Catherine Leimkuhler Grimes is fluent in
the science, with all of its bewildering polysyllabic phrases and
complicated chemical roadmaps. As an assistant professor in the
University of Delaware's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry,
she can sketch out all sorts of things that happen in microscopic
environments and asks the kinds of questions that launch significant
Perhaps as impressive -- or maybe even more so -- is her ability to
explain her work and ignite interest in those who do not have her
background in science. She finds connections to help them understand,
even if all they have is a passing familiarity with Legos, the
ubiquitous plastic building blocks that generations of kids have grown
up with. Using Legos as a model of chemical and biological connections,
Grimes was able to help her 10-year-old niece understand some of the
science behind her research.
Now the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, founded in
1912, has recognized Grimes' research and pedagogical prowess with its
Cottrell Scholar Award, which comes with $75,000 in support.
“Cottrell Scholars are provided with unique opportunities to help
them launch and establish truly outstanding careers,” RCSA President
Robert Shelton said in the foundation’s award announcement. “In addition
to receiving financial support for research, scholars belong to a
community whose members help each other to develop the skills and
relationships necessary to become academic leaders.”
Grimes' research is focused on bacterial cell walls
and the way human cells interact with them. Specifically, she and her
research team want to understand how and why the body mistakenly
identifies some bacterial cells as enemies --triggering an attack from
the immune system -- when, in fact, they are beneficial "commensal"
bacteria, the kind that help with digestion, for example.
When the body attacks beneficial bacteria it can produce significant
health problems, including such chronic conditions as Crohn's disease.
It is not yet known how the immune system degrades the bacterial cell
wall. Grimes hopes to identify the enzyme responsible for that process.
To do it, she aims to remodel bacterial cell walls and insert molecular
probes to gain a better understanding of how the immune system is
At the same time that scientific inquiry is underway, she aims to
remodel the curriculum in the University's biochemistry laboratories to
link techniques and networks used in organic chemistry, biochemistry and
molecular biology and promote collaborative work.
"I am passionate about teaching and research," Grimes said. "I want
to let my passion for research fuel my teaching. In re-teaching
information, I am also strengthening my research program. And that's how
it should be. It shouldn't be disconnected. Science should not be done
in silos and the same is true for research and teaching.”
Grimes’ research last year drew national recognition from the Pew Charitable Trusts, which selected her as a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences.