Photo of Old Main from the stairs near Harned Hall
August 20, 2018

LACEY, Wash. — Saint Martin’s University’s Erin Jonasson, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry, has won a grant, in collaboration with the University of Notre Dame, for $121,345 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for research that will be conducted from July 2018 until an estimated end date of June 2022. Jonasson will serve as the principal investigator for the project, with support from Holly Goodson, Ph.D., professor of chemistry at the University of Notre Dame.

“Dr. Jonasson's NSF grant is exciting. Her promise as a young scholar is demonstrated in winning this very competitive grant,” said Jeff Crane, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “It also demonstrates our science faculty's commitment to research and exploration, activities that will gain momentum with grants such as these and the opening of the new Science Building.”

The aim of the project, as laid out in the proposal’s abstract, is to investigate the dynamic substructure called the cytoskeleton (part of the cells of most organisms), a network of protein-based polymers and associated proteins that has fundamental roles in cell movement, DNA partitioning and internal cell organization. Many cytoskeletal polymers require chemical energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) (or guanosine triphosphate (GTP)) to maintain a polymerized state and the harnessing of this energy allows the cytoskeletal filaments to do work, respond dynamically to internal and external signals and self-organize.

The major goal of the work in the project is to use a combination of laboratory experiments and computational modeling to develop an improved theoretical framework for understanding and predicting the behaviors of these dynamic cytoskeletal polymers as observed at different scales. Specifically, the project will set out to establish how the biochemical properties of the polymer subunits (including the rate at which they burn cellular energy, ATP or GTP) relate to the behaviors of the individual filaments and to the overall behaviors of populations of filaments. In addition, the project will study how filament binding proteins work together to regulate filament dynamics.

The research could have practical application in fields like nanotechnology and synthetic biology.

“Dr. Jonasson’s research is a great example of the interdisciplinary nature of the natural sciences, and an amazing opportunity for our students,” said Aaron Coby, Ph.D., associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Undergraduate research projects in chemistry, biology, math and computer science could all develop as the project unfolds.”

As Jonasson explained, the project will allow Saint Martin’s undergraduate students to have an authentic research experience, because the answers to the questions the team is asking are not known. “This work is at the edge of what is known and unknown in science,” Jonasson said. “The project will give students hands-on research and job experience, in addition to the opportunity to pursue professional development opportunities through conferences and presentations. It will give them experience so they can jump forward on their career paths.”

Saint Martin’s University is an independent, four-year, coeducational university located on a wooded campus of more than 300 acres in Lacey, Washington. Established in 1895 by the Catholic Order of Saint Benedict, the University is one of 13 Benedictine colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and the only one west of the Rocky Mountains. Saint Martin’s University prepares students for successful lives through its 27 majors and ten graduate programs spanning the liberal arts, business, education, nursing and engineering. Saint Martin’s welcomes more than 1,300 undergraduate students and 250 graduate students from many ethnic and religious backgrounds to its Lacey campus, and more students to its extended campus located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. 

For additional information:

Erin Jonasson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Jeff Crane, Ph.D.
Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

Aaron Coby, Ph.D.
Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
Associate Professor, Biology

Kevin Hyde
Media Relations Manager