CU Denver researchers garner awards

Luncheon attendees honor grant winners for their 'passion and dedication'

October 13, 2016

Calls for continued teamwork marked this fall’s Office of Research Services (ORS) awards ceremony, recognizing the outstanding exploration and creative activities on the CU Denver campus every day.

Held in the Lawrence Street Center, the luncheon included faculty, staff and administrators, who honored eight grant awardees and 16 other funding recipients.

Dorothy Horrell, David Engelke and Robert Damrauer
From Left: CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell, David Engelke, Graduate School Dean and Robert Damrauer, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research
The luncheon was well attended by faculty and staff members


Chancellor Dorothy Horrell thanked the awardees, saying that their work, stemming from their “passion and dedication,” is one of the most-valued assets of this state’s only urban public research university and one of the best contributions it can make.

Provost Roderick Nairn
Provost Roderick Nairn

Horrell and Provost Roderick Nairn also thanked the faculty for including students in their work, whether in the lab, a dark room, or a writing studio. “You are setting them up for finding their passion as you have yours,” Horrell said. “We know that makes a huge difference in their persistence and graduation.”

Engelke and Traystman
Vice Chancellor for Research Richard Traystman

Noting that it is one of ORS’ chief missions, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Bob Damrauer acknowledged the work of that office’s staff in encouraging interdisciplinary research on the CU campuses. He urged everyone  ̶  in attendance and not in attendance  ̶  to continue to forge partnerships.

Vice Chancellor for Research Richard Traystman echoed Damrauer’s call. “We are all in the same boat,” he said, using a story of how  a grizzly bear chased him and a friend during an Alaskan kayaking trip to illustrate his point about survival. “Row together. Row straight. Move quickly. Be optimistic. And probably the most important thing, try not to sink.”

Two past awardees gave presentations on their research and creative projects: Aaron Johnson, assistant professor of Integrative Biology, and Carol Golemboski, professor of Visual Arts.

Aaron Johnson: “Seeking genetic causes of a broken heart”

Aaron Johnson
Aaron Johnson

Next time you throw out your bananas, cursing the fruit flies that have invaded your kitchen, it might calm your nerves to know: Those pesky little bugs could be helping Johnson and his CU Denver colleagues one day save a life.

On the hunt for genetic mutations that lead to congenital heart disease, as the causes of many inherited heart defects remain unknown, Johnson studies the formation of the hearts of fruit flies to help discover the differences between hearts that work well for life and those that don’t.

“Approximately every 15 minutes, a child is born with a congenital heart defect,” Johnson said. “So this is a serious topic. I’m looking for the genes that are required to make a heart,” he said. “Then I have to figure out where it goes wrong.”

His meticulous work in the lab could be compared to your boss asking you to find out why a new cellphone is malfunctioning, Johnson said. “But you can’t talk to anyone who knows anything about building cell phones.” Then you’re tossed a gigantic stack of cell phones and told to get to work.

As painstaking as it might be, determining if, as he and his colleagues suspect, previously uncharacterized genes are required during heart development for normal lifelong function, is worth the effort, Johnson said. “Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in both the developed world and the undeveloped world. Finding these answers could make a difference in treatment someday.”

Carol Golemboski: “Psychometry: the making of a book of art”

Carol Golemboski
Carol Golemboski

For 10 years, Golemboski has scoured antique shops and flea markets during her free time, looking for what, she is never quite sure. The CU Denver visual arts professor just knows when she sees it: An old music box. A dilapidated doll house. An over-worn pair of 19th-century toddler shoes.

When she first started taking her stumbled-upon treasures to old houses or abandoned buildings, seeking shadowy places to stage her photographs, she noticed being a bit “creeped out.” The objects had sort of a “charged presence,” she said, the environment adding a “haunting” element to her ambiguous shots.

Two years into this personal project, Golemboski discovered the term: psychometry. “It’s sort of a pseudo-science, a paranormal term, like fortune-telling in reverse,” she said. It’s a purported ability to read objects and tell their history by being in close proximity to them, she said.

This year, Golemboski’s monograph “Psychometry,” published by Flash Powder Projects, displays her years of work, packaged with a short story by one of her favorite writers, renowned 20th-century author Shirley Jackson.

Golemboski, who still does all of her work in a darkroom, calling it her “own private  laboratory,” manipulates her images, which are created through a combination of photography and drawing, often including text and scratches she makes on her negatives. “It’s all an attempt to create a sense of mystery and illusion.”

With her work, viewers can’t always tell what the original photo was, what was added, or what it means. And that’s the point, Golemboski said. “I want the people who view my work to view the objects and decide.”

Other awardees

  • Christopher Agee, associate professor, History
  • Faye Caronan Chen, assistant professor, Ethnic Studies
  • Stephen Hartke, associate professor, Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
  • Peter Kaplan, professor, Psychology
  • Jung-Jae Lee, assistant professor, Chemistry
  • Jean Scandlyn, associate professor, Clinical Track, Health and Behavioral Sciences
  • Maren Scull, clinical assistant professor, Sociology
  • James Walsh, clinical assistant professor, Political Science

Travel funding recipients

  • Robert Allan
  • Michelle Carpenter
  • Leslie Gaston-Bird
  • Carnot Nogueira
  • Victor Woo
  • Gabriel Zamosc-Regueros

Publication funding recipients

  • Aimé Fournier
  • Jennifer Reich

CRC funding recipients

  • Jody Beck
  • Marty Otañez
  • Bryan Wee
  • Keith Guzik
  • Rodney Herring
  • On-Ook Oh
  • Ronald Ramirez
  • Esther Sullivan

Guest contributor: Debra Melani.