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July 24th, 2009
Texas State prof wins NSF grant

Nihal Dharmasiri.

STAFF REPORT

Texas State has announced that assistant biology professor Nihal Dharmasiri has been awarded a Faculty Early Career Development award by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The CAREER program offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards supporting junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research.

Dharmasiri received the five-year, $550,000 grant for his research in plant growth and development — specifically in relation to the plant hormone auxin.

“Auxin is a very small organic molecule, but it has the great ability to control the whole life of plant growth,” Dharmasiri said.

Dharmasiri added that auxin plays a major role in the regulation and development of plants throughout their life cycle. Many natural and synthetic chemicals contain auxin activity. Some of those chemicals are used as plant growth regulators and herbicides in agro-industry.

The second most prestigious award given by the NSF, the CAREER award makes its recipient eligible for the outstanding Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Dharmasiri received the third CAREER award to be received by Texas State and the first to go to the Department of Biology.

Dharmasiri’s lab work consists of trying to figure out just how the hormone auxin regulates plant growth. What are the genes involved in the hormone response? Dharmasiri wants to identify those genes to help determine their function.

The grant money will go toward undergraduate and graduate salaries, as well as necessary chemicals and supplies for research. In addition, Dharmasiri is planning to encourage high school students to get involved in science and research through summer programs.

“Basically, with this money, we have to make a big impact on education,” Dharmasiri said. “And that’s why we’re trying to reach out to high school students, to make them more interested in science before they come to college.

“So many high school students are afraid of going into science because they think it’s hard,” Dharmasiri continued. “So if we bring them here, they can try doing these things. And once they try it, they might become interested in it.”

Dharmasiri said that he also plans to use the grant for two experimental modules. One module would be introduced in an undergraduate plant physiology class that he’s teaching, and the other would be made for preservice and inservice teachers in collaboration with Sandra West, an associate professor of biology.

“In this way, we can do something for teachers as well,” Dharmasiri explained. “Then, the teachers will be able to go to their schools and teach it to their students, and then we will have a bigger impact of the work we’re doing on education.”

As to his now being eligible to receive the prominent NSF PRECASE, Dharmasiri admits that he does not know what the future will hold.

“If I look at my past achievements and also this one, well, who knows,” Dharmasiri said with a laugh. “But it’s all about the work. What we want is to do a good job for the university.”

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2 thoughts on “Texas State prof wins NSF grant

  1. Great! Anthony Serafini in his classic EPIC HISTORY OF BIOLOGY earlier stressed the need for increased graduate instruction in biology

  2. How Cool!…and Congratulations as well!

    Chalk one up for technology and San Marcos!

    I was lucky enough to have my high school science project (The Effects of Auxins on Plant Growth and Physiology) entered in the Greater Houston Science Fair. It involved injecting soft tissue plants with Indoleacetic Acid, to cause relatively rapid changes in growth direction. In nature, these movements are known as tropisms. Some commonly observed tropisms are phototropism and geotropism, which are plant sensitivity and reaction to light and gravity, respectively. (…and I actually remembered all of that!)

    San Marcos needs to encourage our younger students to have the drive and the courage to pursue science careers, if they are so interested and/or inclined.

    San Marcos also needs to do everything possible to engage the talent pool of Texas State University, and to promote our city’s movement toward being able to offer professional careers and opportunities. This in turn will further stimulate our educational system, and also raise the standard of our regional economy.

    Thank you to professor Dharmasiri for his research, and also for his concern and sense of duty toward our high school students, and their academics. With more points of view such as his, we can put our city where it needs to be, on many scales.

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