UC Merced said biology Professor Rudy Ortiz has been given the National Institutes of Health's Independent Scientist Career Development Award, the first person on campus to earn the distinction.
The $414,720 grant, spread over four years, will allow Ortiz to spend more time conducting research into obesity by reducing some of his teaching and administrative duties. "To get more time to focus on my research is huge," Ortiz said. "It gives me a great advantage because of the release-time it affords me to concentrate on my research."
Ortiz is studying how elephant seals are able to fast for several months by relying on their fat reserves and how they can experience apnea without harming their health.
Ortiz said his team has been making groundbreaking discoveries but that it's a long process to develop any medical applications.
Ortiz's award, which covers most of his salary, dovetails with another NIH grant he was awarded in 2009. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a division of NIH, gave Ortiz a five-year $1.8 million research award.
Ortiz joined UC Merced in 2005. He teaches in the School of Natural Sciences and serves as the undergraduate research and training lead for the Center of Excellence for the Study of Health Disparities in Rural and Ethnic Underserved Populations.