Assistant Professor Petia Vlahovska Wins Salomon Award

Assistant Professor of Engineering Petia Vlahovska was one of 15 faculty researchers who were honored on March 14 with a Salomon Award. The competitive grants come courtesy of the Richard B. Salomon Faculty Research Awards administered by the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR).

Clyde Briant, vice president for research, said the awards are primarily to stimulate new research projects by faculty. “We know oftentimes it’s hard to get (federal) funding” to begin major research projects, Briant said. “These funds are in place to help you do that.”

“We are the entity in modern society that’s charged with discovery,” said Provost Mark Schlissel, congratulating the award recipients. “This is what we thrive on, this is what we’re here for.” Schlissel, like Briant, noted that these awards are important for jump-starting complex research projects by getting preliminary data. “These awards help get research projects off the ground and get them competitive for further funding,” Schlissel said.

The Salomon Awards were established to support excellence in scholarly work by providing funding for selected faculty research projects of exceptional merit. Recipients receive as much as $15,000. The Salomon Awards have been administered by OVPR since 2003, and a total of about $2 million has been awarded to 132 faculty.

Vlahovska won a $15,000 award for her proposal, “Tension regulated phase separation in biomimetic multicomponent membranes.” Cells and cellular organelles are encapsulated by membranes composed of hundreds of lipids. This lipid diversity is essential for cell functions such as signaling: lipid mixtures organize into rafts, which serve as platforms for molecular-binding events at the membrane interface. Raft dynamics is regulated by physio-chemical variables like composition, temperature, and tension.

Vlahovska’s proposed research centers on the effects of tension on raft evolution and stability, which is virtually unexplored due to difficulties in tension control and quantification. Vlahovska proposes the use of electric fields and microfluidic flows to create well-defined tension conditions that will allow her to experimentally investigate lipid demixing and domain evolution in tense membranes. This knowledge will benefit bioengineering applications that exploit cell signaling machinery, such as targeted drug delivery.


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