Nine Junior Faculty Receive National Recognition

In California, UC Riverside is ranked second in number of National Science Foundation CAREER awards received in 2013-2014

The CAREER grant is one of the most prestigious awards given out by the National Science Foundation.

By Sarah Reinhard

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Nine researchers at the University of California, Riverside have been awarded National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER grants in July 2013-June 2014. One of NSF’s most prestigious awards, the CAREER grant is targeted towards promising new faculty early in their careers, with the goal of providing stable support while they establish themselves as independent researchers and exceptional educators in their fields.

Only 600 such awards are given out each year among the more than 7,000 higher education institutions in the United Sates. With nine awards, UC Riverside is ranked second among universities in California for 2013-2014.

Each NSF grant includes an outreach/educational component that will seek to further educate local middle school, high school and community college students. The integrated outreach programs vary for each researcher, and range from engineering microscopic building materials, to creating art through chemistry, to painting with light and nanoparticles.

The following researchers at UC Riverside have won the 2013-2014 CAREER awards:

Photo shows Huiwang Ai.

Huiwang Ai.

Huiwang Ai, an assistant professor of chemistry, is developing fluorescent probes to study cellular redox biology. Redox processes in biology are involved in such things as cell respiration and photosynthesis, as well as free radical reactions that can cause cell mutation. These processes are important physiological and pathological pathways and can be linked to a large number of diseases. Though important to understand, “these redox signaling molecules are difficult to study using existing techniques,” he said, so Ai and his coworkers discovered ways to selectively observe redox-active molecules in live cells. As part of this project, middle and high school students will be teamed with the Ai lab to study the problem. The first four students will arrive this July. This five-year $600,000 award will provide funding for three graduate students as well.

Photo shows Julie Bergner.

Julie Bergner.

Julie Bergner, an associate professor of mathematics, will compare models for equivariant homotopy theories. “A homotopy theory refers to a collection of mathematical objects, or categorical structures, with equivalence between them,” she said and using equivariant versions will allow her to incorporate more algebraic information into these widely used categorical structures. “This blending of ideas will bring together different areas of math and can then be applied in mathematical physics, manifold theory, and representation theory,” she added. The educational component of the grant is to organize a two-week summer workshop for mathematics majors who are transferring to UCR from community colleges, introducing them to topics from upper-division mathematics courses. The five-year $450,000 grant will provide summer support for two graduate students.

Photo shows Philip Brisk.

Philip Brisk.

Philip Brisk, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering, develops software tools to automate the design of ‘laboratories-on-a-chip’ (LoCs). “These are integrated plumbing networks shrunk down to the micrometer scale and below” he said, “that can automate things like DNA sequencing and drug discovery” – processes that are costly and difficult right now. The design technologies that Brisk studies will lower costs and allow scientists to obtain these chips from a simple description. The grant will also support programs to teach students about the fundamentals of LoC technology, and will fund the event “Learning Computer Science through the Lens of Culture” – a workshop on computer science for both high school students and teachers in the Inland Empire. This five-year $493,645 award will support one graduate student and three undergraduate students.

Chia-en Chang.

Chia-en Chang.

Chia-en Chang, an assistant professor of chemistry and bioinformatics, will use computer modeling to investigate complex interactions among molecules, including proteins, enzymes and nanoparticles. “The association of two free molecules to form a complex is one of the most important processes in chemical and biological systems,” she said. To explore bio-molecular binding, she will simulate interactions between atoms as well as their behavior in the larger system, using “atomistic and multi-level coarse grained simulations,” she added. The educational activities supported by this grant include seminars and summer courses to train students from local colleges, high schools and from UC Riverside in the field of computational chemistry. The five-year $588,360 grant will support two graduate students and two undergraduate students.

Juhi Jang.

Juhi Jang.

Juhi Jang, an associate professor of mathematics, will investigate physically important phenomena, such as the collapse of stars or generation of vortices at the interface between two fluids, based on partial differential equations (PDE) approaches. “These are physical phenomena that can be challenging to study, and so the goal is to find a mathematical framework where these physical phenomena can be captured with an appropriate mathematical theory, using PDE methods,” she said. Educational and outreach activities associated with the grant include student research projects, one-to-one mentoring activities, course development, summer schools for undergraduate and graduate students and interdisciplinary conferences. The five-year $400,000 grant will support one to two graduate students and one undergraduate student per year.

 

Catharine Larsen.

Catharine Larsen.

Catharine Larsen, an assistant professor of chemistry, develops new catalytic reactions to synthesize nitrogen-containing compounds under green conditions. “Forming the crowded central atom remains a serious challenge for chemists,” she said, and access to these unique molecules has the potential to combat human diseases. Larsen started “The Science of Art” series at the Riverside Art Museum to teach the science behind both creating and perceiving art, as well as inspiring low-income elementary school students to experiment with the chemistry involved in creating art. “By associating questions and logical challenges with play, these students are better equipped to succeed in earning advanced degrees in STEM fields,” she added. Larsen has a five-year, $600,000 award supporting two graduate students and four undergraduate students.

Lorenzo Mangoli.

Lorenzo Mangoli.

Lorenzo Mangolini, an assistant professor of mechanical/materials science and engineering, creates and processes novel materials – called bulk nanostructured materials – used to develop high efficiency / low cost devices with applications in sustainable energy production. “Bulk nanostructured materials can be made of grains smaller than 100 nanometers, with very interesting thermal transport properties,” he said. He will create the next generation of bulk nanostructured materials and decrease manufacturing costs for these devices that convert heat flux to electrical energy without any moving parts. Using support for this project, Mangolini will train US Army veteran undergraduate students in hand-on research, and mentor both high school students and teachers in his lab.   This five-year $400,000 grant will support one graduate student and several undergraduates.

Khaleel A. Razak.

Khaleel A. Razak.

Khaleel Razak, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience, will determine how auditory (or hearing) maps are formed in the auditory cortex of the brain, focusing on mechanisms that form neural connections. The brain contains many maps representing features of the sensory world, including visual, touch and auditory maps. These auditory computational maps underlie an animal’s ability to localize sound.  “Precise sound localization” using the auditory map “can be a matter of life and death to some species,” he explained – for instance in nocturnal animals such as bats.  Razak’s outreach combines undergraduate research, public seminars on bat behaviors and conservation, and technical seminars on echolocation and bat monitoring.  The five-year $866,902 award supports one post-doctoral scholar, two graduate students and three undergraduate students.

Ming Tang.

Ming Tang.

Ming L. Tang, an assistant professor of chemistry, is working to link nanoparticles together in uniquely well-defined ways. “Nanoparticles made of gold and other noble metals can be made into parts of artificial molecules, much like atoms form the basis for molecules,” she said. These nanoparticles can absorb or scatter light in specific regions of the visible spectrum, and by building 3D assemblies of nanoparticles she can control interactions of light with matter. The educational component of the project will “deliver to the greater public the excitement of the fascinating properties of plasmonic nanoparticles,” she added, by the creation of a discovery-based laboratory course, “Painting with Plasmons and Polymers,” for UCR students. This five-year $649,964 grant will support two graduate students and two undergraduate students.

Media Contact


Tel: (951) 827-6050
E-mail: iqbal@ucr.edu
Twitter: UCR_Sciencenews

Archived under: Inside UCR, Science/Technology, , , , , , , , , , ,

Top of Page