4-VA@Mason has opened calls for Collaborative Research Grant (CRG) proposals for the 2021-2022 academic year. The grants are designed to facilitate and support alliances which leverage the strengths of each partner university to improve efficiencies in research and higher education.
“The 4-VA Collaborative Research Grant program provides our Mason faculty an opportunity to bring to life a research endeavor that will benefit our students, higher education, citizens statewide, and audiences beyond,” explains 4-VA@Mason Campus Coordinator Janette Muir. “This CRG program provides faculty with seed money to develop proposals and hypotheses with an eye toward improving research competitiveness in the state and winning subsequent major, federal grants for the projects.”
Since the premiere of the Collaborative Research Grant program at Mason in 2013, more than 65 4-VA CRG projects have been funded, covering a range of topics throughout schools from humanities to the sciences. Previous grant subjects have included increasing food sustainability in the state; testing the antibacterial activity of computationally designed antimicrobial peptides; redesigning a core course on the history of higher education; and accelerating the discovery of novel polar thermoelectric materials.
Successful proposals will incorporate collaborations with faculty from at least one other 4-VA partner school; opportunities to engage undergraduate and graduate student researchers for real-world experience and growth; and plans for the dissemination of research findings statewide or nationally.
The Collaborative Research Grants are just one segment of a greater 4-VA mission to identify and boost efficiencies in educational design and research. Now in its 10th year at Mason, the 4-VA program also supports Course Redesign, Shared Courses, and Degree Completion.
While the portal to accept proposals will open March 1, interested faculty can view the application, review associated policies and procedures, as well as read previous successful proposals by visiting the 4-VA@Mason CRG Grants page.
4-VA@Mason is offering ten $4,000 grants to support faculty interested in developing and piloting alternative assessment strategies for online learning. The goal of the effort is to examine student evaluation practices and help bolster student engagement, encourage academic integrity, and reduce tendencies toward academic outsourcing. To ensure broad representation from all disciplines, proposals for the grants are encouraged from all ten colleges within the university.
The grants are being offered under the direction of The Stearns Center, which will provide 1:1 instructional design support for the accepted proposals.
“When we pivoted to remote learning in March, through the Instructional Continuity Working Group, we quickly heard that faculty were struggling with academic outsourcing and other integrity challenges,” said Charles Kreitzer, Executive Director of Online Operations. “Through these grants, we want to work together to develop strong, tested models for assessment.”
The proposals are due November 20. The planned timeline builds out the assessments in the spring, with pilot programs running in the summer and fall. From there, each program will go through data analysis to closely examine impact before they are introduced for use.
“One of the pillars of our mission at 4-VA@Mason is to identify and grow innovative ideas in teaching and learning,” explains 4-VA Campus Coordinator and Associate Provost Janette Muir. “This effort to reimagine online assessment practices clearly supports that goal.”
For more information, contact your school’s Instructional Continuity Working Group representative.
Of the 21 iterations of the definition of the word ‘scale’ in the Oxford Dictionary, one is particularly applicable to the latest 4-VA grant project “Scalable Molecular Dynamics;” that is: “the full range of different levels of people or things.” This definition illustrates both the scope of the research and the collaborators involved in the effort.
While orchestrating a variety of other projects and programs at Mason’s Center for Simulation and Modeling (CSM) located in the College of Science, lead PI Dr. Estela Blaisten-Barojas took on one more when she applied for and received the 4-VA grant. Blaisten-Barojas was interested in undertaking a serious study of predictive computational and simulation-based approaches in chemical and materials sciences combined with engineering approaches. This study is central to finding innovative solutions for environmental pollution, healthcare, sustainable energy resources, global warming, and ways of fighting terrorism, crucial to both Virginia’s and the nation’s competitiveness in science and engineering.
To launch and deliver “Scalable Molecular Dynamics” a full-throttled balancing act was necessary, Blaisten-Barojas called in her colleague Dr. Robert Handler from the Mechanical Engineering department at Volgeneau and Dr. Eric Weisel, Executive Director, Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center (VMASC) at Old Dominion University, a 4-VA partner school. Then, she added a number of talented students, including Gideon Gogovi, Scott Hopkins and James Andrews, to her 4-VA team. Each brought countless hours of research to the project – enhancing both the collective mission and their personal portfolios.
Blaisten-Barojas was interested in testing computational techniques for scaling up various aspects of a molecular simulation in which a large molecule is solvated or flows in a viscous solvent. Specifically, they studied the atomistic behavior of the polymer polyacrylamide, or PAM. This polymer, when immersed in gel-type solvents, is used for the separation of proteins, an important component in bio detection.
The team’s research identified several interesting and notable characteristics regarding the structure and energetics of PAM in implicit and explicit solvents – as team members studied the chain shape and the diversity of coiling and twists of the polymer in the various solvents. The researchers noted closely the changes in shape from an elongated spaghetti string to a more football-like object. Importantly, based on what they learned, they were able to make some scaling up predictions about how big structures can grow. This new understanding is valuable for efficiently controlling the performance of devices based on molecular components.Once the project got moving, the full range definition of scalability was set in motion. In fact, the simulations were so complex that they reached the maximum allowed in Argo, Mason’s centralized research computing cluster.
Already, two conference presentations have been made based on the research – a talk and a poster at the recent American Chemical Society (ACS) Mid Atlantic Research Meeting; two journal papers are in submission.
Blaisten-Barojas notes that although the research, results and dissemination have been gratifying, it was the new-found relationship with the VMASC which capped the full range of different levels of people and subjects concept. “This is a very important first step,” Blaisten-Barojas notes. “We now know who they are and they know who we are. I know that if they see possibilities in some of their initiatives, they will knock on our door first and we will do the same.”
Like any cutting-edge research team, the undergrad and grad students assembled in Dr. Geraldine Grant’s molecular and cell biology lab at George Mason’s Science and Technology Campus knew that in order for their project to be successful they needed a few things to break their way. Specifically, for their 4-VA grant “Prognostic Noninvasive Biomarker Investigation of Induced Sputum and Peripheral Blood in IPF” (Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis), they would need a lot of science, a touch of luck, a drop of art, and more than a little bit of help from their friends.
Their goal was ambitious: Identify biomarkers that would help track the diagnosis and progression of the disease as well as the efficacy, if even detected, of medical treatment. The goal would be a tall order for this difficult-to-diagnose and difficult-to-treat lung condition which affects more than 200,000 people in the U.S alone.
IPF is a progressive, fatal lung disease that is survived by few patients three to five years after diagnosis. With IPF, patients experience severe scarring (fibrosis) of the lungs for an unknown reason. Over time, the scarring gets worse and it becomes difficult for the patient to take in a deep breath and inhale enough oxygen to fill the lungs.
Long-time Grant Lab member and part of the initial team writing the 4-VA@Mason proposal, Dr. Luis Rodriguez explains, “Diagnosing IPF is a difficult task. Most of the time, diagnosis is simply a continuing series of elimination testing. Doctors back into the diagnosis because it was determined that it’s not A, B, or C.” What’s more, Rodriguez points out, “The disease can present in a number of different ways and the only standard for diagnosis confirmation is a sample from the lungs, but through that, the patient is at critical risk.”
However, tackling the diagnosis was just a part of the Grant lab challenge. Treating the disease can also prove problematic, as it can progress slowly or rapidly and the efficacies of treatment are difficult to determine. With few therapeutic options, little to no systematic tracking of treatment, and a wide range of patient responses to said treatment, the work was cut out for the team.
First, they needed data, and a reliable stockpile at that. Their objective was to get a large sample of patients suffering with the disease and to extract RNA. The next step would be to correlate the RNA with the current status of each patient’s disease, which included precise measurements of two important criteria: 1. How they breathe in and out, and 2. How far they can walk in six minutes.
That’s when they called on their first partner in the grant project, Northern Virginia’s INOVA Hospital and Dr. Steve Nathan. INOVA has long been a recognized care and treatment center for IPF and has a history of successful lung transplants for IPF patients. Through INOVA, the Grant team wanted to build that necessary data set to track, if possible, the measurements of disease progression. Nathan and the clinic were all in.
With a base of 40 patients in Nathan’s province, the Grant team got to work – monitoring, measuring and capturing data. The process was long and tedious, and they encountered their share of difficulties. One such roadblock meant refining mitochondria sensors in the patient blood samples measuring changes in oxygen that, in turn, captured the progression of the disease and the effectiveness of the treatment. Their perseverance paid off, however, with a statistically significant reliable data set. (Which, Rodriguez points out, continues to grow and provide valuable information.)
Their next task, then, was to analyze said data in a meaningful and productive way. That’s when they called in their second partner Dr. Norou Diawara, of the Math Department at 4-VA partner school Old Dominion University. Diawara has vast experience and expertise in the field of Biostatistics, which fit the bill for the Grant project.
All efforts paid off with noteworthy results, as the research identified gene signatures that indicated what patients responded to treatment and those that didn’t – a giant leap forward in their medicine.
What’s more, Rodriguez notes, is that the initial grant has spawned a cadre of further opportunities including OSCAR undergraduate students continuing the analysis of the data set, and grants submitted to NIH, as well as to NSF for a grant on the biology of mitochondria. The project has also been featured in several poster presentations. One such notable presentation was at the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation Summit in September, a convocation of the leaders of research and treatment of Pulmonary Fibrosis, where the poster ranked in the Top 10.
“The 4-VA grant got this ball rolling,” concludes Rodriguez, “and we’ve progressed a long way from the start of this effort. However, I can see this initial research continuing to produce important results for years to come.”
Open Educational Resources (OERs) are freely-accessible teaching, educational, and research materials that either exist in the public domain or are available to users via an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing. These resources include complete online courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, assessment tools, and software. They provide people worldwide with access to quality education and the opportunity to share, use, and reuse knowledge.
Mason’s Open Educational Resource Metafinder
In conjunction with Deep Web Technologies, University Libraries has developed a search engine that simultaneously queries a number of open educational resource sites. In addition to well-known OER repositories like OpenStax or Merlot II, our Metafinder also searches HathiTrust, DPLA, Internet Archive and other sites where valuable open educational materials may be found.
Although search targets are added regularly our OER Metafinder searches sixteen sites in real time, returning the top 250 or so hits from each site–in seconds.