Porter and her lab collecting animals in the field. Credit: Lauren Van Heukelem
A larval stomatopod, one of the target animals being studied as part of the project. Credit: Mike Bok

Megan Porter, biology assistant professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, is among 30 recipients to receive an Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant provides non-tenured researchers with fellowships, partnering them with premier research centers and enhancing their ability to work at the frontiers of science and engineering.

Porter’s project is titled Enhancing Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies and Research Funding Opportunities in Sensory Neurobiology through Studies of Crustacean Vision. Comparing the development of distinct types of animal eyes provides a remarkable ‘natural laboratory’ for understanding how visual systems work and how animals use visual information to interact with each other and with their environment. Porter will study two crustacean species, the mantis shrimp and a copepod, which have vastly different eyes than most other animals. By studying these two species, and coupling newly learned techniques with Porter’s expertise in evolutionary studies through DNA analysis, the proposed research will reveal how developmental changes in visual systems affect the behavior of an animal.

Over the next year, Porter and a graduate student will conduct their research at the School of Marine Science and Policy at the University of Delaware, working with an internationally recognized researcher in crustacean visual physiology and behavior. The research will be integrated into a newly developed course in sensory biology at UH Mānoa. In addition, it will be used to provide summer research experience to undergraduates through two UH Mānoa NSF funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates summer programs, one of which specifically targets the involvement of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students.

More on the NSF EPSCoR fellowship

The NSF EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-4 fellowship awards total roughly $5.6 million and are distributed to researchers across 20 states. Awardees will make extended collaborative visits to laboratories and scientific centers, establish partnerships with researchers with complementary expertise, learn new techniques, have access to sophisticated equipment, and shift their research focus in new directions. Unlike other types of NSF EPSCoR awards, which focus on supporting research centers and partnerships among institutions, Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-4 focuses on giving individual researchers the foundation for collaborations that span their entire careers.