Paul Robustelli Receives 2024 Cottrell Scholar Award

The prestigious early-career award honors outstanding scientist educators.

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Paul Robustelli received a 2024 Cottrell Scholar Award from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA). 

Robustelli is one of 19 scientists across the country in chemistry, physics, and astronomy who received the prestigious early-career award. 

Cottrell Scholars are chosen through a rigorous peer-review process of applications from public and private research universities across the United States and Canada. Their award proposals incorporate both research and science education. Each awardee receives $120,000.

"These awardees stand out not just for their excellence in teaching and research but for their potential," said Daniel Linzer, RCSA president and CEO. "The advancement of both science and society depend on the fresh ideas and the dedication to student learning that we see in Cottrell Scholars, including the class of 2024."

Robustelli will lead research on a type of protein whose dysfunction plays a role in several human diseases. 

"A large fraction of proteins expressed in human cells are highly flexible and do not adopt a well-defined three-dimensional structure. These so-called 'intrinsically disordered proteins' have been found to have important roles in biological processes and the dysfunction of disordered proteins has been implicated in several currently untreatable human diseases," Robustelli says.

"A number of these pathologies are related to abnormalities in cellular pathways where disordered proteins self-associate into dense liquid-like assemblies or ordered solid aggregates, but the molecular mechanisms by which disordered proteins self-assemble remain poorly understood. Our laboratory will integrate atomic resolution computer simulations with experimental biophysical data to determine the mechanisms by which disordered proteins self-assemble and to understand how small molecule drugs affect these processes."

Robustelli hopes to leverage insights from the research to pursue the design of novel disordered protein therapeutics. 

For the educational component of the award, Robustelli and his colleagues will integrate a series of computational exercises and analyses into undergraduate general chemistry and physical chemistry laboratories and biophysical chemistry graduate courses to teach the basics of python programming and data analysis. The team will also develop outreach lectures and web-browser based computational activities to introduce high school students to the fields of structural biology, computational chemistry, and drug discovery.   

The Cottrell awards are named for educator, inventor, and science visionary Frederick Gardner Cottrell, who founded Research Corporation for Science Advancement in 1912.