Canceled research grant leads to problems

Analicia Haynes, Managing Editor

For first-year graduate student Michael West, the plan to continue research he and biology professor Thomas Canam worked on for two years was put on hold because they did not receive a grant.

“Now I’m just waiting to see what research I can do with no money,” West said.

The competition for the Council for Faculty Research grant was canceled this semester and Canam, whose project was the recipient of the grant for the 2015-2016 school year, said he will not get the money he was awarded.

Canam applied for the grant early in September 2015 but was not going to use the money until this semester.

The grant money is awarded throughout the year, and whatever money is given needs to be spent or all of it goes back into the fund, Canam said.

Canam said this project was part of a larger research program he started with a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

His program deals with white rock fungus and how it can help pre-treat and condition biomass or dead plant matter.

Usually, biomass is hard to break down, but it is a good raw source.

Canam said the only thing that can break down the biomass is Trametes versicolor mushroom, or turkey tail fungus, because it resembles a turkey tail.

Used as an anti-cancer herbal substance in China, the fungus is completely harmless and is also naturally good at decomposing biomass, Canam said.

“It’s one of only a few types (of fungus) that can efficiently break this material down,” Canam said.

Canam said the question they want to ask during the research is how they can use the fungus as an effective agent or catalyst to help make the biomass easier to break down and find out what the fungus uses to break down the material in the first place.

“With that grant, I could’ve answered the question more or less,” Canam said.

The research project was also supposed to be a part of West’s graduate research thesis.

As a result, Canam said they now have to come up with whatever they can find readily available in the lab.

“Internal grant money helps keep research going and helps us when we apply for federal grant money from the Department of Energy, USDA or NSF,” Canam said. “Those agencies like to see that you have some preliminary results before they give you money.”

Canam said that is why internal grants are important.

“It gives them some background information they can see how you can build off of what you started if they give you money,” Canam said.

Canam said it would have cost roughly $5,000 to continue the project, and since they do not have a grant for this semester, it will make it that much harder to try to apply for a federal grant.

Despite not having the internal grant, Canam said he will still apply for federal grants this fall, although the proposals will be weaker without the research project.

“It’s very hard for scientists to get funding, so you have to go in with everything you got,” Canam said.

However, West is still optimistic that he will continue his research.

“We’ll figure something out, and it’s not like everything going on is failure,” West said. “It’s like a poster I saw of the success of an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg is your success and what people will see, but the larger bottom is what really happens, like failure.”

Canam, on the other hand, is a little less optimistic for the future.

“If you’re not going to have money for research, then why stay here?” he said. “If this continues the way it is, we have to ask: is Eastern a long-term career path for a scientist that’s looking to do research? Because if we can’t (do research), that changes everything.”


Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].