The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences

Announcing Huck Graduate Research Innovation Grant recipients for 2016

The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences is pleased to announce this year’s recipients of Huck Graduate Research Innovation (GRI) Grants.

Huck GRI Grants are competitive awards open to second and third year students in any of the six intercollege graduate degree programs (IGDPs) supported by the Huck Institutes. Applicants are asked to independently conceive, design, and cogently propose an original, innovative research project that would augment their thesis research and complement research in their advisor’s lab.

This year 24 students submitted proposals and 14 Huck faculty with relevant expertise generously agreed to serve as evaluators. Each proposal was read and evaluated by two “in-program” evaluators and one “outside” evaluator and scored with respect to four criteria: approach, relevance/impact, innovation, and environment. The top ranked 12 proposals (50%) were selected for funding, and each grantee will receive $5,000 to be used for their proposed research project.

Please join us in congratulating this year's Huck GRI Grant recipients!


Huck GRI Grant recipients 2016

Seated (l-r): Aditya Pisupati, Mengyang Feng, Stephanie Klein, Tao Yang, Hillary Figler. Standing (l-r): Kevin Hart, James Fraser, Nathan Hepler, Jingwei Cai, Xuan Wang, Erynn Maynard, Feiyue Lu.


Funding for the Huck GRI Grants is provided by an endowment from J. Lloyd Huck, Penn State alumnus, philanthropist, and former chairman of Merck & Co. The Huck Institutes has been offering competitive research awards to promising post-comprehensive graduate students since 2013 with the aim of encouraging project-planning, grant-writing skills, and creativity.

Peter Hudson, director of the Huck Institutes, said this about the Huck GRI Grant recipients: "I am thrilled by the quality and excellence in these GRI proposals and also the productivity of the students that have already been funded by Huck grants in previous years. Not only do the students get to grips with the task of writing clear proposals and then doing the science but they are also having success in publishing the research arising from their grants as well. One student recently got a PNAS paper based on their work funded by a Huck grant - what a great return on investment and a great experience for these students!"

Here’s what some of this year’s Huck GRI Grant recipients had to say about how they will use their funds:

Hillary Figler: “From my thesis research as a whole, I aim to determine the mechanisms that cause DNA damage in E. coli, whether directly or indirectly. Through the work proposed here, I can understand how frequently interactions between pathogenic E. coli and proteinaceous toxins (specifically those produced by non-pathogenic E. coli) occur."

James Fraser: “My Huck GRI proposal focused on using Nanostring technology at the Huck Genomics Core to help elucidate mechanisms by which specialized erythroid progenitor cells in the spleen modulate inflammation during infection. Having the opportunity to apply this cutting-edge assay to my work and analyze the expression of hundreds of genes at once could prove transformative for my project as well as hypothesis generation in our lab. I am excited at the prospect this opportunity has to alter the landscape of my work and am grateful to the Huck for the privilege.”

Nate Hepler: “A great deal of focus has been placed on the genetic mechanisms that underlie plant cell wall synthesis and modification, but our knowledge regarding wall architecture is still lacking. These funds provide me with the opportunity to broaden our understanding of the plant cell wall using the duckweed Spirodela polyrhiza as a model species. Its small genome, containing fewer genes than Arabidopsis, and reduced gene family sizes offer us a chance to learn a significant amount about the genetics behind the cell wall.”

Erynn Maynard: “My dissertation work seeks to understand the role that leaf traits play in the invasion of eastern deciduous forests by non-native shrubs. These shrubs tend to have a longer period of leaf on compared to native shrubs and trees. The Huck GRI grant has allowed me the flexibility to pursue a novel aspect of my research along an avenue outside of my lab's focus. Because of this funding, I will be able to test an emerging hypothesis in invasion ecology (the evolutionary imbalance hypothesis) using a long-recognized relationship in trait-based ecology (the global leaf economic spectrum). I will test whether deviation from the global leaf economic spectrum is associated with region of origin (eastern N. America versus eastern Asia, where most of our shrubby invaders come from). If a correlation exists, such deviation could unveil the physiological bases of invader success, and provide a predictor of invasion potential.”

Again, congratulations to all our GRI Grant recipients!