Assistant physics professor Stephen Levy was awarded a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his research that could help transform how we treat diseases.
The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program awards NSF grants to teachers who exemplify outstanding research and incorporate it into their educational methods. Levy submitted his 15-page proposal to the Division of Materials Research at the NSF, where it was evaluated by a board of reviewers. According to Levy, it was one of only about 10 percent of proposals that received funding.
His work focuses on how DNA and other fluid materials travel through carbon nanotubes, which can help mimic and explain how small molecules are transported through cells. A carbon nanotube is a cylinder of carbon whose wall is one atom thick. Levy’s research examines why and how DNA molecules travel through these narrow channels.
While most labs study thousands of DNA molecules at once, Levy and his lab created a method that allows them to examine single strands individually.
“I am interested in this research because we can use this system to understand more about how nucleic acids like DNA are transported into cells through very narrow channels,” Levy wrote in an email.
The money awarded will go to funding for new imaging equipment like microscopes and charge-coupled devices, which move electrical charges to an area where they can be manipulated into digital values, as well as various necessary lab supplies and tuition for a graduate student. In addition, the grant will help fund a physics outreach program, which will increase physics instruction and programming in elementary schools in the Binghamton area.
Levy said he found his passion for physics in high school. Originally studying physics in math, he switched his focus to experimental biophysics during his postdoctoral at Cornell University. Experimental biophysics applies the laws of physics to explain biological phenomena. Levy also works alongside researchers at Cornell University, who are experts in creating carbon nanotubes, on his current project.
He said he hopes his research will contribute to finding new ways to treat diseases and detect dangerous molecules.
“This process could help us design better methods for injecting DNA into cells, which some medical researchers are interested in as a method to combat certain types of cancer,” Levy wrote.
Bruce White, associate professor and chair of the physics department, says that he believes this grant will provide a domino effect of benefits for Levy and the University.
“The scholarship generated from this award will ultimately produce new research directions for Professor Levy that will lead to more graduate student support, published journal articles and ultimately additional funding for the areas of research he finds exciting,” White wrote in an email.
According to White, Levy’s accomplishment will prove to be beneficial to the student body and the University as a whole.
“From a University perspective, Professor Levy’s research adds to the growing list of exciting research taking place at Binghamton,” White wrote. “In the physics department this has tremendous impact on the education of our students, at both the graduate and undergraduate level.”