October 31, 2013

Early Career Cornell Professors Receive NSF Award

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By ANUSHKA MEHROTRA

Receiving more than $2.8 million to further their research, six early-career Cornell professors have been named recipients of the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Awards.

Prof. Richard Daziano, civil and environmental engineering; Prof. Jan Lammerding, biomedical engineering; Prof. Gregory Fuchs, applied and engineering physics; Prof. Ashutosh Saxena, computer science; Prof. John Foster, computer science; and Prof. Peter Frazier, operations research and information engineering were granted the prestigious award.

Daziano was awarded $410,000 to support his research on how consumers respond to sustainable technology. Understanding consumer preferences and demand is an essential part of designing a successful solution to environmental issues, according to Daziano.

“I got my career award … because of my particular vision of how to approach the socio-technical transition that is needed for achieving sustainability in transportation,” he said.

Lammerding, who received $400,000 for his proposal to study the spread of cancerous cells in the body, said he thinks his project could play a crucial role in the future of cancer research. “Results obtained from these studies will have direct implication for numerous physiological and pathological processes, ranging from embryonic development and wound healing to metastatic spreading of cancer cells through the human body,” he said.

Lammerding said he hopes to use the grant money to connect younger students — especially those who are not well-represented in technical fields — to the field of biomedical engineering.

“The research will be complemented by extensive outreach efforts to introduce middle and high school students to biomedical engineering, with the goal of increasing participation of female students and underrepresented minorities in science and engineering,” he said.

In the past, Lammerding’s laboratory has held workshops for high school students to learn more about cancer cells. “Over the summer, [we] held the first ‘tapioca millifluidics’ workshop, in which high school students used tapioca pearls — the ‘bubbles’ in bubble tea — as a model for studying the biomechanics of cancer cells inside microfluidic devices,” he said.

Fuchs, who received $600,000 from the foundation, said he hopes to use the grant to further his research on point defects in zinc oxide. “We study these atom-like defects one at a time so that their quantum mechanical properties are noticeable,” he said.

Saxena was granted $485,000 for his research proposal to make humans the primary factor in robot reasoning algorithms.

“Our machine-learning techniques allow the robot to hallucinate how humans use objects,” he said. “This enables them to perform tasks such as detect objects, fetch objects on request and react according to human activities for assisting them.”

Foster and Frazier were awarded $532,000 and $400,000 respectively to pursue their research interests. Foster’s project focuses on creating improved methods to manage software updates in distributed systems and Frazier’s seeks to solve problems in cardiovascular medicine. Fuchs expressed his gratitude toward the foundation. “This award is great because it provides young faculty with resources to pursue good research ideas that might be a little off the beaten path,” he said.

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