FEST Funding Supports U.Va.'s Cutting-Edge Junior Faculty Research

May 7, 2008 — Four rising faculty members have secured Fund for Excellence in Science and Technology Distinguished Young Investigator grants. Phil Arras, Noelle Dwyer, Avik Ghosh and Jing Yu will each receive $50,000 to support their forward-looking research proposals.

The FEST Distinguished Young Investigator Grant program is administered by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies and supports junior faculty research in the sciences, engineering and medicine. The program promotes pioneering projects with seed money to enable preliminary data collection that bolsters future, external grant applications.

This year's FEST application process attracted 32 proposals. A review committee judged projects on factors such as originality and the potential of attracting external recognition.

"The extremely high quality and bold approaches of this year's FEST proposals show clearly that our most junior faculty are willing to tackle some of the most difficult problems facing us in medicine, technology and cosmology," said review committee member Marcia McDuffie, a microbiology professor. "This extraordinary group of scientists appears to be poised to make the University a very exciting place to learn and work for the coming decades."

Among this year's winning FEST applications are proposals that may ultimately have significant practical applications, such as an improved understanding of how the kidney develops and carbon-based transistors that are faster, cheaper and more reliable.

"When we established the FEST Junior Faculty program four years ago, we set out to give institutionwide recognition to our most creative young investigators and to seed more venturesome research projects at the earliest stages of their careers at the University," said R. Ariel Gomez, vice president for research and graduate studies. "The program has succeeded far beyond our expectations. FEST winners have quickly capitalized on their awards, typically accelerating highly significant important work, outside funding and important publications and patents.

"This year's four winners, selected from a pool of over 30 proposals, exemplify the FEST tradition. We congratulate Phil Arras, Noelle Dwyer, Avik Ghosh and Jing Yu — and all of the other applicants as well. In our FEST group we see the University's emerging leadership in science and engineering." 

The Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies initiated the FEST Distinguished Young Investigator Grant program in 2004 and accepts proposals on an annual basis. Of the 11 past FEST winners still at U.Va., four have received National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development awards, one has received a Packard Fellowship and the others have secured substantial external funding, including National Institutes of Health Research Project Grants.