Researchers Land RCSA Funding to Study Mars Samples, Develop SMART Collaborations

Two Georgia Tech researchers recently landed Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) funding, which includes its core programs, the coveted Cottrell Scholars and Scialog® honors. Elisabetta Matsumoto and Frances Rivera-Hernández are the latest College of Sciences faculty to receive RCSA support for their work.

RCSA’s mission is to advance early stage, high-potential, basic scientific research. The association provides funding for research and sponsors conferences to support a diverse and inclusive community of early career faculty, innovative ideas for basic research, integration of research and science teaching, interdisciplinary research, and building the foundation for the academic leadership of the future.

The Scialog® program invests in interdisciplinary, innovative, basic research on problems of high complexity that are timely and of significant value to society.

Its goal is to foster new collaborations across multiple disciplines to spark innovative ideas, stimulate significant advances on chosen topics, and attract higher levels of funding.

SMART collaborations

Elisabetta Matsumoto, an associate professor in the School of Physics, was part of the Cottrell Scholars Collaborative program, in which participants are encouraged to form teams and develop collaborative projects with potential national impact in science education. 

Matsumoto’s collaborative project, Supporting Making to Align Research and Teaching (SMART), builds off an existing Cottrell project aiming to increase awareness of making, an emerging instructional practice where students learn a discipline (and enjoy enhanced creativity and self-expression) by creating shared physical and digital artifacts. 

The goal of this project is to support and document faculty training and adoption of making methods, as well as to generate examples of making activities in disciplines, such as chemistry and astronomy, that have not adopted this technique.

Mars samples

Frances Rivera-Hernández, an assistant professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, is participating in the second year of the Scialog® Signatures of Life in the Universe program (the Heising-Simons Foundation is a program co-sponsor). 

The team’s goal is to catalyze cutting-edge research with the potential to transform our understanding of the habitability of planets, of how the occurrence of life alters planets and leaves signatures, and of how to detect such signatures beyond Earth.

Rivera-Hernández’s project with Laurie Barge, a research scientist in the Planetary Sciences division of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is titled Mars Sample Return: Connecting Martian Environmental Chemistry to Returned Samples. It is funded by NASA.

A rich history of RCSA support 

RCSA is a longtime supporter of College of Sciences research. Several faculty members from a variety of disciplines have been named Cottrell Scholars or joined the Scialog program over the past 29 years. 

Two School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences associate professors, Jennifer Glass and Chris Reinhard, were part of the first year of the Signatures of Life in the Universe program in 2021. Glass was chosen for her research proposal, Methane from Nontraditional Abiotic Sources and Potential for False Biosignature Positives, while Reinhard proposal was Stochastic Simulation of Evolving Planetary Biospheres.

Also in 2021, Vinayak Agarwal, an assistant professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the School of Biological Sciences, was named a Cottrell Scholar for his proposal, Unlocking Marine Eukaryotic Natural Product Biosynthetic Schemes in Research and Education.

Elisabetta Matsumoto’s first time as a Cottrell Scholar was in 2020 for her research on tying together the science and mathematics behind knitting, which was featured in  The New York Times

Also in 2020, Gongjie Li, professor in the School of Physics, and Amanda Stockton, professors in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, were named Scialog® Signatures of Life in the Universe Fellows

Chad Risko, a former Ph.D. student in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, was named a Cottrell Scholar in 2018 with the goal of developing a course-based undergraduate research experience focusing on the application of computing and data science in chemistry. Risko was a Ph.D. student of former Regents Professor Jean-Luc Brédas.

Brian Hammer, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences, was part of a 2015 collaborative effort for the Scialog® Molecules Come to Life Team Award for the project, Rebooting the Gut Microbial Ecosystem Using Bacterial Dueling.

Previous Georgia Tech recipients of the Cottrell Scholar Award also include David Collard (1994), professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and senior associate dean in the College of Sciences; Michael Schatz (1999) and Tamara Bogdanović (2016), both professors of the School of Physics.

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Writer: Renay San Miguel
Communications Officer II/Science Writer
College of Sciences