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Schaack Wins NSF's Most Prestigious Grant for Junior Faculty

Portland, Ore (May 15, 2012)--Reed College Assistant Professor of Biology Sarah Schaack has been awarded over $986,000 by the National Science Foundation. Schaack received the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program grant, which is the foundation’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty. The CAREER Program rewards teacher-scholars who exemplify the role of mentor through outstanding research and their ability to integrate their pedagogy and research into the context of the mission of their college.

The grant will support Schaack’s research on the genetics of mutation. Mutations, ultimately, are the source of all genetic variation; Schaack’s lab focuses on understanding the rate at which they occur and their effects on organisms in various environments.  She specializes in the study of mutations brought about by pieces of mobile DNA, also referred to as transposable elements, which compose the bulk of the genome for many organisms and are a major source of genetic variation.

Schaack’s project will bring together scholars across the academic spectrum. Her basic research will involve advanced domestic and international undergraduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and national and international peers. In the classroom, hands-on laboratory exercises will expose young scientists to expanding bioinformatic and genomic resources, and undergraduates will have opportunities to produce and analyze data to answer real, on-going questions in biology.

Part of Schaack’s outreach involves educating and exciting non-scientists about genome biology by sharing recent discoveries through public lectures and workshops. Schaack has given several Science Pub talks in and around Portland in conjunction with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Her talks included, “Promiscuous DNA: The Invasion, Spread, and Impact of Mobile Genes,” at the Hotel Oregon in McMinnville.

Schaack’s work on mobile DNA, mutation, and the evolution of the genome has been published in scientific journals, such as Science and Nature. She has a BA in Biology from Earlham College, an MA in Zoology from University of Florida, Gainesville, and a PhD in Biology from Indiana University.  Schaack’s 5-year CAREER award will support her continuing involvement with student collaborators, colleagues, and the public.