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Chemist Jen Heemstra wins Cottrell Scholar Award

University of Utah chemist Jen Heemstra has won a Cottrell Scholar Award aimed at early career physical scientists committed to excellence in research and undergraduate teaching.

Feb. 24, 2015 – Jennifer Heemstra, an assistant professor of chemistry, has won a Cottrell Scholar Award of $75,000 – a prize aimed at early career, physical sciences faculty who are committed to excellence in research and undergraduate teaching.

“In addition to funding for my research program, I’m very excited that this award provides the opportunity to become a long-term member of the Cottrell Scholar community, which is dedicated to pursuing innovation and change in science education,” Heemstra says.

Heemstra is among 15 new Cottrell Scholars. To win the award, she submitted research and education proposals.

The research proposal focuses on developing new methods to fluorescently label RNA in cells without disrupting its structure or function. RNA is critical to translating the genetic instructions in DNA into proteins to carry out nearly every function in a living organism. Working with Julie Hollien, an assistant professor of biology, Heemstra wants to develop tools to understand the patterns and ways RNA “localizes” to particular places within living cells. Disruption of RNA localization patterns have been tied to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases, and other disorders.

The centerpiece of Heemstra’s teaching proposal is her Advanced Chemical Biology Lab course for undergraduates. The students undertake a group research project with the goal of publishing the results in a peer-reviewed journal.

The Cottrell Scholar Awards are given by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, founded in 1912 by scientist-entrepreneur-philanthropist Frederick Gardner Cottrell. The corporation says the Scholar Awards are aimed at creating “a culture shift in research universities towards valuing the teacher-scholar model,” attracting more undergraduates to science and retaining them, and increasing the number of undergraduates who pursue graduate degrees.