RU-N Scientists Take Home NSF Early CAREER Award

Two scientists from Rutgers University-Newark recently took home the prestigious early CAREER award from the National Science Foundation.

Chemistry Professor Jenny Lockard and Biology Professor Jessica Ware were awarded a combined $1.5 million over the next five years to pursue advanced research projects and mentor Newark high-school teachers and students along the way.

Lockard was awarded more than $600K to study a new class of porous materials called metal-organic frameworks, which may one day help stem the tide of global warming by filtering carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from industrial emissions.

“This NSF award will be instrumental to our work,” says Lockard. “It enables us to visit facilities to carry out x-ray experiments and lays the foundation for future research on materials related to energy and sustainability.”

As part of her project, Lockard will host local high-school science teachers in her lab each summer for an internship combining research and curriculum development. During this first summer, she’ll host a chemistry teacher from Science Park High in Newark.

Ware, an entomologist who studies evolution, was awarded more than $800K to look at how the social structure of lower-termite colonies might have arisen 140 million years ago, testing whether ecology and dietary shifts led to changes in diversification and morphology.

Along with RU-N undergraduate and graduate students working in her lab, Ware will train Newark high-school students in fieldwork and the scientific method through Aim High, a summer-research program run by Rutgers University. The goal: to increase recruitment of underprivileged students to post-secondary education and careers in STEM fields.

Ware has been working with high-schoolers at RU-N over the past five years through Aim High, the NJ SEEDS program and Peddie Academy. She says it has been a wonderful to see students get excited by science and learn that there is more to biology than the memorization of facts typical of many high-school classroom settings.

She’s also grateful for the CAREER award funding and how it will push her research forward.

“We’ll finally be able to sample DNA and gut contents of termites from South America and South Africa, while also expanding what we know about global termite diversity through morphological investigation of fossil and extant collection material,” Ware says.

The early CAREER award is given to junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellence in teaching, and successful integration of the two. NSF encourages submission of CAREER proposals from junior faculty members and especially encourages women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities to apply. Each year, NSF then selects nominees for the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) from CAREER-award winners.

Like Ware, Lockard appreciates the vote of confidence from the NSF. “I am both grateful and excited to receive this award,” says Lockard. “It is a huge honor.”


Photos: (Top) Professor Jenny Lockard ; (bottom) Professor Jessica Ware