Seven faculty receive Early Career Awards from the National Science Foundation

Author: Brett Beasley

Career Awards

During the 2022-23 academic year, seven researchers at the University of Notre Dame received prestigious early career awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Early Career Development (CAREER) awards provide support to early career faculty members who exhibit the potential to “serve as academic role models” and “lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.” Since 2014, Notre Dame faculty have earned 68 of these nationally competitive awards.

Each awardee receives at least half a million dollars in funding over five years to support innovative research. Through their projects, awardees “build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.”

“These seven faculty members help highlight the bright future of Notre Dame Research. Each investigator will play an important role in shaping the direction of their field,” said Jeffrey Rhoads, vice president for research and professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering. “We congratulate them on this awesome achievement and sincerely thank the National Science Foundation for recognizing them and supporting their work.”

Below are the awardees who made this year’s list:

Paola Crippa, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences, will develop a new modeling framework to improve predictions of atmospheric processes and events with high societal impacts. Crippa’s framework will integrate numerical simulations with data from field experiments to better understand how atmospheric conditions vary over smaller distances and shorter time intervals than existing models can capture. Crippa will also develop new course materials, including atmospheric science lesson plan kits, to support education in local elementary and middle schools.

Adam Czajka, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, will conduct research on biometric recognition technologies. Computers often use biometric data — sensing a user’s voice, eyes or face — to confirm a user’s identity. However, these systems do not always generalize well to attack types never seen during training. Czajka’s project seeks to improve their ability to detect unknown forms of fraudulent data using human-machine cooperation. Czajka will also develop an educational program to help K-12, undergraduate and graduate students learn about biometric technologies and the ethics and security questions they raise.

Yi-Ting Hsu, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, will focus on theory-guided material design for topological superconductivity. These exotic quantum materials conduct electrical currents with zero resistance and are candidates for error-free quantum computation platforms. Hsu will develop a material-designing framework that integrates mathematical theory, machine learning techniques and numerical analyses, focusing on few-layer Van der Waals materials. Hsu will launch a public multimedia channel to provide answers in toddler-friendly language to physics-related questions children ask. Hsu will also form support groups for female students, postdoctoral scholars and faculty who are of child-bearing age, are expecting or have children in the South Bend area.

Felix Janda, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics, will work toward solving several difficult mathematical problems inspired by string theory. Janda will develop two techniques for counting curves in geometric spaces to rigorously prove mathematical predictions arising from string theorists’ efforts to model the universe. Janda will also organize a yearly workshop for graduate students along with other events aimed at countering stereotypes within science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Jonathan MacArt, an assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, will create a mathematical and software framework to help develop high-efficiency, low-emission engines. MacArt’s software will improve combustor modeling and design with the aim of more cleanly using limited energy resources. MacArt will also organize a summer symposium on data and modeling for turbulent combustion as well as a high school program to stimulate interest in energy science among a diverse group of students.

Arnaldo Serrano, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, will focus on understanding protein structures. By developing new spectroscopic tools, Serrano will shed light on how proteins — including toxic, disease-causing proteins — fold and separate. Serrano will also create an open-source web-based chemical kinetics software platform for undergraduate students.

Katharine White, the Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, will examine how proteins sense changes in pH (acidity or basicity) within cells. White will use new tools developed in her lab to manipulate the pH within single cells to understand the molecular mechanisms that drive pH sensitive cell biology. White will also create activity-based learning modules for use in middle school classrooms, working initially with Edison Intermediate, a local middle school.

The NSF selects CAREER projects based on not only their intellectual merit but also “broader impacts,” or benefits to society, which might include efforts to make research more inclusive, to educate the public about key topics, or to develop a diverse, well-trained workforce.

Patricia Clark, associate vice president for research and the O’Hara Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, noted that broader impacts align well with Notre Dame’s mission.

“Researchers at Notre Dame make new discoveries not just to advance a scholarly conversation but also to contribute to the common good. Broader impacts projects serve as a prime example,” Clark said, “and through Notre Dame Research’s Proposal Development Team and our new Center for Broader Impacts, all faculty members have a world-class support system available to help them brainstorm these projects, identify campus and community partners with similar interests, and measure the social impact of this work.”

Established in 1995, NSF CAREER awards currently support 34 active research projects at the University of Notre Dame. To learn more, visit