Indiana University

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Last modified: Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Outstanding Junior Faculty Awards recognize excellence in several fields

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March 7, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- This year's Outstanding Junior Faculty at Indiana University Bloomington include a chemist searching for antibiotics that occur in nature; a physicist working on models of the "new physics"; a cognitive scientist trying to help computers think more like humans; an anthropologist investigating hormones and health; and a historian writing about an early school for American Indians.

The awards, announced today, go to assistant professors from five departments: Erin Carlson in Chemistry, Radovan Dermisek in Physics, Michael Jones in Psychological and Brain Sciences, Michael Muehlenbein in Anthropology and Christina Snyder in History.

"These faculty are outstanding examples of research excellence on the IU Bloomington campus," said Sarita Soni, vice provost for research at IU Bloomington. "They are doing fascinating work, contributing to a new generation of investigators who are garnering national recognition for their path-breaking work, and we're very pleased to honor their efforts."

"Junior faculty members face many challenges in establishing their research programs and securing funding while meeting their teaching and service responsibilities," added Tom Gieryn, vice provost for faculty and academic affairs. "These awards will help some of our most accomplished young scholars and researchers become even more successful in their work."

Each awardee receives a total of $14,500 to support specific proposals for research.

Erin Carlson

Carlson joined the faculty at IU in the summer of 2008. She earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was awarded an American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellowship for studies at The Scripps Research Institute. Last fall she received a National Institutes of Health Director's New Innovator Award.

She will use the Outstanding Junior Faculty Award to support her research aimed at developing technologies for the discovery of antibiotic agents in nature. Carlson notes that naturally produced compounds are an essential component of our pharmaceutical arsenal. Her lab is developing an innovative technology that separates natural products based upon a distinct property -- functional group composition at the molecular level -- which will allow the researchers to explore the diversity of natural products with unprecedented scope and depth.

Radovan Dermisek

Dermisek, a Department of Physics faculty member since 2008, earned his Ph.D. at The Ohio State University and had postdoctoral fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., and the University of California, Davis.

The award will support his work on the formulation and investigation of models for electroweak symmetry breaking, the disjunction between electromagnetism and the weak force that is essential to the Standard Model of physics. The main emphasis of the project will be on implications of these models for collider experiments that involve studies of Higgs boson and new physics signatures with the focus on discovery strategies at the Large Hadron Collider, the giant particle accelerator built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva, Switzerland.

Michael Jones

Jones became a faculty member at IU Bloomington in 2006. His research is in cognitive modeling, semantic memory and artificial intelligence. He completed his Ph.D. at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, and held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The award will support his research project titled "Putting Information Retrieval in SCOPE by Integrating Human Cognitive Models." The goal of the project is to integrate knowledge about how humans represent and use text as a semantic interface into computational systems for search and abstraction of knowledge from large-scale text sources such as the World Wide Web. Jones says that constructing practical information-retrieval systems with explicit knowledge of human semantic cognition may potentially unlock great discoveries of yet-unrealized knowledge.

Michael Muehlenbein

Muehlenbein, who came to IU in 2007, directs the Evolutionary Physiology and Ecology Lab and also serves as an adjunct assistant professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He has a Ph.D. in biological anthropology from Yale University. His research seeks to describe the complex interactions between endocrine and immune systems in humans, monkeys and apes, a field that has important implications for understanding disease.

He will use the award to generate pilot data for a proposed study of evolutionary insights regarding endocrine and metabolic biomarkers of infection. Data will be collected to compare changes in metabolism, hormones and immune function in 20 men and 20 women as they convalesce from naturally acquired respiratory tract infections. Ultimately, the research agenda will yield a fundamentally better understanding of immune-endocrine interactions and the metabolic costs associated with immune activation.

Christina Snyder

Snyder joined IU in 2009 as an assistant professor in the departments of History and American Studies. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was a doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania's McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her first book, "Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America," received several awards.

The Outstanding Junior Faculty Award will help her complete a book project, "The Indian Gentlemen of Choctaw Academy: Status and Sovereignty in Antebellum America," and engage in outreach to help study and preserve the historic academy site. Initiated by the Choctaw Nation in 1825, Choctaw Academy became the first federally funded Indian boarding school in the United States. Richard Mentor Johnson, who served as Martin Van Buren's vice president, established the school on the grounds of his Kentucky plantation. It was home to boys and young men from 15 nations until it closed in 1848.

Outstanding Junior Faculty Award information

Monetary support for the award includes a summer faculty fellowship of up to $8,000; a faculty grant-in-aid of research of $2,500 for the academic year; and a $4,000 grant-in-aid or released-time award. The awards are designed to assist untenured, tenure-track faculty to enhance their research programs. Awards are given to junior faculty members who show promise of achieving great distinction as researchers, scholars or artists.

Candidates must have been at Indiana University for at least one academic year and demonstrate commitment to teaching, research and service. For more information on the award, visit or email

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