nanomachines – Protein Unfolding and Translocation by Clp ATPases” is a $660,644, five-year grant given to Stan for his work in computational biophysical chemistry.

“This is really the most important recognition that a junior faculty can aspire to,” Stan says. “I’m really happy that it has happened and I’m really proud to be a part of this long string of CAREER awardees in the chemistry department in the past 10 years.”

U.S. Representative Steve Driehaus welcomed the announcement from the NSF.

“This announcement is great news for the University of Cincinnati, as well as for greater Cincinnati. The university carries out critical research in cutting-edge fields and is a true asset to our community,” Rep. Driehaus announced in a press release.

Using computer simulations, Stan aims to elucidate the kinetic and thermodynamic requirements for the unfolding and translocation of proteins—processes that ultimately assist protein degradation.

“This project is really the first systematic computational study of protein unfolding using Clp ATPase nanomachines,” Stan says. “We hope to uncover the operating principles of these nanomachines.”

Clp ATPases help with the maintenance of vital cellular functions by threading proteins through a needle—recognizing, unfolding and translocating the substrates through a narrow channel to enable protein degradation.

George Stan.
Stan is one of seven chemistry faculty to earn an NSF CAREER Award in the past decade.

By pinpointing the effect of Clp ATPases on the protein substrates, Stan and his research group hope to further explore the mechanisms that carry out such crucial cellular functions—an area of interest with wide implications.

Another research project in Stan’s lab, modeling of protein folding assistance by chaperonin molecules, is funded by the American Heart Association.

“Quality-control pathways—including protein folding assistance or protein degradation—are essential for correct functioning of the cell; they touch on every type of cellular action,” he says. “Research in my lab is highly relevant to all biomedical areas of research as well as to the fundamental biology of the cell.”

Because the CAREER award includes an educational aspect, Stan has formed a partnership with two historically black colleges, Fisk University and Central State University, to help improve physical chemistry education for underrepresented students. Stan will establish a course to introduce students to computational sciences and molecular modeling, and will provide research experience opportunities for them.

Stan is excited about the educational aspect, noting how important his students’ work is to his research.

“None of these successes would have been possible without the contributions of my students who are hardworking, talented and ambitious,” Stan says. “I’ve also received a lot of mentoring from senior faculty in the department who are serving as role models.”

As one of four chemistry faculty to receive an NSF CAREER Award in less than a year, Stan is doing his part to make an individual effort a success for the entire department.

“It’s a very competitive environment,” he says with a laugh. “But I’m very happy to be a part of it.”

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