What Robin Krimm thought was an identity-theft ploy turned out to be something else altogether.
Image courtesy of Robin Krimm.
Robin Krimm (PhD, Psychology ’97) received a cryptic e-mail last year. The message said she’d been nominated for an unnamed award and requested she fax personal information, including her social security number, to an undisclosed location.
“It was very strange,” says Krimm, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. “It was specific enough in that they referred to me as a young investigator … but at the same time, it was weird enough, and they wanted enough personal information, that I considered the possibility that it could be identity theft.”
Krimm forwarded the e-mail to her husband, who agreed that it was suspicious and cautioned her not to reply. She didn’t. But another request arrived in her inbox shortly thereafter and yet another one after that. By the third e-mail she was sufficiently annoyed.
“I wrote back a nasty reply saying ‘I realize this is an identify theft thing and I’m going to report you,’” she says, laughing as she recounts the story. Little did she know that this e-mail would ultimately lead her to a tour of the Oval Office led by President Bush.
Not long after she fired off her irate e-mail, she received a call from the White House. They understood her frustration but assured her that the request wasn’t an identity theft ploy and gave her a number to call for verification. She did.
About a month later, Krimm was informed that she was one of 58 recipients of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. “I think it’s safe to say I wasn’t expecting it,” she says.
Krimm invited David Hill, her mentor from the University of Virginia and current chair of the psychology department, to attend the awards ceremony as her guest. She credits Hill’s lab — one of four she worked in prior to her appointment at the University of Louisville in 2001 — as the single most influential in her career.
The annual award, which was established by President Clinton in 1996, honors the achievements of young professionals at the beginning of their independent research careers in the fields of science and technology. Krimm was nominated by the National Institutes of Health, the agency that funds her work, for her research on neurotrophin regulation of taste system development.
“Neuro” refers to the nervous system and “trophins” is Greek for “to nurture” — meaning that neurotrophins nurture the nervous system, Krimm explains. Using genetically manipulated mice, Krimm looks at factors that regulate developmental interactions between neurons and taste buds. “The taste system is a perfect model for studying these neural-target interactions during development,” she says.
Krimm is able to label individual neurons that innervate, or stimulate into action, the taste buds in the tongue, using a red neural tracer, and visualize the fungiform papilla, or the places where the taste buds will develop, using scanning electron microscopy.
“It’s really much cooler than you might imagine because it’s one of the few systems where you can do this — you can predict the exact location that taste buds are going to be and where the taste buds are supposed to go,” Krimm explains.
She also has been recognized by the Association for Chemoreception Sciences with the 2005 Ajinomoto Award for Young Investigators in Gustation, a peer-nominated honor given to an outstanding junior scientist who is an emerging leader in the field of gestation.
Her basic science research could ultimately lead to advances in nerve regeneration after injury or disease.
“We use the taste system because its unique anatomy makes it a great model system for these types of questions,” she explains. “The logic is this: if we can figure out what controls the ability of nerve fibers to grow and make connections with other cells during development, then perhaps someone else can figure out how to use these same factors as tools to get nerves to reconnect after damage in adulthood.”