For Mengliang “Mike” Zhang, MTSU assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and rising research star on campus, successful research is all about collaboration.
“Michael Jordan said, ‘Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships,’” Zhang said. “Similarly, research and education in science benefit immensely from collaborations and support.”
Since joining the MTSU faculty in 2017 and taking on projects as a lead researcher, Zhang said he has received that support and camaraderie from the university’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and his colleagues.
It’s helped Zhang secure multiple federal grants — nearly $800,000 worth, in fact — and delve into his research specialties, too. He’s the lead researcher on three concurrent projects from the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture, and he’s also part of a fourth project with Greg Van Patten, dean of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, that’s received $600,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.
“I would not have come this far without the ORSP’s support,” Zhang said. “Collaboration with faculty members in my department and beyond has been critical to the development of my research projects.”
Using his background as an analytical chemist and over 15 years of experience in mass spectrometry — an analytical technique used to measure the mass-to-charge ratio of ions — Zhang’s projects include:
• Analyzing toxins in wildfire smoke to help develop better safety protocols for firefighters.
• Investigating the chemical profiles of different food compounds to provide better dietary recommendations.
• Acquiring more specialized equipment for MTSU.
Zhang grew up in the Jilin province of China and completed years of study and research at Jilin University. He moved halfway across the world to Murfreesboro and an MTSU faculty position because he saw his background as a good fit for the chemistry department.
“I thought my experience could synergize with the existing strengths at MTSU and saw a range of collaborative opportunities with the faculty members in the department and beyond,” Zhang said. “Thankfully, both have been true.”
‘Focus on the science’
Zhang said the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs works hard to grow the research and experience of junior faculty members like him.
“They provided startup funds to set up my lab,” he said. “They organized workshops to help faculty write grant proposals, find collaborators, set career goals and navigate grant opportunities from different agencies. These are all critical factors for the success of the research proposals.
“The staff are patient, knowledgeable and trustworthy, making my job much easier, so I only need to focus on the science.”
Zhang also highlighted the office’s support of student researchers, both graduate and undergraduate, with resources like the Undergraduate Research Center and research grant opportunities like the Undergraduate Research Experience and Creative Activity grant.
Shruthi Perna, a student in MTSU’s Molecular Biosciences Ph.D. Program, works as a graduate research assistant in Zhang’s lab on his National Institute of Justice project.
“Dr. Zhang has supported me in every way possible with the project,” said Perna, who said she hopes to lead her own research lab one day. “He constantly guided me in the design of experiments and in the scientific writing process. My efficiency in conducting experiments and problem-solving skills have significantly improved under his guidance.”
Originally from Warangul, India, Perna said she knew she wanted to pursue research in graduate school and that MTSU could provide her with the knowledge, skills and experience needed to achieve her career goals.
“The research skills which I am learning at MTSU will act as a foundation for my future endeavors,” she said. “TheMTSU faculty is diverse and involved in cutting-edge research.”
To learn more about the opportunities at the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at MTSU, visit the website at https://www.mtsu.edu/research.
— Stephanie Wagner (Stephanie.Wagner@mtsu.edu)
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