Replaced by professor Michael Thomas, former Biology Chair Mark Austin stepped down to focus on an application for a research grant that could bring up to $11 million to ISU.
The grant, Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence grant under the National Institute of Health, is something Austin has been working on since February. He hopes to use it to open a center for physiological and behavioral neuroscience and provide the foundation for a neuroscience track at the university.
While it’s been suggested that Austin was encouraged to step down early to focus on the grant by people within the department, Austin claims he made the decision on his own because he recognized that he couldn’t work on the grant while serving as the biology chair.
“This grant is my passion,” Austin said. “I have nine years of experience at a prior institute, so I know how it works.”
The submission date for the COBRE grant application is in January 2018, but Austin won’t know if he receives it until December 2018. The grant will award $1.5 million each year over five years and a $300,000 allowance for alteration and renovation plans, with the possibility of an extension.
The primary objective of the COBRE grant is developing research infrastructure at the university it is awarded to, while the secondary objective is to enhance and promote junior faculty.
There are five specific cores Austin needs to follow; including administration, mentoring and research. Under the research core, a maximum of five projects can be pursued.
Faculty from various departments, such as biology and psychology, will be core directors.
In research projects, there are four potential faculty members that will lead individual projects: one in the biology department, two from the psychology department and one that works in both the biology and dental departments.
“That’s what makes this grant so unique,” Austin said. “We have a group of scientists here that I think will make this very competitive.”
Projects will examine a variety of topics including obesity, behavioral disorders such as autism and mood disorders, neuroplasticity and the neural control of breathing.
Being awarded the COBRE grant will enhance the research infrastructure in a variety of ways, such as providing tools for cellular imaging and molecular biology while promoting research opportunities for junior faculty and students.
Students will have the opportunity to work in investigative labs and earn research experience. Austin is also looking at recruiting new faculty, and there’s possible recruitment in developmental neurobiology.
The $300,000 allowance can be used to update labs within the biology department, which will ultimately assist in Thomas’ future plans. Over the next three years he hopes to start remodeling the Gale Life Science building. This project requires an extreme amount of work, which will require it to be done in stages.
Stage one involves updating the teaching labs in the summer. Stage two will happen a couple years later and will involve updating the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system and fire suppression. The final stage will happen a few years after stage two and will focus on rebuilding the teaching labs.
“It’s challenging because I basically have 31 bosses,” Thomas said, “but I really want to build off of what Mark started.”
Thomas also plans to hire more faculty members over the years. The grant will help the state as a whole, and the work done under the grant will lead to significant research advancement for the university.
“I would love to have this grant extended to 15 years,” Austin said, “because I would like to be able to continue my work.”