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Honors and Awards

Physicist Belmonte Receives NSF CAREER Award

Julio Monti Belmonte

Julio Monti Belmonte, an assistant professor of physics, has received an Early Career Development Award, also known as the NSF CAREER award, from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The award is one of the highest honors the NSF gives to young faculty in the sciences. 

Belmonte’s $536,905 award will fund a research project that seeks to fill an important gap in understanding how actin networks generate and transmit forces within and between cells. Actin cytoskeleton — a meshwork of small, dynamic filaments (actin) and molecular motors that exists inside each cell — is the main driver of force generation, which is necessary for cellular processes such as cell division, cell motility, tissue morphogenesis and homeostasis. A malfunctioning actin cytoskeleton could lead to birth defects, cancers, fibrosis and immunodeficiencies.

Much of what is known about actin cytoskeletons has been discovered in lab experiments, but many important aspects of their processes remain unknown and are difficult to examine with such procedures. Belmonte’s research project proposes the use of computational experiments to investigate previously inaccessible aspects of actin dynamics.

“Our goal is to provide a solid theoretical foundation of the inner workings of the actin cytoskeleton that will aid in the interpretation of experimental observations and from which future studies can be based upon,” Belmonte said. 

The grant will also fund community outreach projects, such as a summer workshop on modeling cytoskeletal systems, a special topics course for senior and graduate students on cytoskeletal dynamics, and an outreach activity to teach STEM concepts using archery. 

Belmonte received his bachelor’s and master’s in physics from the Universidad Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. He earned his doctorate in biophysics from Indiana University Bloomington in 2012. He joined NC State in August 2018 as part of the Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program’s Modeling the Living Embryo faculty cluster.