Programs receive grants for research

By Annie Stodola

Along with the development of the William Beaumont School of Medicine and the construction of the Human Health Building, Oakland University has demonstrated its emphasis on science education in the form of faculty research.

Within the past few months, several researchers have received grants from national institutions to conduct research in the scientific fields. One professor who received such a grant is Michael Sevilla, a professor of chemistry at OU. In August, Sevilla received $263,479 as part of a multi-year grant from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Health.

Sevilla’s research group has focused their studies on free radical chemistry of biomolecules. Free radicals, which are highly unstable cells that bond to the surrounding cells, often cause problems in a person’s DNA and are frequently created during radiation treatments for cancer patients.

“My laboratory investigates processes that occur after high energy radiation interacts with DNA at the molecular level,” Sevilla said. “We employ instrumentation that detects molecules which have gained or lost an electron. Our work establishes the processes that lead to the site of the DNA damage.”

As hospitals begin to use ion beams to administer the treatments because they are seen as more accurate, Sevilla’s team is working to see how ionization may affect the creation of free radicals.

“We are now investigating the new mechanisms of formation of DNA damage that include excited states that are also produced by high energy irradiation,” Sevilla said. “We find that excited sates in concert with free radicals greatly enhance the damage to the sugar phosphate backbone of DNA resulting in strand breaks and loss of DNA functionality.”

The grant from the NHI will help sponsor the involvement in this research of two doctors who are doing post-doctoral work, as well as two graduate students and several undergraduate students.

Prior to this grant, Sevilla’s work has also received funding from the National Science Foundation, the American Chemical Association and the United States Department of Agriculture. Sevilla said the USDA was involved with his study of how radiation may be used for the preservation of food. His radiation research was approved, however radiation food preservation tactics are not yet used in the United States.

An additional grant was received by Andrei Slavin, a physics professor who also serves as chair of the Department of Physics. Slavin has received two grants from the National Science Foundation. The first will help fund his theoretical research on the creation of a model generator of microwaves. His theoretical research accompanies experimental research done by a group at the University of California – Irvine. The second grant applies to his research on the development of new artificial magnetic material. This research is part of Materials World Network, which involves work done by researchers from Ukraine, Spain and the United States.

Slavin stresses that although the grant process is especially competitive for theorists – which most of the OU physics department is comprised of – the 10-person department still has done well in the competition.

“The physics department brings in 25 percent of outside research money at Oakland University, or about $2 million a year,” Slavin said. “We’re competing with the best universities in the country.”

The grant money Slavin receives will also go toward hiring students and other important team members for his research.

“If these people are hired from outside, they work with me and the department and develop an opinion of Oakland University,” Slavin said. “We’re spreading the news that we’re fine here and we’re doing better than universities that are three times as large with three times as much money.”

Other grants that have been received by faculty in the OU scientific community include $446,742 toward Dr. Yang Xia’s work in detecting deterioration of cartilage to help detect osteoarthritis; a $299,995 grant to assist in the creation of the Interdisciplinary Research Experience in Electrical and Computer Engineering summer program for students, which is led by Dr. Osamah Rawashdeh, who is an electrical and computer engineering assistant professor; $1,054,638 from the U.S. Office of Naval Research for Dr. Xiangqun Zeng’s work on creating sensors to detect explosive devices; $1,060,410 as part of a five-year grant from St. John Health System to help develop the Riverview Project, which aims to help improve nursing education; and $114,075 to fund the Automotive and Energy Research and Industrial Mentorship Research Experience for Undergraduates program, which the National Science Foundation hopes will attract students – particularly females – to study mechanical engineering.