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(Last updated 11/10/10)

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Previous stories pertaining to Professor Lower's research:

"Scientists Study How Asbestos Fibers Trigger Cancer In Human Cells," 12/18/08.

LOWER WINS PRESIDENTIAL AWARD

Research to reveal how bacteria stick to surfaces

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Steven K. Lower has received the highest award that a young researcher can receive in the United States.

The Ohio State University scientist is among 85 scientists and engineers honored with the 2010 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). He will receive his award in a White House ceremony later this fall.

"Science and technology have long been at the core of America’s economic strength and global leadership," President Obama said in a statement. "I am confident that these individuals, who have shown such tremendous promise so early in their careers, will go on to make breakthroughs and discoveries that will continue to move our nation forward in the years ahead.”

Steven K. Lower

Lower was recognized for “developing tools to explore the forces that are at play during interactions between the microbial world and solid mineral surfaces, and education activities for improving science literacy across disciplinary boundaries.”

He is working to understand the physical forces that enable bacteria to stick to surfaces. To do this, he has studied many disciplines over the years, including geology, biochemistry, and microbiology.

He is now an associate professor in the School of Earth Sciences and the School of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State, and frequently collaborates with researchers in the medical sciences.

“It may seem strange that I work in all these areas, but bacteria can’t tell the difference,” Lower said.

The bacteria he studies “breathe” molecules of petroleum or metal the way we breathe oxygen. It doesn’t matter whether the molecules are floating in an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, or supporting the structure of an artificial heart valve implanted in the body.

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“In a way, our work comes down to understanding how bacteria sense their environment -- whether they have a primitive sense of touch that enables them to distinguish one material from another and bond to it,” Lower said.


That’s why his basic research could one day have far-reaching applications. It’s possible that bacteria could one day aid environmental clean-ups. And doctors might one day use Lower’s discoveries to better target the use of antibiotics on patients who receive implants -- or even design implant materials that better resist bacteria.

“In a way, our work comes down to understanding how bacteria sense their environment -- whether they have a primitive sense of touch that enables them to distinguish one material from another and bond to it,” Lower said.

He’s also begun a project to study how asbestos bonds to lung cells -- a deadly linkage that leads to the cancer known as malignant mesothelioma.

Lower added that he couldn’t pursue his many and diverse projects without the help of his laboratory staff, which currently includes one postdoctoral researcher, three graduate students, and one undergraduate student.

The PECASE awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President.

Nine federal departments and agencies join together annually to nominate the most meritorious young scientists and engineers -- researchers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for strengthening America’s leadership in science and technology and contributing to the awarding agencies' missions. Lower was nominated by the National Science Foundation.

Awardees are selected on the basis of two criteria: Pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and a commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach. Winning scientists and engineers receive up to a five-year research grant to further their study in support of critical government missions.

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Contact: Steven K. Lower, (614) 292-1571; lower.9@osu.edu

Written by Pam Frost Gorder, (614) 292-9475; gorder.1@osu.edu