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.

A crowd of people

New NSF-approved formats for biosketch, current and pending support required beginning June 1

The newest National Science Foundation (NSF) Proposal & Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG) takes effect June 1, 2020. The most significant changes involve NSF-approved formats for the Biographical Sketch and Current and Pending Support sections, both of which will now have to be in NSF-approved file formats: either SciENcv or NSF fillable-form PDF.

SciENcv integrates with ORCID so that biographical sketch information can be imported directly from ORCID, eliminating some manual entry of information in multiple places. The NSF fillable forms do not integrate with ORCID.

NSF requests that principal investigators start using the new formats now (even for proposals that will be submitted before June 1), so that they can identify potential issues. Feedback about the process should be emailed to policy@nsf.gov.

NSF’s Biographical Sketch and Current and Pending Support pages include links to the fillable forms as well as FAQs. Visit the SciENcv site for video tutorials and FAQs.


Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons license.

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.

Blackboard with the word "UPDATE" written on it. An outstretched hand holds an alarm clock in a space between the "P" and the "D" in the word update.

NSF updates research community on COVID-19 response

Jean Feldman, head of NSF’s policy office, gave a COVID-19 update as part of a panel discussion hosted by the National Council of Research Administrators (NCURA) on March 25. As described below, she addressed several of the questions most frequently being fielded by her office. For detailed responses on these and other FAQs, visit the NSF COVID-19 webpage. A new set of questions and answers was posted on March 26, with a specific section on Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) grants.

Are NSF proposal deadlines being extended?

Many deadlines have been extended, but these are being decided and announced on a one-by-one basis. As of March 27, 15 deadlines are listed on NSF’s Impact on Deadline Dates webpage.

Can we continue to charge salary costs to our grants while non-essential research has been curtailed?

Grant recipients can continue charging salaries, stipends and benefits as long as these payments are consistent with their home institution’s policies. However, you should not assume that supplemental funding will be available to continue salaries when research activities can be restarted. In other words, you might end up with a budget shortfall down the road. If you anticipate this happening, you should contact your program officer.

Can universities donate personal protective equipment that was purchased with grant funding?

This is typically an unallowable expense, but funding agencies have discretion to approve such donations. Contact your program officer to see if it will be allowed. If you plan to donate now and then use university funds later to replenish your supply, work with your Grants & Contracts accountant to very carefully document the donation and replacement process.

How are award decision timelines being impacted?

The award process is currently continuing as normal; panels that were scheduled have gone ahead (virtually). Over time, delays may occur, but it’s too soon to predict those now.

Feldman encourages principal investigators and research administrators to contact their program officer or the Policy Office (policy@nsf.gov) with questions. Please also refer to Miami’s Research and Innovation COVID-19 and Your Research Program webpage, and in particular, the Agency and COGR Guidance webpage.


Photo by geralt via needpix.com, used under Creative Commons license.

A fountain featuring Atlas supporting the world on his shoulders.

NSF proposals to require new current and pending support format beginning June 1

Columns and arches in Union Station.

National Science Foundation’s latest Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) has been released and takes effect for proposals submitted on or after June 1. One of the more notable changes in the new guide is a requirement for information about current and pending support (CPS). CPS information is used by reviewers to assess the “capacity of the individual to carry out the research as well as to help assess any potential overlap/duplication with the project being proposed.”

The new PAPPG includes a requirement that CPS information be submitted in an NSF-approved format. The two approved methods for generating CPS information in an approved format are through SciENcv and through a fillable-form PDF. Both of these options are still in development, with no definite word on when we’ll be able to take a look.

NSF has released an FAQ document on the topic, which explains that CPS information formatted in ways other than the two approved methods will not be accepted. In fact, submitting a CPS PDF prepared in any other way will generate an error message.

Most of the remaining FAQs focus on the content of the current and pending information, rather than the format. I’ve summarized some of the most relevant information here:

  • Gifts should not be reported in CPS. However, an item or service given with an expectation of a time commitment from a researcher is not considered a gift; it’s an in-kind contribution. Ask your Research & Sponsored Programs representative if you need help determining whether something is a gift or an in-kind contribution.
  • In-kind contributions with an associated time commitment should be included in CPS (even if the contribution is not to be used on the proposed project).
  • Start-up packages should not be included in CPS.

Federal funders are increasingly concerned with accurate reporting of CPS information. Falsely reported information can be a serious matter. If you have any questions on what should be reported, please contact your Research & Sponsored Programs representative.


Written by Amy Hurley Cooper, Associate Director of Proposal Development, Office of Research & Innovation, Miami University.

Photo of Atlas fountain by Pauline E via geograph.org.uk. Photo of columns and arches by takomabibelot via Flickr. Both used under Creative Commons license.

Kevin Ruiz works with equipment in the lab of Andrea Kravats

NSF-funded program gives students from around the country access to Miami faculty and state-of-the-art resources

Miami sophomore zoology major Ty Cooley searches for amphibians at Shaker Trace Wetlands in Harrison, Ohio.

They ventured from Iowa, North Carolina, Puerto Rico and other communities to study at Miami University during the summer as part of the NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. Miami students also are eligible to apply to the program. Some undergraduate researchers came to take advantage of equipment and resources that might not be available at their universities. Others came to be mentored by a specific faculty member. They all gained valuable research experiences, connections and the thrill of scientific adventure.

Here are a few of their stories.

Laser mystique

Samir Bali looks back fondly to 2006 when his baby, of sorts, was born. You won’t find arms, legs or even a stray hair on Penelope. Think more twisting wires, camera lenses and laser beams.

Despite the seemingly breakneck speed of technological advancement, current methods of measuring turbid (opaque) substances’ properties are not foolproof. With the help of his dad, Bali, a physics professor at Miami, built and refined a laser-based sensor to solve this problem.

“I was introduced to a physics research lab at the age of 19, and I’ll never forget the sights and sounds when I first walked in — the green, red and orange colors of the lasers, the quiet humming of the vacuum pumps. I remember feeling this powerful sense of intrigue. I enjoy recreating those moments for myself by reliving them with my undergraduate researchers.

— Samir Bali

A prototype like this doesn’t come with an instruction manual.

Before visiting undergraduates Menaka Kumar, from North Carolina State University, and Sydney Rollins, from Whitman College in Washington, could begin investigating turbid media, they first needed to understand how the device works and develop a standard process for using it.

“She [the sensor] was kind of making us mad. We gave her a name so we could call her something,” said Rollins.

Penelope, they quickly realized, requires extensive cleaning. Even the smallest speck of dust skews the results.

After weeks of testing, Kumar and Rollins hoped to turn their attention to melamine – a compound that is virtually indistinguishable from milk when diluted in water. It’s used to produce glues, adhesives and other plastics.

In 2008, melamine was discovered in a Chinese company’s infant milk. Melamine artificially inflates the protein content of a substance and has nearly the same particle size as milk, making it hard to detect. Infants across China who consumed the melamine-contaminated milk developed bladder stones, and several died. The scandal shocked the world and pointed to a need for better contamination detection methods.

“Chemical detection methods are very targeted,” Bali explained, “but you need to know what you’re looking for.”

As with many opaque substances, it’s challenging to determine the properties of liquid melamine. Penelope, they hope, can shine light on this substance to prevent future contamination.

Chemical change

REU student Echo DeVries, a senior at Clarke University in Iowa, was mentored by Hang Ren, Miami assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry this summer. Their project: measuring the distribution of surface charge on electrodes.

An electrode conducts electricity and allows reactions to occur on its surface when electricity is applied. These electrodes play a key role in electrocatalysis, the process of using electricity to drive chemical reactions. For example, an electrode can be used to convert water to hydrogen fuel. Hydrogen is a clean fuel, which produces no CO2 emissions – the same fuel NASA uses to launch rockets. However, the generation of hydrogen on the electrode surface is not uniform. Hot spots exist that efficiently catalyze this reaction.

That’s where Ren and DeVries’ research comes in.

Different electrode surface charges could cause electrochemical reactions to behave differently. That’s why Ren and DeVries analyzed electrodes’ properties and surface charges.

Down the hall from Ren’s lab, Kevin Ruiz, an REU student from the University of Puerto Rico, explored a different area of chemistry research. Alongside his mentor Andrea Kravats, Miami assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and graduate student Yaa Amankwah, Ruiz studied molecular chaperones, which are proteins that assist in maintaining cellular integrity by folding and unfolding proteins that are misfolded. Incorrect folding of proteins has been linked to degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and Type 2 diabetes. Kravats hopes her lab’s work can one day be used to establish new cancer treatments or therapies.

“ Students are eager to learn and tend to get involved early in their undergraduate careers here, giving them an excellent opportunity to excel in their studies.

— Andrea Kravats

At the University of Puerto Rico, Ruiz is a chemical engineering major, but his goal is to become a biochemical engineer. His summer at Miami provided an opportunity to dig into research he’s excited about.

“I already work with protein purification in Puerto Rico, but not the background of why the protein purifies, how it purifies, how we can separate proteins from others. It has been a really good experience,” he said.

Wetland wonders

Ty Cooley, a Miami University sophomore zoology major, hunched eagerly over a bucket filled with pond water from Shaker Trace Wetlands in Harrison, Ohio, about 20 miles southwest of Oxford. Cooley, originally from New York, gently swirled the bucket’s contents, revealing a host of creatures swimming beneath the algae: mayflies, water mites, water boatmen, glass worms, water scorpions. His eyes lit up as he dug deeper into the bucket and pulled out a large dragonfly larva.

“You see this?” he said, pointing near the arm. “This is where the mouth is located. Let me see if I can get him to- Whoa!” The dragonfly suddenly expanded and thrust an arm-like tongue outward.

Cooley maintained his grip.

“They will shoot out like that, grab stuff, and pull it in. It’s like an alien!”

He’s been bitten by water scorpions. Poked by dragonfly larva. Burned in the scorching July sun. Such is the life of a field researcher, but it is, without question, one chosen gleefully.

Cooley and his mentor, graduate student Jess McQuigg from Mount Vernon, Ohio, are both researchers in biology associate professor Michelle Boone’s amphibian lab. This summer they studied different types of macroinvertebrates in 21 different wetland systems around Hamilton, Butler and Preble counties. Macroinvertebrates are visible to the naked eye but lack a spine. As part of the lab’s larger project, they wanted to see how certain macroinvertebrates affect the density of a pathogen called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd or amphibian chytrid fungus for short) in a given wetland.

Bd is responsible for a significant number of amphibian declines and extinctions, and many sources call it the most devastating pathogen in wildlife history. According to research in Boone’s lab, this pathogen exists in about 30% of wetlands in southwest Ohio.

But the team is optimistic that they’ll discover a method for controlling the pathogen. One of the lab’s big goals is to understand how wetlands can be created that are more naturally resistant to Bd.

As the weather turns colder, Cooley and McQuigg will be back in the lab performing DNA analysis to determine the locations and quantities of the pathogen – what McQuigg refers to as their “fall and winter sport.”


Written by Alicia Auhagen, Miami University Marketing and Creative Services. Originally appeared as a “Top Story” on  Miami University’s News and Events website.

Photos by Jeff Sabo, Miami University Photo Services.

A fish ladder

FastLane and Research.gov to be unavailable November 8-12

"Road Ahead Closed" sign on a street, flanked by orange traffic cones.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has issued a notification that FastLane and Research.gov will be unavailable beginning at 8:00pm ET on Friday, November 8 through 6:00am ET on Tuesday, November 12.

During this time, NSF will be migrating its business applications to a “modern and flexible” platform. The work will include an upgrade of the alpha-numeric character set used by FastLane and Research.gov to correct text errors — particularly those associated with special characters — that may appear in proposals and project reports.

As a federal agency, NSF is closed on Veterans Day, and the migration was scheduled for the Veterans Day weekend to minimize the impact of the unavailability of the two systems for PIs, research administrators, and NSF staff.

NSF advises that there will be no access to FastLane or Research.gov during the maintenance window. No proposals can be prepared or submitted, nor can project reports or cash requests be submitted. Information and documents that are entered into either system prior to the migration will be accessible following the migration. This includes in-progress proposals and project reports.


Road closed photo by The Local People Photo Archive via Flickr.  Fish ladder photo by Oscar_Huebner via Pixabay. Both used under Creative Commons license.