Portraits of Dominik Konkolewicz and Rick Page flank an image of coronaviruses.

Two Miami University researchers receive NSF RAPID grant to develop coronavirus-attacking materials

Materials will help limit indirect contact transmission of COVID-19

Two Miami University researchers in protein, polymer and materials chemistry received a Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a project that will address the spread of the novel coronavirus.

They received $181,849 to develop materials that can be used to prevent indirect contact transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus responsible for COVID-19.

Dominik Konkolewicz and Rick Page, both associate professors of chemistry and biochemistry, are the primary and co-investigators of the project.

Reduce indirect contact transmission of COVID-19

The virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic is especially concerning for indirect contact transmission, since it can remain active on various surfaces for extended periods of time, Konkolewicz said.

If a person infected with COVID-19 deposits active viral particles (droplets or aerosols) on frequently touched surfaces, the disease can be transmitted if an uninfected person picks up the active viruses from the contaminated surface.

In this way, the disease can be spread even if the two individuals do not ever come in direct contact with each other. Since the virus can remain active on surfaces for days, there is an increased risk of indirect contact transmission.

To help limit this, Konkolewicz and Page will develop materials that can capture and inactivate the coronavirus on surfaces.

Capture and inactivate the virus

Through their work in synthetic polymer chemistry and protein chemistry, the researchers plan two complementary approaches in developing coronavirus-attacking materials:

Inactivate: One approach is to disrupt the lipid layer/lipid envelope in the coronavirus. This lipid envelope is critical to the structure of the virus and also to its infection mechanism. “If we disrupt the lipids, we can inactivate the coronavirus, such that it cannot infect a new individual,” Konkolewicz said. (Handwashing with soap is one example of disrupting the lipid layer to inactivate the virus).

Capture: The other approach is to capture and trap the coronavirus spike proteins within the synthetic material. This way the virus cannot leave and provide a path for a new infection.

Combined: The researchers will also develop materials with both capture and inactivation capabilities. This two-pronged approach tethers the virus to the surface to allow for increased opportunities to attack and inactivate it, Page said.

The new materials they develop could be adapted or coated onto existing high touch surfaces to limit indirect contact transmission, Konkolewicz said. The polymers will form a tough network to ensure the material performs for an extended period of time.

Konkolewicz and Page will also develop content on the importance of polymer materials in healthcare applications. This will be distributed through YouTube channels for accessibility to the public.

About the researchers

Konkolewicz researches responsive, or “smart” polymer materials and materials that contain both synthetic and biological components. He was awarded an NSF CAREER Award for self-healing polymers in 2018. He was named a 2018 Young Investigator by the American Chemical Society-Polymer, Materials Science, and Engineering section and he received the 2018 Polymer Chemistry Emerging Investigator Award. He and his research team have multiple research collaborations with colleagues in chemistry, biochemistry, chemical engineering and mechanical engineering. He was named a Miami University Junior Faculty Scholar in 2018.

Follow Konkolewicz on Twitter @PolyKonkol.

Page researches the structure, dynamics and mechanisms of action for proteins in a range of biologic and synthetic systems. He was named a Miami University Junior Faculty Scholar in 2016. He received an NSF Career grant in 2016 for his research on protein quality control. In 2018 he received a five-year MIRA (Maximizing Investigator’s Research Award) — one of Miami’s first two — that supports his research projects on protein quality control and antibiotic resistance. He has multiple research collaborations with colleagues in chemistry, biochemistry and bioengineering.

Follow Page on Twitter @ThePageLab.

NSF RAPID grants

The grant for “RAPID: Viral Particle Disrupting and Sequestering Polymer Materials applied to Coronaviruses,” will support the research of Page and Konkolewicz for one year and support three graduate students.

RAPID grants give the NSF a way to help fight the pandemic by supporting scientists doing relevant work across many disciplines, according to the foundation. They may be funded for up to $200,000 and up to one year in duration, with an average award size of $89,000.

In March Congress gave NSF an extra $75 million in the CARES Act stimulus funding to spend on research projects that will help “prevent, prepare for, and respond” to the novel coronavirus.


Written by Susan Meikle, Miami University News and Communications. Originally appeared as a “Top Story” on  Miami University’s News and Events website.

Photos of Dominik Konkolewicz and Rick Page by Miami University Photo Services. Image of coronaviruses by By U.S. Army. Public domain.

Closeup of part of the sculpture "Door of Return" by Kan Yasuda, located at the City Garden in St. Louis, Missouri.

VPRI hosts forum on return to research activities

Last Thursday, April 30, nearly 110 researchers, scholars, and creative artists from Miami University came together for a virtual forum on resuming research activities under the relaxed pandemic restrictions in the recent Stay Safe Ohio order.

During the forum, Vice President for Research & Innovation Jim Oris said measures taken to re-open campus to research, scholarly, and creative activities will be guided by the Return to Research Committee, which consists of 25 faculty and staff. Members of the committee were nominated by divisional deans and department chairs.

As the committee’s work progresses, Oris plans to host bi-weekly forums, with the next forum scheduled for Thursday, May 14. An invitation with a link to the forum will be sent several days prior to the forum. Any member of the Miami research community who must attend via phone may request a calendar invitation for the event.


Photo of Kan Yasuda’s “Door of Return” by Jennifer Morrow via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

Professors and students conduct research with historical maps and schematics.

VPRI to host series of forums discussing incremental resumption of research activities

As we look forward to a relaxation of Ohio’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order, Jim Oris, Vice President for Research and Innovation, will be hosting a series of online forums to discuss the logistics of resuming research, scholarship, and creative activities at Miami University while protecting the health of all members of our community. Miami faculty are invited to participate via Webex to learn what the university is doing to facilitate safe resumption of these activities, ask questions, and share ideas with administrative staff and fellow researchers, scholars, and artists.

The first forum will be held this Thursday, April 30, from 4:00 to 5:00pm. Miami faculty may provide their information in this form to request a calendar invitation.

Dots used to represent data points.

Professional development opportunities for research data management available

If you are among the many researchers who are using the down time created by COVID-19-related curtailment of research for professional development, you might want to check out the data management resources below. The list was compiled by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Associate of American Universities (AAU) as part of an ongoing collaboration on public access to research. The APLU’s Council on Research, which distributed the list, offered special thanks to Utah State University; Lisa Johnston and Jim Wilgenbusch at University of Minnesota; and Cynthia Vitale at Penn State University.

  • Data Management Short Course for Scientists – From Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP) in cooperation with NOAA and the Data Conservancy.
  • Data Management Training Clearinghouse – A registry for online learning resources focusing on research data management, hosted by ESIP.
  • DataONE Education Modules – DataONE provides several downloadable lessons in PowerPoint format that can be incorporated into teaching materials. Also available are webinars and screencast tutorials.
  • Research Data Management and Sharing – Coursera offers this five-week, introductory-level course [course started April 6]. Enrollment for is free; and optional certificate of completion is available for a $49 fee.
  • Research Data Management: A Primer – Offered by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) this primer covers the basics of research data management.
  • Data Management & Curation – The Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), an international consortium of more than 750 academic institutions and research organizations, provides training in data access, curation, and methods of analysis for the social science research community.
  • Guide to Social Science Data Preparation and Archiving – Offered by ICPSR.
  • ETD+ Toolkit – Designed by the Educopia Institute for Graduate Students learning how to manage research for theses and dissertations, but useful to anyone involved in research.
  • MANTRA Research Data Management Training – A free online course from the University of Edinburgh for those who manage digital data as part of their research project. Modules include data protection, rights, and access; sharing and licensing; and metadata and curation.
  • Disciplinary RDM Training – Lists discipline-focused training units by RDMTrain. In addition to MANTRA (see above), units focusing on performing arts; archeology and social anthropology; health studies; and psychology are available. Maintained by the Digital Curation Centre of the U.K.

Image by Jisc, used under Creative Commons license.

Mike Crowder in his lab.

Miami University professor Mike Crowder named interim VPRI

Mike Crowder, professor and chair of Miami University’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry has been named both Dean of the Graduate School and Interim Vice President of Research & Innovation (VPRI) by Provost Jason Osborne. Both appointments are effective July 1.

Although it had been previously announced that the positions of Dean of the Graduate School and VPRI would be separated, it became necessary to postpone the VPRI search that was underway when, on March 16, President Greg Crawford announced that most Miami personnel would begin working remotely as a measure to help mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. As the search for a new Dean of the Graduate School had been completed by this time, Provost Osborne elected to simultaneously name the Dean and Interim VPRI. The provost intends to resume the search for a permanent VPRI as conditions allow.

Osborne said Crowder’s significant success with external funding, his mentorship of graduate and undergraduate students in his lab and his leadership of a large, research-active department — a role he has held since 2013 — made him a great choice to fill this role on an interim basis. With an active research program focused on metalloenzymes, antibiotic resistance, metal ion homeostasis, and inhibitor design, Crowder has been awarded more than $7 million in external grants.

Crowder will be working closely with current VPRI Jim Oris until Oris’ retirement on June 30.


Photo by Jeff Sabo, Miami University Photo Services.

GRFP logo

One Miami University graduate student, two alumni receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Keaka Farleigh, a PhD student in ecology, evolution, and environmental biology, has been awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF).  NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program “recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based Master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions.”

Miami undergraduate alumnus Kevin Summer received a Graduate Research Fellowship in support of his work as a PhD student at the University of Denver. Graduate School alumna Rhiannon Schultz, who will begin PhD studies this fall at the University of Georgia, also received a fellowship.

In addition, several current and former students received GRFP honorable mentions. They are McKenna Freeman, currently a masters student in psychology; Benjamin David Harding, currently a senior majoring in biochemistry; Rosamiel Ries, currently a senior majoring in geology and physics; Isabelle Andersen, an undergraduate alumna now studying at Baylor University; Avnika Bali, an undergraduate alumna now studying at Yale University; and Haley Elizabeth Thoresen, an undergraduate alumna now studying at the University of Idaho.


Updated April 21, 2020 to include Rhiannon Schultz.