Four U.Va. Innovators Secure FEST Funding

May 3, 2007 -- Four talented, young investigators from the University of Virginia will receive $50,000 each from the internal Fund for Excellence in Science and Technology (FEST) Distinguished Young Investigator Grant program. Among this year’s diverse, winning FEST applications are proposals to understand both the formation of globular star clusters and the death of cancerous stem cells.

The FEST Distinguished Young Investigator Grant program backs junior faculty in the sciences, engineering, and medicine at U.Va. FEST is administered by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies (VPRGS) and aims to support faculty in their first three years with seed money for pioneering research proposals. The idea is to support exploratory projects that have great potential in order to secure preliminary data that may help the young investigators to secure future, external funding.

The FEST application process is highly competitive.  This year there were 29 applicants and 4 awardees.  The review committee uses a number of criteria to judge applicants, including an emphasis on originality and the likelihood of attracting external recognition. 

“The extraordinary creativity, rigor, and intellectual diversity that we see in the FEST award proposals — indeed, in the entire proposal pool — suggest that we have every reason to be confident about the next generation of research excellence in the sciences and engineering at U.Va,” says R. Ariel Gomez, vice president for research and graduate studies.  “We’re delighted to support this new generation, and we wish them each a very productive project.”

“By sponsoring such a program, U.Va. provides its young investigators a sounding board to test out their latest and greatest ideas and receive valuable feedback that will enable them to be even more competitive on the national stage for increasingly scarce research dollars,” notes Jeffrey Holt, 2007-08 FEST proposal reviewer and associate professor in the Departments of Neuroscience and Otolaryngology. 

“The FEST program is an excellent program to enable and encourage young academics as they launch their careers,” says Joe Campbell, Lucien Carr III Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who also served on this year’s proposal evaluation committee.  Campbell notes that his review of proposals illustrated the high quality of U.Va.’s junior faculty, calling them “…first rate academic leaders of the future...”

This year, one of the FEST grants was funded by U.Va’s T100 Alumni Mentoring Program, an organization of alumni business experts that advise faculty inventors working towards commercialization. “FEST is a crucial tool that supports the pipeline of future entrepreneurs that T100 seeks to assist,” states George McCabe, founder of T100.  “We could not be more excited about sponsoring this award.”  The T100-backed award will be given to Kim Hazelwood, assistant professor of computer science, for the Tortola project—a virtual interface between hardware and software that may offer inventive solutions to a variety of future computing problems.

2007-08 Winning FEST Proposals:

  • Kim Hazelwood, Computer Science, Faculty Mentor: Mary Lou Soffa
     “Tortola: Addressing Future Computing Challenges through Hardware/Software Symbiosis”
  • Kelsey Johnson, Astronomy; Faculty Mentor: Robert O’Connell
     “Revealing the Nature of Extreme Star Formation at the Beginning of the Universe”
  • Jeffrey J. Saucerman, Biomedical Engineering; Faculty Mentor: Ian Macara
     “Automated Cell Phenotype Imaging for Cardiac Systems Biology”
  • Herman Wijnen, Biology; Faculty Mentor: Michael Menaker    
     “Entrainment of Circadian Rhythms to Environmental Temperature”

The FEST Distinguished Young Investigator Grant program was initiated by the VPRGS in 2004 and accepts proposals on an annual basis.  See the FEST Web site for more information.

Written by Melissa Maki, research communications coordinator for the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies.