Chemistry Professor Recognized with National Science Foundation CAREER Award

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Ekaterina Pletneva, assistant professor of chemistry, recently received an award from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. The prestigious award recognizes junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher, researcher, and integration of the two. Pletneva’s strong research background and commitment to mentorship and local community outreach were cited by the NSF as examples of her outstanding teaching.

Ekaterina V. Pletneva in her laboratory. Pletneva was recently awarded a $675,000 research award to study the structural changes of proteins. Her work could help improve methods of harvesting solar energy and develop drugs that target specific proteins. (Photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)

Pletneva’s $675,000 award supports her project, Mapping Energy Landscapes of Protein Conformational Switching. The work focuses on improving understanding of protein function in cells, which could lead to molecular systems with switchable properties.

The project aims to “understand the basics of protein dynamics and develop new photochemical tools to study these processes,” says Pletneva. She explains that her research will examine proteins “known to drastically change structure and understand the mechanisms of these changes.” Examining what causes proteins to switch structures has practical applications including producing drugs that will target proteins with specific structures, designing better components for artificial photosynthesis to harvest solar energy, and providing a useful base for molecular electronics.

Pletneva stresses the importance of student participation in her research. Her lab includes many undergraduates from Dartmouth and other universities, as well as German students from the German Exchange Service (DAAD) program. “The Dartmouth and German students are able to share research techniques, as well as engage in cultural and language exchange,” says Pletneva.

Since arriving at Dartmouth in 2007, Pletneva has taught physical biochemistry, inorganic biochemistry, and general chemistry. She has established a new laboratory for Physical Chemistry I and introduced students in her upper-level courses to writing inquiry letters to the authors of research articles and critical reviews for publication in chemistry journals. Olga Karagiaridi ’08 and Tiberiu G. Moga ’09′s critical review was published in ChemTracts Inorganic Chemistry, and papers by several other students are being considered, says Pletneva.

Pletneva received BA and MS degrees in chemistry from the Higher Chemical College of the Russian Academy of Sciences. She received her PhD in inorganic chemistry from Iowa State University in 2001 and postdoctoral training at the California Institute of Technology. Recently, she was awarded Dartmouth’s Class of 1962 Faculty Fellowship for excellence in undergraduate teaching and promise as a scholar.

Other Dartmouth professors who have been recently honored with NSF Career Awards include Devin Balkcom, Christopher Bailey-Kellogg, Amit Chakrabarti, Tanzeem Choudhury, Fabio Pellacini, Sean Smith, and Afra Zomorodian in computer science; Reza Olfati-Saber and Petia Vlahovska at Thayer School of Engineering; Kristina Lynch, Barrett Rogers, and Robert Caldwell in physics and astronomy; Albert Erives in biological sciences, David Peterson in the linguistics and cognitive science program; and David Bucci in psychological and brain sciences.

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