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CAREER Recognition: Three from CBE Earn Award

The National Science Foundation has chosen three assistant professors from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering as 2018 recipients of its prestigious CAREER award, given in recognition of young faculty members making an impact in their field.

Steve Abel, Siris Laursen, and Joshua Sangoro each received the honor for their work, giving the college a total of 13 faculty members so honored since 2016, underlying the important and growing role of young faculty across the college’s departments.

Here is a brief glimpse into each of their projects, including educational outreach programs required by NSF:

Abel: Modeling the physics of immune cells

  • Immune cells such as T cells and B cells physically engage other cells as they search for molecular signatures of pathogens. It is vital to understand how mechanical forces impact their ability to recognize and respond to pathogens.
  • Abel will develop computational and theoretical approaches to model important biophysical interactions at cell-cell interfaces, which will allow him to explore processes regulating the activation of immune cells.
  • This project will contribute to the fundamental understanding of immunology, provide guidance for designing immunomodulatory materials and therapies, and deliver a new computational framework that can address other emerging questions in cell biology and soft biological materials.
  • Abel will motivate high school, community college, and undergraduate students to pursue studies in engineering and biology through a series of active learning experiences and research.

Laursen: Developing inexpensive catalysts

  • Catalysts enable the efficient valorization of low quality energy and chemical feedstocks, yet are commonly composed of expensive and scarce platinum group metals
  • Laursen has developed methods to produce and explore the catalytic chemistry of a vast number of new and inexpensive catalytic materials called intermetallic compounds and the chemical transformations that occur on the surfaces of these materials that could allow substantial practical advancements in energy and chemical production
  • The insights developed through Laursen’s research will impact established chemical industry as well as new and budding renewable energy and chemicals production
  • A significant portion of the project aims to develop a series of educational tools that may be used to disseminate the cutting-edge scientific understanding produced in his research to the UT community and to the greater public through a series of advanced courses and YouTube videos aimed at helping the general public understand the work.

Sangoro: Unraveling the molten salt mystery

  • Room temperature molten salts hold great promise for many aspects of power and electricity, but little is understood about them.
  • Sangoro will use experimental techniques to observe and study how their molecules are organized at the mesoscale level and how that plays into their physical and chemical properties.
  • He is also developing a model to help describe his findings as well as studying how geometric confinement affects the overall dynamics of molten salts.
  • He will use his findings to develop specific coursework for students to help train them in this rapidly changing field.