Cornell University: Six assistant professors win NSF early-career awards

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Researchers studying cutting-edge carbon removal and storage methods, novel additive manufacturing techniques and technologies that support positive emotion regulation are among the six Cornell faculty members who recently received National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Awards.

Over the next five years, each will receive approximately $400,000 to $600,000 from the program, which supports early-career faculty “who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization,” according to the NSF. Each funded project must include an educational component.

The recipients:

Greeshma Gadikota, assistant professor and Croll Sesquicentennial Fellow in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will use her award to further her research on carbon removal and storage at massive scales, crucial to limiting the detrimental environmental impacts of climate change. Her project will investigate the crystallization mechanisms of calcium and magnesium carbonate crystallization in confined fluids within architected siliceous nanochannels, with sizes of 2 to 20 nanometers. Carbonate crystallization mechanisms in confined fluids will be investigated in less reactive silica interfaces and more reactive calcium and magnesium silicate surfaces. The educational component will target underrepresented K-12 students in science education and communication through illustrative workbooks, mentoring videos and hands-on experimental modules.
Mostafa Hassani, assistant professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, will use his award to advance the field of additive manufacturing (AM), which is used in high-value metallic component manufacture but is sometimes limited by high process temperatures (often beyond the melting point of component materials) and the large associated thermal gradients and rapid cooling rates. This project will further the understanding of non-melting metal AM, such as cold spray technology, in which tiny powder particles are accelerated to a supersonic speed to collide, bond together and build up underlying materials upon impact. The research is aimed at bolstering the national defense and other industries through enabling sustainable and agile manufacturing and repair at the point of need. The team will engage educators and underrepresented K-12 students and educators through hands-on activities with a designed additive manufacturing toolkit.
Volodymyr Kuleshov, assistant professor at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech and in computer science in the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, will use his award to try to improve genome sequencing through novel techniques in artificial intelligence and machine learning. The cost of genome sequencing has decreased significantly over the past two decades, enabling the creation of datasets comprising millions of genomes of plants, animals and humans, but current methods for analyzing genetic data often struggle with the size and the complexity of these data sets. This project aims to develop new mathematical models of genomic sequences that will serve as the basis for algorithms for genetic data analysis, including for tasks such as analyzing human ancestry and understanding the effect of genetics on disease.
Yifan Peng, assistant professor of population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medicine, will use his funding in an effort to improve the method for generating clinical reports through novel informatics and data science techniques. The Peng team’s approach will leverage the wealth of information from electronic health records (EHR) to profoundly understand the role of natural language, image analysis and deep learning in report generation, with the goal of improving both workflow efficiency and health care outcomes. The new reporting system will enhance communication between radiologists and referral physicians, particularly in large and heterogeneous EHR databases. The project will closely integrate research with education by launching a graduate Natural Language Processing and Health course, and by supporting several capstone and specialization projects.
Emma Pierson, assistant professor of computer science at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech and the Technion, will use her award to help reduce bias in health care through more equitable decision-making. Enormous health inequality has led to Americans with high incomes living up to a decade longer, on average, than those from the lowest income levels, and biased medical decision-making contributes to this health inequality. This research will make medical decision-making fairer by statistically analyzing the decisions made both by humans and by algorithms, identifying sources of bias and proposing solutions, making health care both fairer and more efficient by allocating medical resources where they will do the most good. The project will also create a publicly available class on how to design fair algorithms.
Jay Yoon, assistant professor of human centered design in the College of Human Ecology, will use his award to advance human-centered design research by integrating positive emotion regulation theory into the design of future technologies, and discover new understandings of the relationships between technologies, activities, positive emotions and well-being. Use of technologies such as smartphones can engender pleasurable moments, but they do not inherently lead to improved well-being and can devolve from exciting to mundane. This project will investigate designing technologies to support positive emotion regulation in young adults, a population whose mental health can be impacted by limited emotion regulation skills and challenges to accessing traditional health interventions. The project will also promote STEM education for underserved students through novel community-engagement programs.

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