Researcher says 'Science has no boundaries and it’s exciting to see that in action.'
Elebeoba E. May, associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering, received a $215,032 Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) award from the National Science Foundation.
The award supports her year-long appointment at the NSF as a program director of the Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster within the Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Division.
As a program director, May will make funding recommendations; influence new directions in the fields of science, engineering and education; and support cutting-edge interdisciplinary research.
“It’s a really unique opportunity,” May said. “I get to engage the seemingly disparate research communities and generate a multidisciplinary conversation.”
She said the interaction of biosciences and engineering is a growing area with many opportunities.
May, whose teaching and research at UH focuses on computational and experimental methods to study host-pathogen and microbial community interactions, said a lot of questions need to be answered in order to achieve a sustainable bio-based economy.
For example: How do you make the bioscience more predictive? How can scientists control bio-systems in order to integrate them with industrial processes? How can we industrialize the production of biological components to realize mass-production of bio-based products?
“The more we can integrate engineering and mathematical methods with biological sciences, the more likely we are to achieve reliable bio-manufacturing of novel products and therapeutics,” May said, adding that she hopes to encourage conversations between engineers, mathematicians, scientists and researchers in the biosciences during her time at the NSF.
One of the aspects she’s enjoying most in her new position is the scientific exchanges with others — not just within her cluster and division, but with individuals across the NSF as well as at other organizations on the national and international level.
“There are lots of moving parts and opportunities,” May said. “Science has no boundaries and it’s exciting to see that in action.”
The prestigious appointment will not only impact May’s career, but also her students and UH. She plans to bring back the knowledge she gains from her experience, including an understanding of where the bioengineering field is headed. She wants to help ensure UH is aware of emerging opportunities at the intersection of biology and engineering.
The NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. According to the NSF website, the agency receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding annually and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.
“U.S. taxpayer dollars support federally-funded research that fuel discoveries to not only benefit our society, but global communities — now and in the future,” said May, who has previously received NSF funding for research and served on NSF review panels. “It’s great to see what the NSF does and be able to contribute to it.”