Notre Dame’s junior faculty achieve record success in nationally competitive awards

Author: William G. Gilroy

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has recognized eight University of Notre Dame faculty from the Colleges of Arts and Letters, Engineering and Science for their excellence in research with an Early Career Development (CAREER) Award. Additionally, two faculty members have been awarded Young Investigator Program (YIP) Awards from the Army Research Office.

The CAREER program, which was established by the NSF in 1995, recognizes and supports outstanding junior faculty who exhibit a commitment to stimulating research while also providing educational opportunities for students. It is the NSF’s most prestigious award given to junior faculty.

Although Notre Dame has a long-standing history of winning CAREER Awards, with at least two won every year for the past five years, 2014 was a record year for the University. Speaking about the awards, Vice President for Research Robert Bernhard said, “The unprecedented success of our junior faculty for these highly prestigious and competitive early career awards is a testament to Notre Dame’s hiring success and of the talent and hard work of these faculty members. The departments and faculty members are to be commended, especially as only a few of the country’s most prestigious research universities had eight or more awardees this year.”

The full list of CAREER Awardees is as follows:

Diogo Bolster

  • Diogo Bolster, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and earth sciences, received a CAREER Award for a project titled, “Connecting the Scales: Local to Global Scales of Mixing in Heterogeneous Porous Media.” The goal of his work is to develop a more complete picture of mixing, a fundamental process that is critical to understanding how to accurately predict the mobility of contaminants in the environment and to design better pollution remediation and prevention strategies. Bolster joined the Notre Dame faculty in 2010.

Ying Cheng

  • Ying Cheng, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and a fellow of the Institute for Educational Initiatives, won a CAREER Award for a project titled, “Cognitive Diagnostic Adaptive Testing for AP Statistics.” The research objective of her project is to determine the extent that computerized adaptive testing improves the learning and engagement of students, using statistics from Advanced Placement-level classes as an example. Cheng joined the faculty in 2008.

Jason Hicks

  • Jason Hicks joined Notre Dame in 2010 and is an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. His CAREER Award is for a project titled, “Toward Unprecedented Selectivities in C-O Bond Cleavage Reactions Using Fe-Based Bimetallic Catalysts,” which involves a thorough study of the stability, reactivity and selectivity of the iron-based bimetallic catalysts that he developed at Notre Dame.

Amanda Hummon

  • Amanda Hummon, Huisking Foundation Inc. Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, received a CAREER Award for a project titled, “Three Region nLC-MS/MS Analysis: A Novel and Rapid Approach to Evaluate Molecular Penetration.” Her project is seeking a better fundamental understanding of how molecular species penetrate cell masses. Hummon joined the faculty in 2009.

Jill Lany

  • Jill Lany, assistant professor of psychology, received her CAREER Award for a project titled, “Discovering the Underpinnings of Statistical Language Learning in Infants.” The proposed research will examine how developments in infants’ ability to encode and remember auditory and visual information are related to language learning ability and whether these abilities predict when infants will reach language milestones. An important goal is to promote early identification of infants at risk for language delays. Lany joined Notre Dame in 2010.

Gabor Szekelyhidi

  • Gabor Szekelyhidi is an associate professor of mathematics who joined the Notre Dame faculty in 2011. He received his CAREER Award for a project titled, “Canonical Metrics and Stability in Complex Geometry.” In his research project, Szekelyhidi proposes to study the Yau-Tian-Donaldson conjecture, which relates the existence of special, preferred shapes of complex manifolds to certain algebraic properties of them.

Ashley P. Thrall

  • Ashley P. Thrall, John Cardinal O’Hara, C.S.C, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences, was awarded a CAREER Award for a project titled, “Transitional Bridging: From Rapidly Deployable Disaster Relief to Permanent Infrastructure Solutions.” Her research project will build a framework for bridges that can be rapidly deployed following natural or manmade hazards and then transformed to support long-term, sustainable development. Thrall, who directs the Kinetic Structures Laboratory, which is a facility devoted to investigating moving structures with applications for the military, the developing world and disaster relief, joined the faculty in 2011.

Franklin Tao

  • Franklin Tao, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, received a CAREER Award for a project titled, “Catalysis on Singly Dispersed Bimetallic Catalytic Sites.” His research focuses on the study of singly dispersed bimetallic sites and aims to gain a fundamental understanding of the unique catalytic performance of such sites and to integrate research on catalysis and energy science into an educational program. Tao joined the Notre Dame faculty in 2010.

Although often populated by scientists and engineers, the NSF CAREER Awards are open to faculty in the social sciences as well. Associate Dean for the Social Sciences and Research Mark Schurr said, “It is huge news for Notre Dame that this year two of its psychologists have won this highly coveted and prestigious award. From anthropology to economics, political science to sociology, the CAREER Award is a fantastic grant, and I would like to encourage all of our junior social science faculty to apply.”

As well as Notre Dame’s excellence with the NSF CAREER Awards, two junior faculty won YIP Awards from the Army Research Office. The YIP Awards support researchers who have demonstrated extraordinary research abilities in science and engineering. The two winners from Notre Dame are as follows:

Haifeng Gao

  • Haifeng Gao, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, won a YIP Award for a project titled, “Regulating Inter-Polymer Chain Reaction in Nanospace: An Efficient Method to Produce Hyperbranched Polymer with Uniform Structure.” His research project will, for the first time, develop a reliable method to produce nanostructured polymers with high molecular weight and uniform structure. These polymers materials have shown great potential for the applications in catalysis, nanomedicines and microelectronics. Gao joined Notre Dame’s faculty in 2011.

William Phillip

  • William Phillip, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, received his YIP Award for a research project titled, “Understanding the Novel Stimuli Responsive Transport Properties of Mutilfunctional, Nanostructured Block Polymer Membranes.” The focus of his research project is the development of next-generation membranes with well-defined nanostructures and tailored chemical functionality. Philip, a graduate of Notre Dame, joined the faculty in 2011.

As Notre Dame’s research profile continues to accelerate, the recent successes with the CAREER and YIP Awards contribute to a long legacy of excellence in research, scholarship and creative endeavor at the University.