May 12, 2015
Prof. James Wilking
UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry alumnus, Professor Jim Wilking (PhD Chemistry ’08 Mason Group), has received NSF's prestigious Young Investigator CAREER award.
 
The National Science Foundation (NSF) award provides support for early career development of teacher-scholars. Notable because it goes to a single person instead of a team, it honors outstanding scientists who haven't yet received tenure. Prof. Wilking is currently an assistant professor at Montana State University in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Center for Biofilm Engineering.
 
Excerpt From MSU News Service (by Evelyn Boswell):
 
MSU researcher receives NSF’s top award for young scientists
 
BOZEMAN – A Montana State University scientist who researches the slimy communities known as biofilms has received the National Science Foundation’s top award for young scientists.
 
The Young Investigator CAREER Award gives Jim Wilking $503,396 over five years to investigate the physical and material properties of biofilms, the mechanics of soft materials and other topics related to the clumping together of microorganisms. He will also use the award to develop teaching modules for after-school programs across Montana.
 
Prof. Jim Wilking studies images on a confocal microscope in MSU's Center for Biofilm Engineering. 
 
“Most bacteria do not exist as free swimming individuals, but instead on surfaces in soft, gel-like communities called biofilms,” [Prof. Wilking] explained. “These films are implicated in a tremendous number of health and industrial problems such as hip implant infections and oil pipeline deterioration, but they also play beneficial roles in sewage treatment and agricultural plant protection. For both beneficial and problematic biofilms, knowledge of their mechanical response to physical forces is critically important, yet greatly lacking.
 
“My research project aims to address this knowledge gap by using micromechanical measurements to develop a fundamental, materials-based understanding of biofilm mechanics. These studies could lead to new materials-based strategies for biofilm removal, which are sorely needed.
 
“This project also aims to integrate soft materials science and biofilm science with food science, and to develop educational food science modules to attract students from rural communities in Montana and other sparsely populated states into STEM fields,” Wilking said. “Integrating microbial mat research from nearby Yellowstone National Park will provide the proposed work with international exposure.”
 
Read the entire article here.
 
MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.