Campus & Community

Four Stevens Faculty Recognized by NSF, Air Force for Research Excellence

CAREER Awards, YIP celebrate accomplishment, promise in young researchers

Four young Stevens faculty have been recognized by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) for outstanding research prowess and potential in areas ranging from space travel to cancer diagnosis.

"Stevens is fortunate to attract young faculty of the highest caliber," notes Provost and University Vice President George Korfiatis of the recent recognition. "These awards are a reflection of the quality of our new faculty recruits and the bright future they have at Stevens. On behalf of the Stevens community, I would like to congratulate them for this distinction."

Mechanical engineering professor Robert Chang, School of Systems and Enterprises professor Babak Heydari and electrical and computer engineering professor Negar Tavassolian each received NSF Faculty Early Career Development ("CAREER") Awards, five-year awards given to particularly promising young tenure-track researchers.

Chang's award will support exploration and improvement of additive biomanufacturing processes used to 3D-print biomaterial-based tissue constructs at small scales for stem cell delivery. His other research at Stevens includes fundamental work in cell-material interactions for engineered tissue models and translational research on new imaging modalities and image-processing algorithms for deployment in clinical settings such as hospital burn units.

Chang believes the CAREER Award reinforces Stevens' new research thrust in biomedical and healthcare areas and a more concentrated effort to strengthen K-20 STEM educational impact, both cornerstones of the university's Strategic Plan.

"I am thrilled to work with our dedicated team of students and collaborators to advance the area of additive biomanufacturing by formulating unified process modeling approaches informed by metrology (measurement science)," says Chang. "In light of the democratization of manufacturing with desktop 3D printers, I think the unique application of creating biotissues is an area of study that will ignite the interest of our students to participate in research and drive future innovation."

"The ultimate goal of any science and engineering research endeavor is to find ideas and concepts that unify our understanding of seemingly disparate phenomena," he adds. "This award will support our team’s efforts to advance new methodologies and enabling technologies to address both fundamental questions in the life sciences and translational hurdles in medicine.” 

Heydari received an NSF CAREER Award to support development of a new theoretical framework based on game theory and complex network methods to model the impact of architecture of products and systems on technological innovation and market competition.

In addition, as part of his project, Heydari will create educational materials based on complexity sciences for children's science museum programs in New York City.

"We are increasingly relying on complex human-centric, socio-technical systems whose analysis, design and governance need new sets of lenses and perspectives. The traditional dichotomy of soft and hard sciences is disappearing, and we will be dealing with a continuum of methods and perspectives to tackle future problems such as complex systems," he notes.

"Some bridges have already been successfully built between otherwise isolated islands of traditional disciplines, but to go from a handful of bridges to a continuum of tools and methods useful for socio-technical systems requires a concerted effort by the academic community. I am excited that an organization with the caliber of NSF has endorsed the interdisciplinary approach we are taking, and thankful that Stevens has given me this opportunity to define my research in a quite non-traditional way."

Heydari's other research at Stevens includes investigations in modeling hybrid human-autonomous networks; spatial diffusion of risk; and silicon-based communication circuits and systems.

Tavassolian received her NSF CAREER Award to begin an immediate project that will apply millimeter-wave technology to biomedical imaging applications in an effort to diagnose skin cancer tumors earlier and more effectively than is currently possible. By dividing bandwidths into channels, each equipped with small antenna units, she proposes to create higher-contrast, better-depth imagery; proof-of-concept experiments will be performed at Massachusetts General Hospital. As part of the project, Tavassolian will also create educational programs in partnership with Liberty Science Center in Jersey City and a new Stevens graduate-level course in the biomedical applications of electromagnetics.

"Skin cancer is the most common and fastest-growing of all cancer types, with more than 3.5 million new cases detected and billions of dollars of associated treatment costs in the U.S. last year alone," she notes. "Skin cancer is generally diagnosed through visual inspection by a dermatologist, who orders biopsy in cases where cancer is suspected, but visual inspection is subjective and susceptible to human errors. There is a definite need for the innovative, low-cost and portable imaging technology we are offering in this area."

Tavassolian's other work at Stevens includes research on radio frequency and microwave technologies, bioelectromagnetics and micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) with additional biomedical applications. She previously performed research at MIT's David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, investigating a magnetic relaxation-based platform for non-invasive monitoring of patients' hydration states.

Mechanical engineering professor Nick Parziale was also recognized, by the Air Force's Young Investigator Program (YIP), for his work on a novel means of measuring the speed of a gas. Parziale’s three-year project will involve the characterization of high-speed flows of air, nitrogen and other gases that help determine the heating and friction around proposed supersonic and hypersonic vehicles that could potentially travel worldwide in very short times and travel to space more quickly and cheaply than is currently possible. The research also carries potential defense applications.

"I'm really excited about the award and our strategy to help AFOSR answer some fundamental questions about high-speed and reacting shear layers," says Parziale. "To some extent, it's about trying to take the hypersonic-spaceplane concept from science fiction to reality. It's fun when you get to go to work and try to solve problems that could allow us to travel from New York to London in a half-hour at Mach 10."

Parziale's other work at Stevens includes alternative-energy research deploying and advancing new technical approaches to biomass conversion.