MISSOULA – Two University of Montana researchers on the frontiers of science and engineering are among 30 faculty members nationwide recently selected as recipients of the National Science Foundation Fellowship.

Brian Chaffin, an assistant professor of water policy, and Tung-Chung Mou, an assistant professor of biological sciences, will receive funding to conduct research in their respective areas of specialty: policies to transform degraded agricultural systems and cryo-electron microscopy.

Brian Chaffin (UM Photo)

“These two research awards are a continuing indication of the high quality of new faculty who are being recruited to the University of Montana,” said Scott Whittenburg, vice president for research and creative scholarship. “These awards also demonstrate the faculty commitment to conducting world-class research of interest to the National Science Foundation.”

The NSF EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Track 4 fellowship awarded nearly $5.6 million to researchers in 20 states who want to build skills and collaborative capacity through partnerships with premier research institutions.

Chaffin, who works in UM’s W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, received $214,000. He will partner with ecologists at the University of Nebraska and the U.S. Geological Survey - Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit to study the coupling of social and ecological changes in the Middle Platte River watershed of central Nebraska. Chaffin hopes to discover links between policy mechanisms and ecological change in order to isolate causes of environmental degradation and inspire improvements toward sustainability of agriculture, human well-being and ecological diversity in that system.

Chaffin said the grant provides a unique, cross-disciplinary collaboration that can potentially benefit his future research in Montana.

“I hope to translate the skills and tools developed through this fellowship into actionable research on Montana’s agricultural landscapes, further exploring ways in which local and state policies can be leveraged for agricultural, ecological and community sustainability against a backdrop of climate uncertainty and environmental change,” Chaffin said.

Tung-Chung TC Mou (UM Photo)


Mou manages UM’s macromolecular X-ray diffraction core in the Division of Biological Sciences. He’ll use his $219,000 fellowship to obtain comprehensive training for himself and a graduate student at the National Center for Macromolecular Imaging at Stanford University.

“This cryo-EM training will allow me to collaborate with UM investigators to determine cryo-EM structures of biomolecules that are not amenable to conventional crystallography,” Mou said. “Moreover, it will strengthen collaboration between the NCMI and UM, while effectively contributing to the development of comprehensive structure biology tools for UM’s Macromolecular X-ray Diffraction Core Facility.”