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Three University of West Florida professors have been awarded National Science Foundation grants totaling $278,880 which will benefit programs and research in the university’s biology department.

The grants were awarded to Dr. Peter Cavnar, assistant professor of biology; Dr. Hui-Min Chung, associate professor of biology; and Dr. Claudia Stanny, director of the Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment.

“It’s a unique grant because it combines novel research questions within the context of the classroom and laboratory settings,” Cavnar said. “This grant helps students to gain research skills and contribute to the research part of the university’s mission. The grant’s design is especially helpful to transfer students. About 40 percent of the incoming students in the Department of Biology are transfer students.”

The three-year grant will fund a four-week bridge program in Summer 2018 for transfer students to get acclimated to the university and develop research projects heading into the fall semester. The students’ research will be focused on coquina clams, commonly found on Pensacola beaches.

“They’ll learn research skills developed around looking at the genetics and the cell biology of the coquinas,” Cavnar said. “Basically, no one knows anything about the genome of the coquina at all. The genome has never been sequenced. So, we’re probably going to be the first ones to sequence that genome and analyze the cellular processes of the coquina clams.”

The grant will also fund the transformation of genetics and cell biology labs at UWF into Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences, known as CUREs.

“CUREs are different from traditional lab experiments,” Cavnar said. “CUREs are much less structured. We’re going to basically ask novel hypotheses that no one has been looking at and have the students do the experiments as best we can.”

For more information about the UWF Department of Biology, visit uwf.edu/biology.

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