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Way Klingler Young Scholar Awards support promising young scholars in critical stages of their careers. The awards of up to $32,000 are intended to fund $2,000 in operating costs and to cover up to 50 percent of salary to afford the recipient a one-semester sabbatical.

2016 recipients

Dr. Murray Blackmore

Working at the leading edge of spinal cord injury research, Dr. Murray Blackmore is an ideal Way Klingler Young Scholar awardee.

Blackmore's lab includes a number of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, as well as four undergraduate researchers who have given national presentations and have even been primary authors on manuscripts. The assistant professor of biomedical sciences in the College of Health Sciences has built a large team because the work he does—systematically screening hundreds of genes to find those best suitable to treat spinal cord injury—is a large job that requires constant focus and attention.

"We're looking for genes that will promote the growth of axons, or nerves, in the spinal cord that need to be repaired in order to help a person with spinal injury regain movement,"Blackmore says. "Because genes differ at a cellular level, it becomes a real needle-in-a-haystack process."

Blackmore's lab uses technology like high content screening microscopes to accelerate the process, and he's recently received a grant to study the use of cancer genes in axonal growth.

He plans to use his sabbatical for two hands-on research approaches: systematically testing gene combinations, and optimizing a new genome editing technology, something that has never been done before.

"We're pioneering this approach, with many technical challenges to overcome," Blackmore says. "This award will allow me to focus my time and attention on developing this new technology, which will enhance our prospects for future funding."

Dr. Corinne Bloch-Mullins

Dr. Corinne Bloch-Mullins, assistant professor of philosophy in the Helen Way Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, holds two doctoral degrees—in neuroendocrinology and philosophy—and she draws on both to develop her interdisciplinary research program.

Bloch-Mullins' focus is on the study of concepts, which she explains as "the mental categories with which we classify the world." In her current work she seeks to develop an empirically informed theory of concepts and to develop a normative account of scientific concepts which focuses on their roles in investigative practice.

"The sabbatical will free me to focus on my work on concepts. I plan to use this time to produce two papers," she says.

One of the papers will bring insight from philosophical and psychological literature on concepts to bear on questions in the philosophy of language. The other paper, which will include both a theoretical and an empirical component, will explore the role of concepts within the framework of what Bloch-Mullins refers to as "the cognitive science of science." It is part of a larger project that addresses the ways in which scientific concepts are formed and used, the roles they play in scientific research and the ways in which they are modified as knowledge expands.

For Bloch-Mullins, the Way Klingler Young Scholar award is more than just a research opportunity, it's a testament to the merits of her research.

"Beyond the practical benefits of the award, it was, for me, a very clear message that my work is appreciated, even outside my department," she says.

Dr. Gerry Canavan

Dr. Gerry Canavan, assistant professor of English in the Helen Way Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, explores connections between our world and the world of science fiction, specifically in the context of ecology and the environment. Already on his third book, Canavan is a deserving recipient of a Way Klingler Young Scholar Award.

In that book, Animal Planet: Science Fiction and the Animal Rights Movement, he looks at the advancing notion of animal rights through the lens of current works of prose fiction, television and film.

"Ecologically, our future looks bleak," Canavan says. "Science fiction helps us look at issues in a new way—we can explore the idea of animal rights through the imaginations of writers who have already addressed the subject."

Canavan points to the Uplift novels by David Brin, which place the reader in a world where humans have genetically modified chimps and dolphins to the point of full personhood, as a key example of this type of speculative science fiction.

Canavan will use his sabbatical and funds from the Way Klingler Young Scholar Award to visit the Eaton Library at the University of California–Riverside and the Ransom Center at the University of Texas–Austin, where he can study early science fiction magazines and the personal papers of David Foster Wallace. The research time will give Canavan the freedom to focus on his book and put it on a fast track toward publication.

Dr. Mehdi Maadooliat

Dr. Mehdi Maadooliat, assistant professor of mathematics, statistics and computer science in the Helen Way Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, studies statistical models in high-dimensional data structures and their relationship to biological sciences.

A superb example of a Way Klingler Young Scholar Award recipient, he plans to use his sabbatical to embark on a new area of study and will travel to Marshfield, Wisconsin, to work on data from the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation's Personalized Medicine Research Project.

"I'm new to this area of research, so I'm excited for the challenge," Maadooliat says. "The ability to study genetic information from more than 20,000 participants in such a specific population could tell us a number of things, including how genes cause certain diseases, and how genes and the environment work together to cause disease."

While this type of genetic study may be new to Maadooliat, he believes his previous work with protein structure models and gene expression will translate well, especially the idea of "dependence.

"Current models of gene mapping assume independence between subjects," Maadooliat says. "But we believe incorporating a dependence model will yield more efficient results, similar to the way we consider proteins together to examine common features."

Maadooliat plans to use the results from his research sabbatical to apply for an R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health, in which he will propose introducing the dependence model to a variety of biological datasets.

University Honors