U.Va. Chemistry Professor Earns Esteemed NSF Award

Jan. 12, 2007 -- Jill Venton, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Virginia, was recently rewarded for her innovative work in neurochemistry with a $550,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program.

The NSF CAREER program provides resources to faculty who have demonstrated great potential early in their careers.  The CAREER award is one of the most prestigious grants available to junior faculty members in science and engineering fields. 

In 2006, Venton was also awarded a Fund for Excellence in Science and Technology (FEST) Distinguished Young Investigator Grant by the University of Virginia.  The FEST program supports young faculty in their early endeavors, thus enhancing their research capabilities and making them more competitive for future, external funding, such as the NSF CAREER award. 

Venton’s research is focused on developing a better understanding of neurotransmission—essentially the brain’s method of communicating and controlling critical functions such as behavior, movement, and mood. 

Venton will use the NSF funding to develop instrumentation to enable in depth research of fruit fly neurotransmission.  Fruit flies are commonly used in genetic and biological research, but Venton notes, “This will be the first method for measuring dynamic changes in neurotransmitters in the fruit fly.”

Venton hopes to achieve in vivo and real time measurements of fruit fly neurotransmitters through the use of carbon nanotube treatments equipped with miniature sensors. “The new method to study neurotransmission in the fruit fly will allow a better understanding of the basic biological processes governing neurotransmission,” says Venton. 

The $550,000 CAREER grant, to be used over a period of five years, places an emphasis on the integration of research and teaching.  The funding will pay for research supplies and will allow Venton to employ graduate and undergraduate student researchers.  In addition, Venton has plans to develop educational modules for undergraduate chemistry courses and public lectures that include practical examples of the positive impact that analytical chemistry has had on society in areas such as medicine and the environment.

The FEST Distinguished Young Investigators Grant program is administered by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies and is currently accepting applications for 2007.