This year seven Cornell faculty members were awarded as American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellows, a distinguished group of scientists, engineers and innovators who have been recognized for their achievements across disciplines. From the crossroads of economics and agriculture to Alzheimer’s research and engineering, these faculty members display new research that Cornell boasts.
Prof. Chris Schaffer, biomedical engineering department
Schaffer currently runs a lab with Dr. Nozomi Nishimura, biomedical engineering, where they develop optic-based techniques to inspect the dynamic behavior of live cells. Such techniques include building unique microscopes that can observe new types of cells or see deeper into cell tissue. Using this equipment, the majority of his research has involved protein engineering in the context of more fully understanding cellular interactions that drive downstream symptoms of neurological diseases.
In one project, his team focused on the underlying mechanism of cerebral blood flow reduction in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. They discovered that neutrophils stuck to capillary segments and blocked blood flow in mice models. In addition, the administration of antibodies rapidly improved spatial and working memory tasks in the mice. Other lab studies include spinal cord injury, microvascular stroke and the role of capillary level flow disruptions.
Prof. Huili (Grace) Xing, electrical and computer engineering department
Xing joined Cornell in 2014 and was appointed as an Associate Dean on Research and Graduate Studies for the College of Engineering in Jan. 2020. Her work has focused on high-performance connector devices, including nitride materials, oxide materials, low-dimensional materials and quantum materials that act as semiconductors. With this research, she pioneers the synthesis and application of materials that are not naturally found to increase their functionality and speed.
Prof. Prabhu Pingali, applied economics and policy department
Pingali is a food scientist, economist and founding director of the Tata-Cornell Institute of Agriculture and Nutrition.
For four decades, Pingali has studied the relationship between food systems and poverty reductions in rural populations of Africa, South America and Latin America. He has recently studied three particular areas. The first is on creating more diversity and an increased supply of fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products, moving away from grains and wheat. The second is to create a food system that allows farmers to be responsive to market signals of consumption and demand for fresh foods. The third is creating government policies that provide incentives for farmers to diversify their products.
Prof. Paula Cohen, biomedical sciences department
Prof. Cohen became interested in germ cell biology and genome integrity during her postdoc at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Cohen has since studied the role of DNA repair proteins in mammalian meiosis.
Her work has discovered novel checkpoints and regulatory mechanisms during the first meiotic crossover event, which are essential for the accurate segregation of homologous chromosomes during the first phase of meiosis. Her work has allowed scientists to gain a better understanding of how cells maintain their genomic integrity, ensuring the successful recombination of the gametes.
Prof. Jun (Kelly) Liu, molecular biology and genetics department
Liu received her Ph.D. at Cornell in 1996 and came back as a faculty member in 2001. Liu’s research involves the free-living nematode C. elegans as a model system for studying two significant themes: how stem cells divide to produce multiple cell types and the discovery of new genes within a highly conserved signaling pathway, the bone morphogenetic protein pathway.
“[C. elegans are] one of the best organisms to study molecular mechanisms controlling development at single cell resolution.” Liu explained in a previous interview.
By using this unique system, she was able to thoroughly investigate the origin of the cells that make up our mesoderm — the heart, bones, blood and muscles. She discovered how they differentiate into various types and when this differentiating process occurs during growth. The BMP pathway was an accidental find through a mutant C. elegan. The location in which some of the cells migrated to differed, resulting in new knowledge on cell-to-cell signaling.
Prof. Claire Cardie, computer science department
Cardie serves as a professor in the Computer Science and Information Science departments at Cornell studying natural language processing. Dr. Cardie’s goals are to help users find, absorb and extract information from the internet by creating algorithms and systems.
Her recent research accomplishments include studying the recognition of human intent through social media images, creating Classification with Alternating Normalization — a non-parametric post-processing step for classification — and proposing studying models under a setting increasingly similar to what an agent might encounter in the real world.
Prof. J.C. Séamus Davis, physics department
In 2019, Davis was awarded the James Gilbert White Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Physics for his groundbreaking contributions to experimental low-temperature and condensed matter physics. Davis has also invented low-temperature spectroscopic STM imaging, which is used to explore surfaces, electronic structures and bulk properties with atomic resolution
Dr. Davis’ lab concentrates creating unique instruments that can visualize the physical properties of electronic, magnetic, atomic and space-time quantum matter at the atomic level.
His group is a single research group conducting simultaneous studies with labs at three different locations, one at Cornell, the second at The University College Cork and a third at Oxford University.
AAAS mission statement is to “advance science, engineering and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.” This year’s fellow selection highlights how much of that innovation is occurring right here at Cornell.