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Susquehanna Biology Professor Awarded $550,000 NSF Grant

Published on July 7, 2014

 • National Science Foundation recognizes neuroscientist's work 

 • Students get hands-on work in cutting-edge research 

Erin Keen-Rhinehart, a neuroscientist and assistant professor of biology at Susquehanna University, has been awarded a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant of $550,000 by the National Science Foundation.

The foundation’s most prestigious grant is givenSusquehanna University biology professor Erin Keen-Rhinehart in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of their organization’s mission. Keen-Rhinehart studies the effects of maternal nutrition during gestation on offspring brain and endocrine development along with long-time collaborator, Dr. Jill Schneider from Lehigh University.

Growing Reputation

Keen-Rhinehart’s work has already generated more than a dozen publications in well-respected journals, as well as two invited reviews and a book chapter. The grant will fund her research for the next five years.

“It’s pretty amazing to get something so difficult to come by. Competition for federal grant money is intense, and you need to be doing exciting work well to compete successfully,” Keen-Rhinehart said.

Involving students in research

Keen-Rhinehart has been integral in the formation of the university’s new neuroscience major and considers her work with students as important as her research. Funds from the grant will go toward maintaining student research opportunities, trips to conferences and professional networking for students in a burgeoning field, as well as outreach into the community about neuroscience.

The neuroscience major is an interdisciplinary approach to studying the brain that combines the strengths of the biology, chemistry and psychology departments. This major gives students a broad understanding of scientific endeavors that seek to explain the nervous system and how it generates complex perceptions and behaviors.

“It’s really nice that all of the students here have the opportunity to do research and it’s the solidifying process where you realize how science is done,” Keen-Rhinehart said. “Susquehanna encourages classes to be structured in a way that mimics the process of scientific research where students get some background knowledge, ask a question, conduct an experiment and analyze data because that’s really how science is done. The development of critical-thinking skills from working in a lab is helpful in everything students do.”

Keen-Rhinehart joined Susquehanna’s faculty five years ago and has bachelor’s degrees from Lehigh University and a doctoral degree in biomedical neuroscience from the University of Florida. The grant will allow her and her students to continue research investigating the effects of nutrient restriction during pregnancy on offspring’s central nervous system regulation of ingestive behavior and reproductive system function in hamsters.

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