Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Physics professor receives $35000 research grant - The Breeze

When you turn over an hourglass something amazing happens. 

At least that’s how Klebert Feitosa feels about the process of sand flowing down an hourglass like water, but then coming to rest on the bottom as a solid. 

This ability for a material to have behaviors of both a solid and a liquid has become the subject of Feitosa’s extensive research. 

Feitosa, assistant professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy, received the 2012 Cottrell College Science Award from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement. 

This $35,000 grant will help with his research on soft condensed matter like foam, bubbles and sand, which appear to have solid characteristics but flow similarly to a liquid when in motion.

Feitosa said the reason for the behavior of these materials is largely unknown in the science world, and he hopes his research will find it in order to help predict the way it will behave in the future.

Feitosa explained that professors can be hired as tenure-track professors, in which there is a six-year probation period before they become a tenured professor. He said part of the expectation is that tenure track professors will be doing research with undergraduates. In order to do this research, the professors have to seek funding outside of JMU. 

He said he usually looks for funding from corporations that support new professors doing undergraduate research so he isn’t competing with more experienced, tenured profesors. 

Eric Gorton, public affairs coordinator for JMU, said this is just one of many examples of students and faculty receiving recognition for achievement in research. More than 195 faculty, staff and students brought in $21,450,410 in external funding from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012. 

David Brakke, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, said the award was quite the accomplishment.

“The process is highly competitive and restricted to faculty members at the beginning of their scientific careers,” Brakke said. “Research Corporation has been so successful in identifying young talent that 40 of their awardees have gone on to receive Nobel prizes later in their careers.” 

Feitosa believes that the Nobel prize is an attainable goal if he continues his research. 

“It’s not far fetched that this program one day be the place where everything started,” Feitosa said.

Brakke added that over time a number of faculty in chemistry and physics have received the awards from Research Corporation. 

“The grant to Dr. Feitosa is a testament to his efforts to augment resources for his scholarly endeavors,” Gorton said.

He said it can be difficult for professors to get funding for their research, especially during these tough economic times.

“It’s getting harder for them to get research money for their labs, so I feel fortunate because I know people from JMU who applied for the same program and didn’t get their research funded,” Feitosa said.

He said he’s also proud to be a part of a university that not only encourages research but provides resources and conditions to make the projects competitive.

Students also get to be a part of his research. Another qualification for receiving the grant is that undergraduate students take part in the research. 

This summer, Jonathan Iredell, a senior physics major, helped with preliminary studies related to the project. 

“I was ecstatic when I found out about this award, since I have worked with Dr. Feitosa before the summer,” Iredell said. “My research experience from undergrad was something I could not have gotten at any other college, and I am honored to have had [a] research opportunity of such magnitude so early in my career.” 

Feitosa also expects to enroll one other student later this year to help out in the lab on the research.


Contact Allison Michelli and Jen Eyring at

The application process was highly competitive. It took Feitosa six months just to write a proposal for what exactly he plans to do in his research for his project, “Transient Glassy Dynamics of Dense Emulsions at the Particle Level.” 

“I was, to tell you the truth, skeptical that I would get [it] the first time,” Feitosa said.

 To prepare for the full application process, Feitosa had to write a one-page pre-proposal with an explanation of his project’s content. 

His pre-plan was approved by a Research Coporation committee. After approval, he begin to draft his formal proposal, which took six months of writing to complete.

One of the qualifications for the grant is to be fairly new to the science world. Applicants have to be in the first three years of tenure track appointment and within 12 years of receiving their doctoral degree. The Corporation for Science Advancement also supports research in predominantly undergraduate institution.

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