Randolph-Macon College Biology Professor David Coppola has received a four-year, $452,225 Accomplishment-Based Renewal Grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The grant will enable Coppola to continue his neurobiological research on the olfactory system.
With these highly competitive NSF grants, fewer than one percent compete successfully for this type of renewal. This award went into effect April 1, 2017.
"It’s very hard to get extramural money as a senior person these days," says Coppola. "My decision to go for an accomplish-based renewal was a big risk, as it could have turned off potential reviewers since this grant type is usually reserved for prominent investigators at major research universities. My gambit worked out, much to my surprise. But, in truth, I owe this grant to former R-MC students and other collaborators around the country who have contributed immensely to our body of work upon which this award is based."
"The ability of the nervous system to change in response to experience, i.e., to exhibit 'plasticity,' is a long-standing topic of inquiry in neuroscience," says Coppola of his research. "In particular, the role of ongoing sensory stimulation for the normal development and maintenance of neural circuits is a perennial area of interest. Knowledge about these processes for the sense of smell lags behind the other senses, not least because of the difficulty in physically controlling an odor stimulus. This project aims to advance our understanding of how chronic odor environments—enrichment or deprivation in the extreme—trigger adaptations in olfactory processing. In a broader sense, the studies will clarify the tendency of physiological systems, generally, to maintain a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, a basic life process known as homeostasis."
Coppola, who will collaborate each year with several R-MC students in his research, continues, "Besides shedding light on the sense of smell and sensory plasticity, the studies may suggest design elements for incorporation into chemical detection devices—'electronic noses'—with applications as far reaching as robotics, disease diagnosis, and bomb detection."
Integrated with the research project is student-mentoring, participation-broadening, and public outreach through active involvement of undergraduates, including members of underrepresented groups, and the development of an exhibit at the Children's Museum of Richmond.
"These aspects of the project will improve human resources in STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics—and, via the museum, may engage thousands of school students annually," says Coppola.
Coppola earned his B.A. in biology from University of Virginia, Charlottesville and his Ph.D. in zoology from North Carolina State University. He did postdoctoral work in neuroscience at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in Massachusetts. Before joining the R-MC faculty in 2004, he held faculty posts at Davidson College, Duke University Medical School, and Centenary College where he was the Whited Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair of Neurobiology.
Coppola has published more than 40 scientific papers that collectively have been cited more than 1,500 times, with his contributions appearing in top journals such as Science, Nature, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.