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Four Receive Prestigious NSF Honor for Young Faculty

National Science Foundation recognizes creative integration of research and education

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February 25, 2010 | by Megan Fellman

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Four young Northwestern University faculty members -- Jose Andrade, Darren Gergle, Jiaxing Huang and Cheng Sun -- have received the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation.

The minimum CAREER award size is $400,000 for a five-year period.

Award recipients from the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science are Andrade, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering; Huang, assistant professor of materials science and engineering; and Sun, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

Gergle, assistant professor of communication studies, is the first faculty member from the School of Communication to receive this honor.

The CAREER program offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards for new faculty members. The program recognizes and supports early career development of those teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century. CAREER awardees are selected on the basis of creative, career-development plans that effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their respective institutions.

Jose Andrade

Andrade’s research interests lie in the area of computational mechanics with application to problems at the interface of physics and mechanics. He is working to develop predictive analytical and numerical models for porous materials, such as rock, soil and bone. Andrade is particularly interested in geomechanics, which combines elements of civil, environmental and mechanical engineering, and he attempts to model the behavior of geomaterials under load-bearing conditions. A predictive model that applies to all geomaterials could help avert the building catastrophes that often happen after natural disasters.

His CAREER award is for his proposal “A Multi-Scale Computational Paradigm for Research and Education in Geomaterials.” The research objective is to establish a link between key macroscopic material properties and the underlying microstructure in granular soils using a multi-scale probing framework. The educational objective is to increase the accessibility of fundamental concepts in geomechanics, such as permeability, to yield deeper learning. Basic research connecting multiple scales accurately in geomaterials promises to improve understanding of these materials, resulting in the development of predictive models and improved educational methods in engineering and science.

Darren Gergle

Gergle’s research is in the field of human-computer interaction and focuses on applying cognitive and social psychological theories of communication to the design, development and evaluation of interactive, multimodal technologies.


His CAREER award is for his proposal “A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to the Next Generation of Collaborative Technologies.” The work will apply a human-centered design approach to first understand the ways that humans coordinate in real-world activities and then apply that understanding to the development of novel collaboration technologies. The work will ultimately influence collaborative applications ranging from telesurgery systems to interactive museum experiences to distance education systems.

Jiaxing Huang

Huang’s research focuses on creating functional systems by the rational assembly of material building blocks over a broad range of length scales, including small molecules, polymers and nanoparticles. He is interested in the fundamental aspects -- synthesis and processing -- of nanomaterials and how they will impact performance and application.

He received a CAREER award for his proposal “Interfacial Assembly of Soft Layered Materials.” The project is driven by scientific curiosity and the technical importance of soft layered materials such as graphene oxide. Huang’s group will explore the characteristics of such layered materials with a focus on assembly behaviors at interfaces. Their findings could reveal new fundamental material behaviors, aid in the design of better synthesis and processing strategies for soft two-dimensional materials, and lead to new technologies for electronics, cleaner energy and a better environment. His group also will create discovery-based educational materials for use in undergraduate courses and in outreach activities for younger students and the general public.

Cheng Sun

Emerging applications of nanoscience necessitate developments of viable nano-manufacturing technologies. Sun and his research group are developing novel nanoscale fabrication techniques and integrated nano-systems for bio-sensing and high-efficiency energy conversion.

His CAREER award is for his proposal “A Hybrid Approach for Flexible Nanomanufacturing -- Maskless Plasmonic Nano-Lithography.” The project is to develop a new maskless optical nano-fabrication technology with highly desirable process scalability and flexibility. Such technology could be used for broadband communication, medical diagnostics and detection and identification of biological and chemical weapons. The project’s education component includes establishing a new education curriculum in nanomanufacturing at Northwestern and educating students in Chicago Public Schools about the advancements in nanotechnology.

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