President Barack Obama awarded four Cornell assistant professors the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers on Sept. 26. While 94 other scientists received the award, no other university was as well represented on the list. The PECASE is the highest award granted by the U.S. government for those at the beginning of their careers in the fields of science and engineering.The Cornell recipients were Prof. John March, biological and environmental engineering, Prof. Kyle Shen, physics, Prof. Salman Avestimehr, electrical and computer engineering, and Prof. David Erickson, mechanical and aerospace engineering.“It is inspiring to see the innovative work being done by these scientists and engineers as they ramp up their careers — careers that I know will be not only personally rewarding but also invaluable to the nation,” Obama said in a statement.In addition to their research, Obama praised the recipients’ involvement in their communities.“That so many of them are also devoting time to mentoring and other forms of community service speaks volumes about their potential for leadership, not only as scientists but as model citizens” he said.The recipients were selected by The Young Investigator Programs of several government agencies that came together to award the PECASE to top grant recipients. Each Cornell awardee of the PECASE won a grant from a governmental agency that provided funding for the professor’s project. March received a grant by the National Institutes of Health to work on developing a treatment for type 1 diabetes, which he anticipates will take him about ten to fifteen years to create.“Even though the PECASE does not give you any more money, it’s good on your resume,” March said. “It is humbling and really nice to be recognized by the government. It’s not a bad gig.”Avestimehr was recognized by the National Science Foundation for his work in complex wireless connection networks. He is currently working on wireless networks that may lead to the creation of larger networks in the future. “As our society becomes more and more mobile, it is critical to find novel ways to significantly enhance wireless network capacity in order to enable the future mobile world,” Avestimehr said in an email. “I am deeply honored and grateful to receive this award from President Obama,” he said. “This is indeed a great recognition for me and my research group at Cornell University.”Shen won a $1 million dollar grant from the Department of Defense for his proposal to search for new superconductors.“Superconductors are a little like magic,” he said. “They are a class of materials that are pretty special.” Shen credited members of the Cornell community for the award.“I’ve been really fortunate to work with a lot of really great students and also a lot of really great professors at Cornell, as well as collaborators,” he said. “I think that it’s pretty much a credit to them that I won this award. It’s result of the people that I got to work with at Cornell and my previous scientific advisers.”Erickson was recognized for his work with the Department of Energy.“We have developed some techniques for manipulating very small things at the nanoscale using optics. Sort of like a tractor beam but for molecules. The project we are working on for the Department of Energy uses that to assemble new forms of materials with interesting properties for energy applications,” Erickson said.Erickson said he wants to see the research that he does make an impact on society in the future.“I owe so much of it to my mentors who helped me get established and students who did most of the research,” he said.President Obama will host a private ceremony for the recipients later in the year.
Original Author: Margaret Yoder