Jan. 19, 2011

Five faculty receive NSF CAREER awards

Five faculty members – Itai Cohen, William Dichtel, Tobias Hanrath, Eun-Ah Kim and Cynthia Reinhart-King – are recent recipients of National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Awards, which support early career development activities of teacher-scholars. The awards support research and outreach components.

Cohen, assistant professor of physics, has received $575,000 over five years to study the mechanisms of crystalline growth in colloidal suspensions. Cohen’s experiments involve real-time growth of crystals composed of particles 50 times smaller than a human hair and behave similarly to atomic-scale particles. The project will investigate crystallization and melting on surfaces that strain the crystals. Application of these findings to the atomic scale may enable better control over the growth and melting of thin films used to manufacture electronic components. The award will also support education of Ph.D. students and development outreach activities, including scientific workshops and educational materials for K-12 teachers in disadvantaged communities.

Dichtel, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology, has received $650,000 over five years to study covalent organic frameworks (COF), which are porous, crystalline materials that show promise for improving the performance of inexpensive, lightweight solar cells. The COFs appropriate for this application contain complex building blocks and are difficult to prepare. Dichtel is developing new methods to synthesize COFs to solve this problem and improve their performance. The project also integrates educational initiatives to teach middle school students and teachers about solar energy technologies and develop publicly available content to enhance awareness of organic chemistry.

Hanrath, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, has received $328,000 over four years to study semiconductor nanostructures as artificial solids with controlled connections in multiple dimensions that balance quantum confinement and quantum coupling. The project aims to significantly advance knowledge and understanding of tunable extended electronic states in nanocrystals. Objectives include mapping the electronic phase diagram of semiconductor nanostructures with precise experimental control over disorder and coupling; applying the understanding of correlated properties in the creation of artificial solids with electronic and optical properties by design; and transforming fundamental understanding into technological reality by developing and testing prototype photovoltaic structures. The educational activities of Hanrath’s project will integrate research and education of students from high school to graduate school and engage students in impending energy issues.

Kim, assistant professor of physics, has received $400,000 over five years to support her research on superconductivity, quantum liquid crystals and topological phases. Kim seeks to understand the interplay among multiple instabilities, seeing it as a key challenge to unlocking the mysteries of strongly correlated quantum materials. In the educational component of her award, Kim will develop “Scientific Science Communication” modules for teaching scientific writing and presentation skills to Cornell students. With assistance from the Cornell Center for Materials Research, Kim will also develop an educational kit for K-12 students to demonstrate the diversity of emergent phenomena underlying everyday technology. Finally, she will partner with the Cornell chapter of the “Expand Your Horizons” program to introduce a cyber community to encourage interest in science among female students.

Reinhart-King, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, has received $400,000 over five years to develop a research and education plan focused on cellular migration. Reinhart-King uses novel tools to uncover the mechanisms of endothelial cell chemotaxis, which is how cells move according to certain chemicals in their environment. In particular, she studies how cells respond to vascular endothelial growth factor, which is a specific protein that promotes the growth of blood vessels. Her work also has implications in the field of tissue engineering, where controlled, directed endothelial cell migration could enable the engineering of vascular networks in tissue engineered scaffolds and in cancer research, where a better understanding of angiogenesis could enable development of more targeted therapeutics to prevent endothelial cell chemotactic response. The broader impact of Reinhart-King’s proposal is the development of an interdisciplinary learning environment that connects biology and engineering across multiple length scales (molecular, cellular and tissue level). New teaching methodologies and outreach activities will introduce middle and high school girls in the local, underserved rural community to concepts in biology and engineering.