Powerful X-rays, energy tech, wireless electric-vehicle charging, big data, swarming robots, and cryo-electron microscopy are among some of the research themes that helped six faculty members earn Cornell Engineering Research Excellence Awards – the highest research honor given by the Ivy League’s top-ranked engineering college.
Recipients of the annual awards are nominated by their departments and selected by a committee for more than just their individual research outcomes. Awardees are also recognized for their impacts on society, reputation in the field, leadership, mentorship, and citizenship within the college and university.
The 2021 recipients are:
Khurram Afridi, associate professor, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Afridi researches high-frequency power electronics with a focus on wireless electric vehicle charging and ultra-compact power converters for datacenters and other applications. His research – which has garnered best-paper awards, dozens of grants, and multiple patents in three years at Cornell – has tremendous potential to revolutionize sustainable transit, robotics, and biomedical implants. Afridi has also founded a successful infotech company, launched a school in Pakistan, developed new Cornell Engineering courses, and served on multiple school committees.
Joel Brock, the Given Foundation Professor, School of Applied and Engineering Physics
Brock is widely recognized as a leader in X-ray synchrotron sources, and for the past eight years has directed the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) – one of the largest research enterprises at Cornell – where he successfully rebuilt its physical infrastructure, funding portfolio, and management structure. CHESS has a $22.5 million annual operating budget and employs 65 people, and under Brock’s leadership is expected to open a new facility that will double its experimental space. Since joining Cornell in 1989, Brock has served as school director, among other leadership roles, and currently serves as school M.Eng. and M.S. director.
Greeshma Gadikota, assistant professor, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Gadikota’s research of carbon-dioxide reactivity in diverse environments – ranging from the subsurface to resource conversion processes including iron and steel making – is providing the scientific basis for emerging technologies in sustainable energy, resource recovery, and carbon sequestration. Gadikota joined Cornell in 2019 and has garnered several national awards and board appointments, and has two patents pending with five invention disclosures. Gadikota’s efforts to host the Women in Energy Symposium in the ACS Annual Meeting have brought more awareness to gender disparity in the energy field.
Lena Kourkoutis, associate professor, School of Applied and Engineering Physics
Kourkoutis leads the world in quantitative cryogenic scanning transmission electron microscopy and her research is helping to drive new developments in areas such as quantum science, information technologies, and sustainable energy. Since joining Cornell in 2013, her research has resulted in the world’s highest resolution cryo-electron microscope, and she has pioneered an entirely new way to study processes at complex solid-liquid interfaces such as those found in batteries. Kourkoutis has taken leadership positions at several Cornell centers and boards, and is director of school undergraduate studies.
Kirstin Petersen, assistant professor, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Petersen’s research is redefining the design of intelligent robotic systems, and is focused around swarm robot collectives inspired by nature and capable of autonomous construction. The work spans many fields including electronics, software, entomology, and architecture. Since arriving at Cornell in 2016, Petersen has been regularly featured in popular media outlets. She advises students across multiple fields, helped found Cornell Robotics Day, setup a maker lab for students, and has been active in promoting an inclusive environment for women in STEM. Petersen also co-led an organization of 200 volunteers during the pandemic to 3D print more than 80,000 pieces of protective equipment for hospitals.
David Shmoys, the Laibe/Acheson Professor of Business Management and Leadership Studies, School of Operations Research and Information Engineering
Shmoys is renowned for his design and analysis of efficient algorithms for discrete optimization problems. More generally, the growth of big data has made his expertise directly applicable to a wide range of fields, including sustainability, genomics, and political redistricting. His work on bike-sharing algorithms won multiple awards and informs CitiBike’s New York City operations. Shmoys joined Cornell in 1989 and he has held several leadership including director of the Center for Data Science for Enterprise and Society and former school director. He was instrumental in reopening campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to inform university protocols and rebuild the course schedule.
"I am incredibly proud of our engineering faculty’s world-class research leadership, impeccable citizenship, and outsized impact to the community and humanity,” said Huili Grace Xing, associate dean for research and graduate studies at Cornell Engineering. “They are the cornerstone of Cornell’s collaborative campus and the foundation of the Ivy’s best engineering college."
The Research Excellence Awards will be formally presented at the Engineering Faculty Reception and Meeting to be held on Dec. 7.
A list of past recipients can be found on the Cornell Engineering website.