Four on faculty receive NSF CAREER awards

Four Cornell faculty members have received National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Awards, which support research activities of teacher-scholars. Along with their research, awardees also engage in education and outreach activities as part of their grant fulfillment.

Olivier Desjardins, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, received $400,000 over five years for his work in computational and theoretical fluid dynamics. His goal is to develop a comprehensive, mechanistic and statistical theory of turbulence-interface interactions in liquid-gas flows. This could have impacts on the way scientists and engineers understand turbulent multiphase flows, leading to the development of new predictive models to enable simulations of engineering devices such as fuel injection systems and natural processes. His proposal includes a new massive open online course (MOOC) on multiphase flows and an iPad multiphase flow simulator to inspire students and the public.

David Steurer, assistant professor of computer science, received $600,000 over five years for his research addressing fundamental questions about approximation algorithms, which provide computational efficiency by offering approximate solutions to optimization problems that lie at the core of all of computer science and its applications. Steurer uses strong relaxations, especially the sum-of-squares method, in shedding light on such questions. An integral part of his research is resolving if this method refutes the Unique Games Conjecture, an accomplishment that would likely lead to major improvements of approximation algorithms for a wide range of problems.

Ross Tate, assistant professor of computer science, received $575,000 over five years for his work in types, which are structures imposed upon computer programming languages that can prove problematic when programs written in different languages need to interact. His research involves a principled form of gradual typing for mixing typed and untyped code together while retaining compatibility with the expectations and methodologies of industry developers. In particular, he focuses on mixing statically typed, object-oriented languages using generics and variance with dynamically typed, structural, object-oriented languages. The latter class includes major languages like Java, C# and Scala, whereas the former includes JavaScript, Python and PHP. In addition to improving the language resources to develop Web technologies, his project’s broader impacts include a plan for an entirely online interactive program-development environment for building interactive Web pages. The intent is to make programming accessible to people who solely have access to a modern Web browser.

Roseanna Zia, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, received $410,000 over five years for her research investigating the structure and macroscopic properties of colloidal gels. Her goal is to develop a predictive theory for gel stability by discovering and elucidating the underlying mechanisms of the sudden collapse of colloidal gels, with a view toward the design of soft biomaterials such as injectable drug delivery platforms and transplantable tissue scaffolds. Injectable gels have emerged in the past decade as a powerful tool in tissue engineering and drug delivery due to their biocompatibility, tunability and minimal invasiveness. However, such gels are susceptible to sudden failure. This study will yield a phase map that, for the first time, predicts the collapse and the characteristic length scale, age, attraction and underlying forces that lead to collapse.

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