A total of nine Syracuse University faculty members have received CAREER awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development program in the 2021-22 academic year. This is the largest number of prestigious NSF awards presented in a single year.
The highly competitive NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program supports young educators who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and teaching and to drive progress in their department or organization’s mission. Activities pursued by junior researchers should provide a solid foundation for lifelong leadership in the integration of education and research.
Four of the awardees are faculty members at the College of Engineering and Computer Science: Assistant Professors Sara Eftekharnejad, Ferdinando Fioretto, Zhao Qin and Teng Zeng. Eftekharnejad and Fioretto are members of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Qin and Zeng teach in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Five other honorees are on the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences: John Franck, Assistant Professor of Chemistry; Brett Jakubiak, assistant professor of psychology; David Kellen, assistant professor of psychology; Davoud Mozhdehi, Assistant Professor of Chemistry; and Minghao Rostami, assistant professor of mathematics.
“Syracuse University is very proud that the National Science Foundation has recognized this high number of early career awards,” said Gretchen Ritter, Vice Chancellor, Provost and Chief Academic Officer. “These prestigious grants recognize the value of cutting-edge research and the long-term professional potential of our faculty. We congratulate them as innovative researchers and a tremendous asset to their departments and schools. We look forward to seeing their research careers continue to thrive as they educate the next generation of scientists and innovators.”
Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science
Eftekharnejad’s Modeling and Quantification of the Interdependent Power Grid Uncertainties project examines how conditions affect the US power grid and aims to develop better methods for predicting grid disturbances. It uses statistical modeling of power grid failures to be able to predict power failures within short periods of time. Another focus is on modeling uncertainties in power generation from different types of energy supply, including those that are weather dependent. She and her team are working to use system measurements of grid status and state uncertainties to find a dynamic model that adapts in real time to predict power outages before they happen.
In his End-to-End Constrained Optimization Learning project, Fioretto explores new models for solving computer optimization problems by accelerating data-driven learning. In this effort, he and his research team are approaching the near real-time integration of constrained optimization principles into machine learning algorithms. Optimized algorithms can improve a range of computational processes used in industrial applications that affect daily life, e.g. For example, efficiently meeting electricity needs, matching organ donors to recipients, scheduling flights, and finding a nearby driver on a ride-sharing service.
Qin’s Multiscale Mechanics of Mycelium for Lightweight, Strong and Sustainable Composites project seeks to uncover the fundamental principles governing the multiscale mechanics of mycelium-based composites and integrate the research into an educational program. Mycelium, which is produced as the main body of fungi during fungal growth, plays an essential role in changing soil chemistry and mechanics, enabling a suitable living environment for various plant species.
Inland lakes in the Northeastern United States have shown inconsistent tanning trends, a shift toward darker water colors. Many of these lakes also receive inputs of organic pollutants originating from human activities within the lakes’ watersheds. For “Effects of Sea Tanning on the Photochemical Fate of Organic Micropollutants”, Zeng examines the sunlight-driven conversion of organic pollutants in the context of tanning. The project is a collaboration with a voluntary maritime surveillance and reconnaissance program. He plans to develop new data and insights that will support the development of adaptive maritime surveillance programs and water treatment practices.
Faculty of Arts and Sciences
For “Spin Dynamics Measurements of Site-to-Site Variations in Hydration Water at Soft Nanoscale Interfaces”, Franck is developing instruments and software to study how properties of water control cell functions at the nanoscale level. He makes and isolates proteins, labels them with molecular labels, and then uses quantum spin physics to develop and interpret their measurements. Mapping the non-uniform behavior of water at the nanoscale can improve understanding of how the smallest machinery in cells is structured and works. This knowledge could lead to the development of better drugs and materials.
Jakubiak’s Research, “Modeling the Unique Effects of Verbal and Physical Contact on Well-Being measures how affectionate physical contact—besides verbal displays of affection—affects individuals psychologically. Research examines the unique benefits of loving touch, why loving touch has such benefits, and who benefits from loving touch and in what contexts. Jakubiak says the goal of the project is to increase knowledge of how people think and navigate about close relationships in order to protect and enhance personal and relationship well-being.
In his project “Recognition Memory Modeling: Testing Foundations and Extending Boundaries”, Kellen develops a set of experimental data and analysis methods to formulate a single validated representation of recognition memory. The project will help refine the current understanding of how people remember and develop measurement tools for practitioners and researchers to better assess memory across the lifespan. Comparisons could be used in clinical applications for populations such as people with Alzheimer’s disease.
For Post-translationally Lipidated Biopolymers as Multiphasic All-Aqueous Emulsions, Mozhdehi is researching the replication of water-based emulsions to reduce and potentially eliminate the need for oil-based surfactants in the manufacture of many common products. He says aqueous emulsion technology could potentially replace traditional oil-based emulsions in food processing, cosmetics, biosensing and pharmaceutical delivery. The research involves trying to recreate the water-in-water emulsions that human cells sometimes develop transiently to increase the time that two water-based layers can remain separate.
Rostami’s research, Towards Harnessing the Motility of Microorganisms: Fast Algorithms, Data-Driven Models and 3D Interactive Visual Computing, examines the “swimming” processes of microorganisms (such as bacteria, sperm, and algae) to harness their locomotor systems. Her specialty in Computational Fluid Dynamics will help develop data-driven models and computationally efficient algorithms to simulate the movements of microswimmers. She plans to develop an interactive 3D visual computer system as a tool to study the hydrodynamics of floating microorganisms.
Early Career Awards
For the College of Arts and Sciences, the simultaneous appointment of five faculties marks a record number of such NSF honorees at the school, says Alan Middleton, associate dean for research and science at the College of Arts and Sciences. “The honor confirms the outstanding potential of these newer faculty members to make novel contributions to research and teaching. They are a testament to the college’s and university’s reputation as a premier destination for research excellence,” he says.
Jae Oh, David G. Edelstein Professor of Broadening Participation and Chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), agrees. “Receiving an NSF CAREER Award is an important achievement and recognition for new faculty. The EECS department has consistently produced CAREER award winners in recent years and we expect this trend to continue for many years to come,” he says.