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July 26, 2006

UMBC Biologist Receives Government’s Highest Honor for Young Scientists at White House Ceremony

Rachel M. Brewster Among Just 3 U.S. Biologists Nominated by NSF to Receive Presidential Early Career Award

UMBC biologist Rachel M. Brewster received the nation’s top honor for promising young scientists, the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), which were announced at a White House ceremony today.

The PECASE provides up to five years of financial support to the honored scientists for research and community outreach. Awardees must be nominated by a participating federal agency or department. Brewster was one of just three U.S. biologists nominated by the National Science Foundation (NSF) who were selected for the PECASE.

Rachel Brewster credits her student researchers with helping her win the PECASE award. Left to right: graduate students Michael Harrington (also a Meyerhoff Scholar), Pradeepa Jayachandran, Elim Hong, and Kavita Chalasani, Brewster, undergraduate student Nel Trasybule and high school student summer intern Stephen Maouyo.

Brewster will use her PECASE funding to involve high school, undergraduate and graduate students from diverse backgrounds in her lab’s research. Brewster’s specialty is genetic analysis of zebrafish embryos to better understand the causes of birth defects of the brain and central nervous system, the most common of which is spina bifida, the leading cause of childhood paralysis in the United States.

“It's certainly an amazing honor to receive this award,” said Brewster. In her acceptance speech, Brewster thanked UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski as the catalyst for the University’s Meyerhoff Scholarship Program. The Meyerhoff Program has become known as a national model for drawing talented minority students into research careers that often begin under the mentorship of UMBC professors.

“I have been very fortunate to work with some of these students in my lab,” said Brewster. She singled out UMBC alumna and former Meyerhoff Scholar Keisha John, who now attends the Watson Graduate School of Biological Sciences, as instrumental in producing some key data that made the award nomination possible.

“This is a great honor for Rachel and the department,” said Lasse Lindahl, professor and chair of UMBC’s biological sciences department. “The award will make officials in the White House’s Office of Science and Technology and colleagues around the country more familiar with the quality of research at UMBC. We are very proud of Dr. Brewster and her accomplishments.”

“Rachel Brewster is a wonderful colleague, an inspiring role model and a dedicated mentor to many students at UMBC,” said Lynn Zimmerman, professor of biology and vice provost for academic initiatives at UMBC. “She is a tremendous asset to UMBC's biological sciences department and we are delighted to see her receive this well deserved recognition.”

Brewster, an assistant professor of biological sciences at UMBC, received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and did postdoctoral work at the New York University’s Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine and the Department of Embryology at the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

The PECASE program recognizes outstanding scientists and engineers who show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of knowledge early in their careers. President Bush honored a total of 60 young scientists for their extensive research accomplishments and for their noteworthy educational contributions at the ceremony.

Posted by crose at July 26, 2006 7:28 PM