From protein biocatalysts to pork: Dr. Bundy’s million-dollar research

Dr. Brad Bundy recently received the prestigious NSF CAREER Award and nearly $1 million in research funding.

A Brigham Young University chemical engineering professor was recently awarded $975,000 in research funding. Dr. Brad Bundy had three prestigious accomplishments this month; he was awarded the National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award, the DARPA Young Faculty Award and a research grant from the National Pork Board.

“It is unusual for someone to receive both the NSF CAREER and the DARPA Young Faculty Awards,” said Alan Parkinson, dean of the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology. “Receiving both awards is a strong indication of a very promising line of research by an outstanding young faculty member.”

Dr. Bundy's grants will fund three different research projects, all of which have high-profile implications.

Building a better catalyst

The NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award is given to the top scholars in science and technology. This award of $400,000 is, according to the NSF, the most prestigious award given to junior faculty.

For the CAREER Award, Dr. Bundy is aiming his microscope at particles that, although they are only 1/10,000 the width of a human hair, affect a rapidly growing industry. Specifically, Dr. Bundy’s research focuses on introducing new amino acids into proteins so that he can chemically link them to surfaces, making protein a more stable substance to work with. Ultimately, this would allow chemical engineers to create industrial catalysts from proteins rather than the toxic chemicals and rare metals that are normally used in catalysts.

“It’s a trillion-dollar industry we’re trying to impact,” Dr. Bundy said.  “Catalysts are in everything. Your laundry detergent, the clothes you wear, the juice you drink … commodities we use every day.”

The newest color of LEGOs

For the DARPA Young Faculty Award, Dr. Bundy is also working with creating new amino acids. His research aims to “expand the language of biology.”

“Proteins are what make life happen,” said Dr. Bundy. “Although proteins are so amazing, they are predominantly made from just 20 building blocks -- amino acids. If trillions of chemical reactions occur from the combination of just 20 amino acids, what if there were 21…22…23? We want to expand it much beyond 20.”

He described the relationship between amino acids and proteins by using a LEGO metaphor.

“Imagine you have 20 different kinds of LEGOs -- blue, green, yellow… we’re working on inserting a new one. A hot pink one.”

The DARPA award will provide Dr. Bundy with $500,000 in research funding for his project.

Preventing an outbreak

Dr. Bundy's third project is funded by the National Pork Board. This research involves a different form of protein -- pigs.

“We are developing a vaccine against agro-bioterrorism threats,” Dr. Bundy explained. “Foot-and-mouth disease affects animals, mostly swine, and is a constant threat to our livestock.”

Outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease have occurred in various places around the globe; China, Japan, the U.K. and many other countries have been affected. In the United States, an outbreak could cause $15 billion or more in losses. Because of this, the National Pork Board will contribute $75,000 to Dr. Bundy’s research, which aims to create a vaccine that would protect American livestock against an outbreak.

Mentoring the next generation of engineers

Although Dr. Bundy has only been teaching at BYU for four years, he has already mentored more than 40 students, 37 of which are undergraduate students.

“This [working with students] is the most impactful work that I am privileged to be a part of. Far greater than any success we have had in our lab is the opportunity to mentor -- and hopefully impact for the better -- the next generation of scientists, engineers and medical professionals.”

Dr. Bundy is the most recent of several BYU engineering professors to receive the NSF CAREER Award. Past recipients include Anton BowdenThomas KnottsChristopher Mattson and Dean Wheeler.

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