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Jaan Mannik, assistant professor of physics, has received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award.

The CAREER award is the NSF’s most prestigious honor for junior faculty who demonstrate outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.

“Jaan’s accomplishments at UT are very impressive,” said Hanno Weitering, department head. “He joined our department in the fall of 2011 and already built a fully functional biophysics laboratory and attracted several students. It is truly remarkable that Jaan hit the jackpot with his very first proposal to the NSF CAREER program, especially considering the budget sequester in Washington.”

Mannik’s award includes a $635,000 grant over five years to support his educational activities and research.

“This grant will help me carry out my research over the next five years,” said Mannik. “It will also help me to build my career here at UT as a university professor and recruit new graduate and undergraduate students to my group.”

Mannik’s research group will be seeking to investigate how the most basic cellular functions, DNA replication and cell division, depend on the cell shape using Escherichia coli (E. coli) cells.

“A few years ago my colleagues and I were studying common E. coli bacteria and we discovered that when these bacteria were squeezed to very narrow channels on silicon chips, they drastically changed their shapes,” said Mannik. “Surprisingly, despite very irregular shapes, most of these bacteria were still capable of replicating their DNA and dividing into new cells.”

In addition to providing understanding of the fundamental properties of bacterial cells, these studies can point out new molecular targets for antibiotics, and develop micro- and nanoengineered chips which can be used in many laboratories for live cell imaging.

“Since we do not have any other faculty working in experimental biophysics, Jaan is truly leading the department in what promises to be a highly rewarding research endeavor,” said Weitering.

In addition, Mannik’s team will supervise students from UT’s VolsTeach program in their research methods course, provide opportunities for high school and undergraduate students to obtain interdisciplinary research experience, and perform presentations and lab tours for UT’s Educational Advancement Program with the aim to motivate participating students to choose careers in science.