Associate Professor of Chemistry Myriam Cotten has been awarded a Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation Teacher-Scholar Award.  The Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Awards Program supports the research and teaching careers of talented young faculty in the chemical sciences and provides an unrestricted research grant of $60,000.  Cotten is one of seven national awardees and the first Hamilton faculty member to receive the award.

The Foundation seeks Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholars who, as independent faculty members, have demonstrated leadership in original scholarly research of outstanding quality, substantially with undergraduates, as well as excellence and dedication in undergraduate education.

Recommendations for awards are based on evidence of outstanding educational efforts and the nominee's scholarly research achievements with undergraduates as an independent faculty member, as assessed by a panel of distinguished faculty in the chemical sciences.”

Cotten’s award will support her research project titled “Investigating the Mode of Action of Membrane-Active Peptides through Detailed Biophysical Studies Within the Piscidin Family.” The project is aimed at engaging undergraduates in high-quality research investigating the mode of action of important cationic antimicrobial peptides.

Cotten described her work: “Research in my laboratory investigates the molecular features of piscidins, which are antimicrobial peptides from fish that vary in their efficacies. As antimicrobial peptides, piscidins are characterized by low incidence of induced bacterial resistance, a major problem that undermines the use of traditional antibiotics. Furthermore, piscidins can be multifunctional as demonstrated by piscidin 1, which is not only antimicrobial but also anti-HIV and anti-cancer. Therefore, we are strongly motivated to use members of the piscidin family as templates to design new therapeutics. Our long-term goal is to obtain knowledge that can be used to test new hypotheses about the mechanisms of action of antimicrobial peptides and rationalize the design of new therapeutics with improved biological activity.

“As part of their engagement with the proposed scope of work, undergraduates will gain valuable research experience and rigorous training in important cutting-edge biophysical analysis techniques, many of which are available on the Hamilton College campus.”

In his nomination letter Hamilton’s Dean of Faculty Patrick Reynolds wrote that Cotten is a biochemist “whose scholarship is impressive, teaching second to none, and contributions to this College have significantly enhanced our students’ educational experiences.”

Reynolds called her “the consummate teaching scholar. She has integrated teaching and research to provide life-long value to her students and has developed a research team that has carved out a niche of excellence and expertise in atomic level characterization of important biomolecules.”

Cotten joined the Hamilton College chemistry faculty in 2008, and has been the director of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB) program since 2010.

In her supporting application Cotten wrote, “As a teacher, my goals are to challenge students intellectually, engage them in active learning, develop their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, expose them to thought-provoking ideas, instill in them my enthusiasm for chemistry, and create a nurturing learning environment that welcomes diversity.”

Cotten has been awarded a $520,000 NSF Career grant, an NSF Career Life Balance Award, and support from the Research Corporation. She has supervised and mentored 52 students, including 31 at Hamilton, and her research has resulted in five publications with Hamilton student authors.  Nineteen of her students have been listed as co-authors on peer-reviewed papers.

Earlier this year Cotten was the corresponding author of a paper that was selected as the cover story in the March 5 print edition of the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS).

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