SF State News {University Communications}

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NSF award to researcher also aids students

July 10, 2008 -- Diana Chu, assistant professor of biology, was awarded the National Science Foundation's CAREER grant, the agency’s most prestigious award for junior faculty who have demonstrated a commitment to excellence in both research and teaching.

The five-year grant of $655,000 will support both Chu's research on the role of proteins in sperm production and an SF State program to improve the writing skills of her graduate students.

The funding supports collaboration with SF State's Learning Assistance Center, which provides skills-based tutoring to students. Graduate students in English tutor graduate students in biology on how to write effective scientific papers and grant proposals, an important skill for their future careers as scientists.

"We already know that this is a great help to our students," said Chu. "Last year, the College of Science and Engineering funded the work of the tutors. The biology students became more confident in their ability to write about their science, and the English students were excited about the challenge of describing cellular biology that everyone can understand." Jonathan Knight, biology lecturer and a former editor at the journal "Nature," is an advisor to the project.

Photo of Diana Chu.

Assistant Professor Diana Chu

"This is what's cool about San Francisco State," said Chu. "You can always find people to help and everyone is always thinking about what's best for the students."

The grant money will also fund laboratory supplies and post-doctoral and graduate student assistants for Chu's research.

Chu's research, which involves collaboration with colleagues at Scripps Research Institute, Yale University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, focuses on the biology of sperm and the causes of male infertility. Earlier research by Chu, published in the journal "Nature," identified evolutionarily conserved proteins critical to the production of healthy sperm.

"The NSF funding will allow us to concentrate on one particular protein variant that is expressed exclusively in sperm," Chu said. "Whenever we remove this protein, the results are a decrease in fertility. We want to find out why."

Chu's work uses Caenorhabditis elegans, a one-millimeter-long worm, as a model since its genome is completely sequenced. "The complex process of making sperm is much simpler in worms than it is in other species," said Chu.

The National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development Grant Program identifies scientists who are early in their careers and who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research.

"Diana Chu exemplifies the purpose of the National Science Foundation CAREER awards and SF State," said Sheldon Axler, dean of the College of Science and Engineering. "We are dedicated to providing students with opportunities to conduct sophisticated science."

Chu is the eighth SF State faculty member to be honored with a CAREER grant in the past eight years. Axler said that this recognition positions SF State among elite research universities, which are the typical recipients of CAREER grants. Only eight other universities in the California State University 23-campus system have received NSF CAREER grants.

SF State's biology department is the largest in the California State University system. It ranks second among all U.S. comprehensive universities whose graduates successfully enroll in Ph.D. programs. Graduates from SF State go on to successful careers as researchers and faculty at internationally recognized biotechnology companies and institutions.

-- Denize Springer


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