Michael Best, an assistant professor of organic chemistry at UTK, has been announced as a recipient of the CAREER award from the National Science Foundation. As detailed in the official description, this program “offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”
Dr. Best’s CAREER award includes a 5-year, $580,000 grant to support research in his laboratory. A primary aim of his group’s work is to understand the molecular mechanisms by which proteins bind to lipids presented on the surfaces of cellular membranes. These events control many of the most important biological processes and are aberrant in numerous disease states, including cancer. Thus, advancing the understanding of these interactions, and defects associated with them, is imperative to unravel the underlying causes of resulting diseases. Towards this end, Dr. Best’s group has synthesized derivatives corresponding to important lipids that have been applied as probes to characterize the details of cell surface protein binding events at the molecular level.
The CAREER award also emphasizes the importance of integrating research with outreach efforts to more broadly impact scientific education and awareness in the general community, which have been primary goals of Dr. Best and his research group. Since its inception in 2005 when Dr. Best joined the faculty at UTK, his group has hosted researchers spanning academic levels, including post-doctoral associates as well as graduate, undergraduate and high school students. In addition, Dr. Best and his team have formed close partnerships with local science teachers Kristin Baksa at Farragut High School and Julie Pepperman at Bearden Middle School. In collaboration with Dr. Lynn Champion, Director of the UTK Office of Academic Outreach, this team has worked to design outreach programs to enhance local science education.
Funds associated with the CAREER award will support further research in Dr. Best’s group and its integration with programs designed to more broadly impact scientific education in the region.