Awards Database

Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2012

Erin E. Carlson

Indiana University at Bloomington

Chemoselective Enrichment Tools for Natural Products Discovery

Carlson’s research focuses on the development and application of new technologies to explore the ways bacteria cause disease, and to identify effective counter measures. To accomplish these goals, she works at the interface of chemistry and biology. She and her associates are pursuing the development of new technologies for discovering useful compounds from natural sources, including innovative methods for compound isolation, screening, and diversification. She uses state-of-the-art methods to map the biochemical pathways by which bacteria cause disease and to understand how antibiotics can help to resist infections. As an early-career teacher, Carlson has played a major role in revamping her university’s graduate curriculum in chemical biology. She helped develop an interdisciplinary graduate training program in quantitative and chemical biology, and she has updated curriculum to reflect modern interdisciplinary science across the traditional areas of chemistry, biochemistry and biophysics. Carlson is co-chair of the Women in Chemistry (WIC) organization at IU, and she also obtained funds from the University to award fellowships to women and underrepresented groups for summer undergraduate research and graduate student conferences. She received the Cottrell Scholar Award (CSA) based on her peer-reviewed proposal that included both research and teaching projects. Her CSA research project is aimed at the discovery of small molecules from natural sources. She hopes to use these molecules to probe biological processes, looking for possible therapeutic compounds. To do this she plans to develop new methods to isolate natural chemical compounds. “We are well-equipped to develop these methods,” she said, adding that her research group has novel strategies to facilitate the discovery of new compounds. “These methods will enable us to explore the immense structural and functional diversity of nature’s small molecules with unprecedented scope and depth,” Carlson said. Meanwhile, in her Cottrell Scholar education project, Carlson intends to address the fact that only 11 percent of the majors in the IU chemistry department are participating in undergraduate research. RCSA has long maintained that involving students in real-world research is the best method for teaching the next generation of scientists. Allowing undergraduates to conduct research encourages them to think like scientists, rather than merely to learn about science. Research experiences play a significant role in enhancing both the level of interest and the depth of understanding of undergraduate students. Those who participate in research show enhanced self confidence and the capacity to work independently, as well as an appreciation for how scientists solve problems through the gathering and interpretation of data. Carlson said most undergraduate science courses present her field of inquiry as a collection of facts and rules, “and all too often, do not convey the creativity, experimentation and curiosity so fundamental to the scientific world. As a result, many students shy away from science in favor of fields that they find more relevant to their everyday lives.” She added that she hopes to create courses that “encourage students to apply the concepts they have learned, to assess data instead of merely obtaining it and, ultimately, to generate their own questions and experimental protocols to find the answers.”

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