Three faculty win NSF grants

Three faculty win NSF grants

Rice News staff

Three Rice faculty members won prestigious CAREER grants from the National Science Foundation this spring. CAREER grants, which support early career development of junior faculty, are among the most competitive at NSF, which awards only about 400 of the five-year grants across all disciplines each year.

Faculty have won 21 CAREER grants while at Rice worth almost $7.5 million since the program’s inception in 1995.

This year’s winners are Robert Raphael, the T.N. Law Assistant Professor in Bioengineering; Adrian Lenardic, assistant professor of earth science; and T.S. Eugene Ng, assistant professor of computer science.

“A university’s most valuable asset is its people,” said Eugene Levy, the Howard Hughes Provost and professor of physics and astronomy. “Ultimately a university’s success depends on the quality of its faculty and students. Rice’s continued success in the NSF’s CAREER program is one direct reflection of the commitment that Rice and each of its departments places on attracting the best and brightest junior faculty.”

Typically ranging from $400,000 to $500,000, CAREER grants support the early career-development activities of scholars who are most likely to become academic leaders in their field. CAREER recipients are selected on the basis of creative proposals that will build a firm foundation for a lifetime of integrated contributions to both research and education. The focus on both education and research is one of the things that distinguishes CAREER grants from other NSF research programs that focus more closely on lab research.

Raphael’s CAREER research is in the field of membrane-based bionanotechnology. It will focus on prestin, a critical membrane protein found in the outer hair cells of the inner ear. Prestin is the only protein in the body that is known to convert mechanical motion into electric signals. Conversely, electrical stimulation of membranes containing prestin can elicit force generation. Raphael aims to characterize the electromechanical characteristics of membranes containing prestin and to lay the groundwork for bionanotechnological devices based on prestin. On the education side, Raphael plans to develop a new interdisciplinary course in bionanotechnology to be taught to graduate students and upper-level undergraduates.

Lenardic will create a visualization studio and computer simulation that will be used not only for university research and teaching but also by K-12 students and educators, artists and science communicators. Part of the program involves building a coupled computer model that simulates geologic processes as diverse as plate tectonics, mantle dynamics, surface erosion, continental collisions and planetary cooling. Another element is the creation of a hands-on workshop where advanced undergraduates and graduates develop hands-on demonstrations of the key concepts in geoscience. Ultimately, Lenardic hopes the program will encourage students to see beyond artificial boundaries within sub-fields and gain a greater understanding of how processes are interconnected.

Ng is leading the Internet Geometry project, which aims to “map” the Internet’s crucial properties — connectivity, delay and bandwidth — into geometric models to obtain new fundamental insights into the structure of the vast and complex Internet.

Moreover, the “Internet coordinates” created by the mapping can enable a new generation of scalable and performance-aware network software and protocols. The Internet coordinates would work much like the geometric longitudes and latitudes that are used to determine distances between locations on Earth. Ng hopes to develop a public, global-scale distributed system that will enable all Internet nodes to independently compute their network geometric properties. On the education side, Ng plans to use the End System Multicast conferencing tool that he co-developed to facilitate joint-university teaching and interuniversity design competitions.

Rice’s CAREER award winners include Cecilia Clementi and Douglas Natelson in 2004; Anatoly Kolomeisky, Vijay Pai and Chad Landis in 2003; Matteo Pasquali, Brendan Hassett and Junichiro Kono in 2002; Susanne Stemmer in 2001; Dan Wallach and Jacqueline Goveas in 2000; Satish Nagarajaiah and Jennifer West in 1999; Ed Knightly in 1998; Lydia Kavraki and Vicki Colvin in 1997; and Peter Druschel and Sarita Adve in 1995.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.