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Data science, wave interaction, semiconductors earn engineering research awards

Data science, molecular mechanisms, unconventional computing for optimization and machine learning, wave interaction with engineered materials, electrocatalysis, and compound semiconductor devices are among some of the research themes that helped six faculty members earn Cornell Engineering Research Excellence Awards, the college’s highest research honor.

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 2022 recipients are:

Damek Davis, associate professor, School of Operations Research and Information Engineering

Davis has an ambitious research program that falls squarely in the important field of the mathematics of data science. Whereas many people that work in the data science space use existing methodologies, Davis is at the forefront of the development of those algorithms complete with proving convergence and convergence rates. This allows practitioners to choose the appropriate algorithm for particular problem instances. Davis works on examining how local search algorithms in machine learning perform well. Through a broad range of mathematical techniques Davis is able to provide provable explanations as to why they work.

Matt DeLisa, William L. Lewis Professor, Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

DeLisa has established a world-renowned research program that focuses on understanding and controlling the molecular mechanisms underlying protein biogenesis in the complex environment of a living cell. His groundbreaking efforts have been instrumental in defining how protein biosynthesis machinery can be used to discover, optimize and manufacture biopharmaceuticals and vaccines, as well as to reprogram cell-based and cell-free systems with new capabilities that greatly expand their utility. DeLisa’s many papers on these topics are well known and well cited – many with more than 100 citations – and demonstrate his knack for connecting biology with engineering and transforming new knowledge into inventions with the potential for societal benefit.

Peter McMahon, assistant professor, School of Applied and Engineering Physics

In just three years with Cornell Engineering, McMahon has established an outstanding reputation in the study of how physical systems can be harnessed to perform computation. His lab is now one of the leading groups in the world in unconventional computing for optimization and for machine learning, and his recent development of physical neural networks is poised to open a new field of study in how machine learning can be performed with novel physical hardware. McMahon’s lab studies both quantum and classical computing, as well as the space between those two extremes. One example of his creative works is the demonstration of turning arbitrary physical systems into neural networks, which was published in Nature in 2022.

Francesco Monticone, assistant professor, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Monticone’s research in the areas of applied electromagnetics, metamaterials and metasurfaces, and theoretical/computational nanophotonics focuses on innovative and extreme aspects of wave interaction with engineered materials and the associated fundamental limits. Monticone is motivated by fundamental scientific questions about the physics of interactions between waves and matter and uses this deep understanding in applications across signal processing, communications, and energy. Since joining Cornell Engineering six years ago, Monticone has established a research program in theoretical electromagnetics and nanophotonics, an emerging discipline with tremendous impact potential. Among his major research contributions is the development of the first metasurface-based coupler for wireless power transfer with focused nearfields and reduced fringing fields – with the goal of eventually demonstrating a 50 kW wireless power transfer system meeting fringing-field safety standards.

Jin Suntivich, associate professor, Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Suntivich has already established a reputation as a global leader in understanding the fundamental mechanisms involved in electrocatalysis. More specifically, he has developed a reputation for very careful and reliable measurements of multi-electron electrochemical transformations, such as the oxygen reduction reaction and oxygen evolution reaction — two of the most important yet intractable reactions associated with energy storage and conversion devices. Suntivich’s research specifically focuses on developing a scientific understanding of structure-property relationships at solid-liquid and solid-gas interfaces. Suntivich is a natural leader and exemplary team player who has played key roles in multiple large research teams at Cornell and elsewhere.

Huili Grace Xing, William L. Quackenbush Professor of Engineering, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Department of Materials Science and Engineering

A bold innovator in compound semiconductor devices, Xing is an expert in device processing and property measurements. Her current research focuses on the growth, fabrication and characterization of semiconductor electronic and optical materials and devices. Xing has made significant contributions to the epitaxial growth, device processing and device characterization leading to improved understanding and performance of compound semiconductor devices. Her achievements span from improved predictions of device performance to record-breaking high-performance devices. Due to the practical nature of her inventions (she has 20 patents issued or pending), Xing has many successful interactions with industry.

"Cornell Engineering faculty are pillars of excellence and innovation in research, and this year’s award winners truly embody our community’s commitment to these values,” said Lois Pollack, associate dean for research and graduate studies at Cornell Engineering. “This group not only contributes outstanding science, they also demonstrate our commitment to leadership and collaboration in research. I am pleased to be able to honor them and celebrate their contributions to engineering, both at Cornell and beyond.”

The Research Excellence Awards will be formally presented at the Engineering Faculty Reception and Meeting to be held on Dec. 6, 2022.

A list of past recipients can be found on the Cornell Engineering website.

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