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Emma Farley Selected for NSF CAREER Award

Award provides underrepresented students opportunities for hands-on biological research

March 3, 2023

By Mario Aguilera

UC San Diego Assistant Professor Emma Farley has been selected to receive the prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

CAREER awards are considered NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. “Activities pursued by early-career faculty should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research,” according to the NSF.

Assistant Professor Emma Farley

Farley, who is also a recipient of the National Institutes of Health New Innovator Award, holds appointments in the UC San Diego School of Medicine and School of Biological Sciences. She leads a laboratory investigating how the instructions for biological development are encoded in our genomes. Farley’s research focuses on enhancers, genetic switches that turn on the production of proteins in our cells. Changes within these enhancers underlie the majority of differences between individuals and contribute to species diversity across the planet.

Farley’s NSF CAREER award grant will fund research to explore how enhancers encode the instructions for developing limbs, fingers and toes. Her research is leading to new discoveries into how grammatical rules—similar to how our languages are structured—can be applied to understanding how enhancers encode tissue-specific gene expression and how our genomes encode the information to make two arms, two legs and ten fingers and toes. 

Farley’s CAREER award will support science outreach experiences for students from a socioeconomically disadvantaged community in San Diego. The funding will expand an existing UC San Diego program in which middle school students from Chula Vista’s Feaster Charter School, with a more than 90 percent Hispanic student population, become immersed in hands-on research.

“This outreach and education plan aims to provide the middle school students with direct involvement in primary research and improve attitudes to science and STEM careers for students in an underserved population,” said Farley. “Developing embryos, fluorescent expression patterns within embryos and changes in limb morphology serve as excellent outreach tools to educate students about general principles of biology, evolution and our genome.”

During these interactions, which include classroom experiments at Feaster Charter and visits to Farley’s UC San Diego laboratory, the students will participate in experiment design and analysis. They will help test different versions of enhancers to understand how changes in the enhancer sequence can alter when and where proteins are made and limb development. Such immersive activities offer students the opportunity to come away with real-world experiences surrounding research and the joy of discovery.

“Supporting underprivileged students from a young age and giving them access to research and higher education experiences is essential to help students see college as an attainable ambition, engage in science and strive for educational goals,” said Farley.

More information about NSF’s CAREER Award is available here.