Four Cornell faculty win PECASE awards

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Blaine Friedlander

Cornell scientists Salman Avestimehr, David Erickson, John C. March and Kyle Shen are recipients of this year's Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) -- the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on early-career science and engineering professionals.

Annually, 16 federal departments and agencies unite to nominate the scientists, of which there are 94 this year, who show "the greatest promise for assuring America's pre-eminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies' missions."


Avestimehr, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, was awarded through the National Science Foundation for his work in complex wireless information networks. As society becomes more and more mobile, Avestimehr says, it is critical to find novel ways to significantly enhance wireless network capacity in order to enable the future mobile world. Avestimehr is proposing new approximation techniques to tackle longstanding problems in wireless network information theory whose solutions are expected to reveal principles for designing large-scale distributed wireless networks of the future. In particular, he is targeting fundamental problems in multi-hop communication networks, distributed networks with local network views at the nodes, and wireless networks with rapidly changing topologies.


Erickson, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, was awarded through the Department of Energy for his work in directed assembly of hybrid nanostructures. His research deals with self-assembling nanomaterials with optical and energy conversion properties, and he has recently demonstrated how electromagnetic fields in nanophotonic devices are strong enough to physically manipulate biological and non-biological materials that are just a few nanometers in size. He proposes studies that aim to elucidate the underlying physics behind this new assembly process. Specifically, he uses optically resonant "nanotweezers" and kinetic models to determine conditions under which stable nanoparticle manipulation can take place. Efforts will extend to such complex materials systems as gold nanoparticles, quantum dots and carbon nanotubes.


March, assistant professor of biological and environmental engineering, was awarded through the Department of Health and Human Services to support his research into human intestinal bacteria. He proposes examining the use of these bacteria, called commensal bacteria, for the controlled expression of an insulin-stimulating peptide in the intestinal epithelial cell space, which could mediate a glucose regulatory mechanism through reprogramming of intestinal stem cells. March hopes these results will translate to orally dosed treatments for type 1 diabetes that cost just pennies a day, to potentially mediate the long-term effects of the disease.


Shen, assistant professor of physics, was awarded through the Department of Defense to advance his work on new superconductors in artificially engineered quantum electronic materials. His approach combines oxide molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) with such advanced tools as angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy (ARPES). Precise layer-by-layer atomic growth allows researchers to synthesize materials that are candidates for higher temperature superconductors, according to the proposal. One approach involves engineering superlattices whose electronic structures are predicted to closely resemble existing superconductors, such as cuprates. The other approach will be the synthesis of layered materials that exhibit characteristics common to many other families of exotic superconductors. Shen will utilize the unique integrated oxide MBE-ARPES system to synthesize and study the electronic structure of similar materials, in concert with other types of spectroscopies.

The PECASE awards, established by President Bill Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach.


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