posted September 8, 2008

Matt DeJongh Receives Fulbright and NSF Awards

Dr. Matt DeJongh, who is an associate professor of computer science and a Towsley Research Scholar at Hope College, has received support for his ongoing work in bioinformatics through both the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program and the National Science Foundation.

He has received a Fulbright-Aquitaine Regional Council Award to spend the spring of 2009 conducting groundbreaking functional genomic research in France.  In addition, his ongoing research at Hope in bioinformatics has been awarded a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Through the Fulbright award, DeJongh will be working from mid January through mid June at one of France's largest academic computer science laboratories, LaBRI (Laboratoire Bordelais de Recherche en Informatique), which is based at the Université de Bordeaux.  He will be collaborating with researchers at the laboratory in the field of bioinformatics, which blends biology and computer science in managing and analyzing genetic data compiled through projects such as the Human Genome Project.

DeJongh has conducted research in bioinformatics for several years, including in industry prior to coming to Hope in 2002.  For the past two years he has focused on developing software that can model organisms' metabolic capabilities as determined by the genes in their genome.  He has been working collaboratively with Hope colleagues Dr. Aaron Best of the biology faculty and Dr. Nathan Tintle of the mathematics faculty on modeling bacteria.  They have in turn shared their work with the SEED project, a nationwide, open-source effort to develop and share genomic data.

At LaBRI he will collaborate with researchers who have compiled complete genome sequences for 20 species of bacteria called mollicutes.  He and the LaBRI team will import the mollicutes' genomic sequences into the SEED database and apply the software and other tools to analyze them.

"This project is significant for the field of computational biology in that it represents an application of predictive computer models to the analysis of genomic and phenotypic data," DeJongh said.  "This is a fundamental goal of the new systems biology, and this project is likely to succeed because metabolism in bacteria is a well-understood process, and the tools for analyzing the data are rapidly maturing."

The NSF grant, awarded to DeJongh and Best through the foundation's "Research in Undergraduate Institutions" (RUI) program, will continue the Hope team's development of software to model microbes' metabolic behavior based on their genes.  The grant will provide $235,022 in support through the end of July 2011, and includes funding to involve Hope students in the research program during both the school year and summers.

DeJongh joined the Hope faculty as an assistant professor and was promoted to associate professor earlier this year.  Prior to coming to Hope he had been a senior software engineer with NetGenics Inc./LION bioscience Inc. for four years.  One of the colleagues with whom he will be working at LaBRI is also a former employee of LION bioscience Inc.

His time in Bordeaux won't be his first extended visit to France.  When he was 12, he and his family were in Lyon while his father, also a university professor, was on a sabbatical leave at the Université de Lyon.  Immediately prior to going to Lyon the family had lived in Montreal, Canada, where DeJongh had been enrolled in a French-speaking school.

He has had several papers published and has made multiple presentations concerning both his software development and the use of bioinformatics in interdisciplinary teaching in biology and computer science.  Hope students are regularly involved as collaborators in his research and have themselves made multiple presentations concerning the work, including during the Council for Undergraduates Research 2007 Posters on the Hill event in Washington, D.C.

Previous external support for his work has included selection in both 2006 and 2007 for participation in the summer Guest Faculty Program at Argonne National Laboratory, which is one of the primary hosts for the SEED project; and awards from the National Computational Science Institute and the Association for Computing Machinery to explore the intersection of biology and computer science in teaching.  Hope named him a Towsley Research Scholar in 2005 in support of his research, and he has also received support through the college's Howard Hughes Medical Institute Faculty Development Grant for Interdisciplinary Research.

DeJongh completed his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in computer science at The Ohio State University.  After completing his doctorate in 1991 he served as a campus minister through Great Commission Ministries from 1991 to 1998, and in 1998 he completed a master's in theological studies at Winebrenner Theological Seminary.

DeJongh is the second member of the college's natural and physical sciences faculty to receive Fulbright support this year and the sixth member of the Hope faculty to receive one of the awards in the past six years.  Dr. Edward Hansen, professor of geology and environmental science at HopeCollege, is spending August to January conducting research in Sweden through an award from the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. Vicki Ten Haken, associate professor of management, held one of the awards earlier during the current school year to teach and conduct research in Krakow, Poland.  Dr. Victor Claar, associate professor of economics, spent the 2006-07 school year teaching at the American University of Armenia in Yerevan, Armenia, through a Fulbright award. In 2004, Dr. William Cohen, professor emeritus of history, and Dr. David Klooster, professor of English, received Fulbright awards to teach in Japan and Austria respectively.

The flagship international educational program sponsored by the U.S. government, for more than 60 years the Fulbright Program has sponsored the exchange of students and scholars between the United States and many other countries around the world through a variety of initiatives to "increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries of the world." The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program sends approximately 800 American scholars and professionals per year to more than 140 countries, where they lecture and/or conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields.