Jim Oris in his office in Miami University's Roudebush Hall.

VPRI Jim Oris offers farewell to Miami community

I started my career at Miami University in August of 1986, fresh out of a postdoctoral position at my PhD alma mater, Michigan State University. My undergraduate years were spent at a small, undergraduate institution near Dayton, Ohio, and my graduate programs were both at large, Research 1 universities. Both experiences had positive impacts on the view of my future career. I remember telling my PhD advisor and my friends that the perfect place for me was a university that valued undergraduate teaching and research mentoring, but had high expectations for graduate advising, funded research, and scholarship. I also grew up in north central Ohio, and as a young adult had no thought of returning to Ohio, with the exception that I was a huge Cincinnati Reds and Bengals fan as a kid and enjoyed the Southwest Ohio landscape.

Prior to my job interview, my only previous experience in Oxford was as an undergraduate, coming down once or twice to use the library and visit a friend from high school. I never imagined that I would one day be back as a prospective professor. When I drove into Oxford on a spring morning in 1986 to start the interview process, I looked around town and campus and thought, “Wow, what a beautiful place. I could live and raise a family here.”

I was offered the job, and proceeded to spend the next 34 years here. Miami was the only stop along the path of my entire academic career. I developed my teaching and research portfolio, came up through the professorial ranks and served as a faculty member in many service roles, including chair of Zoology graduate programs, chair of IACUC, chair of the University Senate Executive Committee, and president of my national professional society. I had the honor of serving as major advisor of 13 master’s and 14 doctoral students, all of whom went on for further graduate study or directly into careers in academia, government, and industry. I advised over 100 undergraduate researchers in my lab, and was on over 50 graduate committees. In my discipline of eco-toxicology, I grew a respectable funding and publication record (172 publications; $5.1M in funding). I have been honored by my colleagues at the highest level, as a University Distinguished Professor and with the Benjamin Harrison Medallion. These are personal distinctions, but they were made possible by my mentors and colleagues, as well as the atmosphere at Miami that fosters creativity and innovation.

Jim Oris (back row, center) at a society meeting with some of his former students and postdocs and their current students.

I met and worked with many interdisciplinary colleagues here, who have become life-long friends. For example, after a somewhat random introduction and conversation back in 1990, John Bailer and I embarked on an amazing collaboration. He has been one of my closest colleagues, and we now share about 20%-25% of our publications together as co-authors. Together we have created work that has had impact in our fields that neither of us could have done alone. That type of collaboration is part of what makes the Miami Experience so great.

In 2008, I was offered the opportunity to become the Associate Dean for Research in the Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship. Four years later, I was named Associate Provost for Research and Dean of the Graduate School. I didn’t have experience directing the activities of professional staff, so I turned to what I knew best and adopted the same approach that I used to mentor graduate students: help them grow and when it is time, celebrate their next phase in life. Throughout, I have tried to be transparent, responsive, collegial, and creative in my approach to my relations with faculty, staff, students, and the community in all disciplines and on all campuses. I was always up-front and honest with everyone in all of my interactions. That approach, in my mind, was simply the “Miami Way.”

In 2018/19, Miami embarked on an aggressive strategic planning process that resulted in ambitious goals for graduate programs and research efforts. In recognition of the expanded importance of these operations, this past September the university’s trustees approved a resolution to separate the two positions I have held since 2012. Going forward, the plan was that the Graduate School and the Office of Research & Innovation were to be managed by two separate individuals, the Dean of the Graduate School and the Vice President for Research and Innovation (VPRI). In October, I was appointed as Miami’s inaugural VPRI. I want to thank Provost Osborne for his foresight and leadership as we look toward the future of research, scholarship, and creative activity at the university.

Around the same time, I announced my intention to retire at the end of this school year. Provost Osborne initiated the search for the two positions shortly thereafter. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to complete the search for a new graduate dean. However, the search for the new VPRI had to be postponed. The provost recently announced that Mike Crowder, Chair of the Chemistry and Biochemistry department, will be taking the graduate dean position starting July 1st. In addition, he will serve as Interim VPRI until the university is able to reboot the search for my replacement.

I will remain in the role of Vice President until I retire, effective June 30, 2020. As I look back at the many positions I’ve held during my 34-year academic career, I’m proud of my personal and professional achievements and the awards and recognition I’ve received, but my highest sense of accomplishment has been the success of my students and, for the past 12 years, my professional staff and administrative colleagues. Miami has been a special place to work and have a life. And it is even more beautiful than when I drove into town back in 1986.

The place is a key component, but the people are what I will miss the most. Isolated and working from home for the last four months of my career is not what I had planned when I decided to retire. More than anything, I miss walking across campus, seeing the students headed to class, meeting (face to face!) with colleagues, and working closely with my team in Roudebush Hall. What lifts my spirit is that I know I will leave behind a vibrant and growing research and innovation enterprise, and I will look back with pride that I was able to participate in such a wonderful organization. To think that in such a place, I lived such a life.

Love and Honor,
Jim Oris's signature

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.

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.

Overview of conference space during one of the poster sessions at Miami University's 25th Annual Undergraduate Research Forum.

26th Annual Undergraduate Research Forum to be held online

In response to Governor DeWine’s stay-at-home order — and to protect the health of all members of our community — Miami University’s 26th Annual Undergraduate Research Forum will be held online via Webex on April 29.

As with the in-person event, the online event will feature both oral and poster sessions. The 10-minute oral presentations will be held at 9:00am, 10:30am, 1:30pm, and 3:00pm. Each poster session, at 9:30am, 1:30pm, and 3:15pm, respectively, will be divided into five concurrent clusters, with up to 20 posters per cluster. Students presenting posters will each have five minutes to explain their projects. Faculty members have volunteered to moderate all sessions.

In place of the traditional luncheon, there will be a plenary session from 12:15pm to 1:00pm, during which the president and provost are expected to make remarks. The LAURE Award will also be announced during this time.

The Office of Research for Undergraduates (ORU) is partnering with Career Services and University Libraries to provide workshops to prepare the 584 student contributors for presenting their research effectively in the new format. We are also working with presenters to ensure that the online Forum will be accessible to attendees who use assistive technology.

Visit the event website for more information.

Edited 04/27/2020 to provide a link to the event website.

Edited 04/15/2020 to update poster session times.

Photo by Scott Kissell, 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.

A line of trophies

Distinguished Scholar and Junior Faculty Scholar awards announced

Miami University Distinguished Scholar Awards for 2020 have been presented to Scott Hartley, Volwiler distinguished professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry; Terri Messman-Moore, professor in the department of psychology; and Elizabeth Wardle, Howe professor in the department of English and director of the Howe Center for Writing Excellence.

The 2020 class of Miami University Distinguished Scholars are (from left to right) Scott Hartley, Terri Messman-Moore, and Elizabeth Wardle

Distinguished Scholar Awards honor faculty whose sustained excellence in research or other creative activity has brought them prominence in their fields.

Miami University Junior Faculty Scholar Awards have been presented to Andrew Paluch, associate professor in the department of chemical, paper, and biomedical engineering; Ryan Gunderson, assistant professor in the department of sociology and gerontology; Brittany Aronson, an assistant professor in the department of educational leadership; and Rosemary Pennington, assistant professor in the department of media, journalism, and film.

The 2020 class of Miami University Junior Faculty Scholars are (from left to right) Andrew Paluch, Ryan Gunderson, Brittany Aronson, and Rosemary Pennington

Junior Faculty Scholar Awards honor faculty who have demonstrated great potential in research or artistry and have achieved significant standing in their fields. Candidates for the Junior Faculty Scholar Award must have received their highest degree no more than eight years before the time of nomination.

The scholars, named by the committee on faculty research, each receive a $2,000 grant for the pursuit of further research.

They were to be honored at the University Awards Reception, which was scheduled for March 17, but canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trophy photo by Brad.K via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license. Faculty photos by Miami University Photo Services.

A health care provider wears surgical gloves and holds a clipboard with a checklist.

Miami donates protective gear to area health care facilities

Area health care workers benefited from donations of personal protective equipment (PPE) collected across Miami University’s Oxford and Regionals campuses last week.

As Miami faculty and staff closed down campus laboratory facilities in preparation for Gov. Mike DeWine’s (Miami ‘69) stay-at-home order last week, unused protective gear was collected for donation to health care workers.

Most of the items were sent to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, UC Health, the Butler County Board of Health, Mercy Health-Fairfield and the Atrium Medical Center.

Rick Page, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, led a departmentwide collection of supplies from research labs and teaching labs. The department donated:

  • More than 125,000 gloves and 750 goggles to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and UC Health

The Miami University police department donated items including:

  • 10 boxes of gloves (250 per box)
  • 196 N95 respirators

Dennis Tobin, associate professor of art, said Miami’s ceramics studio commonly uses N95 respirators as they mix their own clay and glazes from raw materials. He donated:

  • 120 N95 respirators to Oxford’s McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital/TriHealth

Mercy Health and Atrium Medical Center contacted Miami University Regionals about the availability of PPE to spare, said Cathy Bishop-Clark, Regionals dean. Laboratory coordinators collected supplies, and Perry Richardson, senior director of media and community relations, delivered a car full of items to each facility.

The Regionals also collected cleaning and sanitizing supplies (wipes, paper towels, tissues) to donate to the Hamilton police department.

Jeff Johnson, director of environmental health and safety, collected items from the animal care facility and departments across the Oxford campus, including biology, kinesiology and health, psychology and chemical, paper and biomedical engineering.

“We had about four full pickup truck loads of materials,” Johnson said. He and University Fire Marshall Rick Dusha picked up the items which were then centrally stored by Robin Parker, general counsel for Miami, until they were donated.

Jim Oris, vice president for research and innovation, helped coordinate the campuswide collection of PPE. He extended his thanks to everyone involved with this effort.

“I am proud to work for a place like this. The campus is beautiful, but the people make it special,” he said.

A list provided by Oris’ office for additional items donated includes:

  • 790 boxes of gloves (80,000 pairs)
  • 3,130 surgical masks
  • 1,100 surgical caps
  • 782 goggles
  • 355 shoe covers
  • 216 N95 respirators
  • 200 surgical gowns

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

Photo via pxfuel.com, used under Creative Commons license.

A pile of cards, all of which have "change" written on them.

Welcome to our redesign

If you’re a subscriber or a regular reader, you might have found yourself doing a quick double-check of the address bar when you saw this post because it didn’t look like what you were used to!

As promised in an earlier post about changes in our office, we’ve updated our blog template. The new look is a little cleaner, and we’ve reduced the number of post categories. Together, these changes make our content easier to find and easier to read.

Take a look around and use the comments to let us know what you think!

Image by geralt via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons license.