Eberly College of Science names distinguished professors

Niel Brandt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics, Vincent Crespi, professor of physics and of materials science and engineering, and Ayusman Sen, professor of chemistry, have been named distinguished professors at Penn State.

Brandt has been named distinguished professor of astronomy and astrophysics. He was honored with the title in recognition of his exceptional record of teaching, research and service to the University community.

Brandt said he uses the X-rays emitted by the gas swirling around a black hole as a "flashlight" to "X-ray" material in the galaxy's nucleus. By analyzing the spectra and variability of the X-rays, he hopes to determine the mechanisms by which X-rays are emitted and to measure the rates at which supermassive black holes are swallowing the matter that surrounds them. He also is using X-ray data to discover new active galactic nuclei. His most recent research includes work on the two Chandra Deep Fields. These "pencil-beam" surveys are the most sensitive X-ray observations to date of the distant universe. The observations have found more than a thousand accreting supermassive black holes, many of which are obscured by dusty gas and, thus, are difficult to find with other approaches.

Brandt's previous honors include a Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship in 1996, an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship in 1999, a National Science Foundation CAREER award in 2000, and the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy from the American Astronomical Society in 2004.

Brandt earned his bachelor's degree in physics at the California Institute of Technology in 1992 and his doctoral degree in X-ray astrophysics at Cambridge University in 1996. He was a Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics from 1996 to 1997.

Crespi has been named distinguished professor of physics. He was honored with the title in recognition of his exceptional record of teaching, research and service to the University community.

Crespi is a theoretical physicist whose research is aimed at developing a broad framework of knowledge in condensed-matter physics. He focuses on novel semiconductors, structural energies of materials, electron transport and superconductivity. Among the applications he is interested in are novel carbon-tubule-based nanodevices that are one-billionth of a meter in size. He is studying their synthesis, mechanical properties and electronic structures, including certain mechanical deformations that have a powerful influence on the semiconducting bandgap.

Crespi, who joined the Penn State faculty in the fall of 1997, has received other honors including a Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal in 2000, a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award in 1999, a Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in 1998, and a Research Innovation Award from the Research Corporation Foundation in 1999. He was a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer in graduate-level condensed-matter physics at the University of California at Berkeley from 1994 to 1995 and then a postdoctoral researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory from 1995 to 1997. Crespi earned a bachelor's degree in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1988 and a doctoral degree in physics at the University of California at Berkeley in 1994.

Sen has been named distinguished professor of chemistry. He was honored with the title in recognition of his exceptional record of teaching, research and service to the University community.

Sen's research encompasses the twin themes of catalysis and new materials, with one of the goals being the development of new catalysts that will enable the synthesis of polymers and related materials with novel combinations of properties. Sen also is developing antimicrobial polymers and composites that can be used to coat surfaces to render them antiseptic and resistant to biofilm formation. These materials are potentially useful as antimicrobial coatings in a wide variety of biomedical and general-use applications. He also is interested in developing ways that miniature "engines" could convert chemical energy into motion, providing the power for microscale and nanoscale motors and pumps through catalytic reactions.

Sen's research accomplishments were recognized in 1988 with a Paul J. Flory Sabbatical Award from IBM and in 2003 with a Faculty Scholar Medal from Penn State. He was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2006. In 1982, he received a Young Investigator Award from the Chevron Research Company, and he held an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship from 1984 to 1988. He has held named professorships and lectureships at several universities including the Imperial Oil Distinguished Lectureship at the University of Toronto in Canada in 1993, the Iberdrola Visiting Professorship at the University of Valladolid in Spain from 1999 to 2000, and the Gerhard Closs Lectureship at the University of Chicago in 2002.

Sen was a research fellow at the California Institute of Technology from 1978 to 1979 prior to joining the faculty of the Penn State Department of Chemistry as an assistant professor in 1979. He was promoted to associate professor in 1984 and to professor in 1989. He received a bachelor's degree with honors from the University of Calcutta in India in 1970 and a master's degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur in 1973. He received his doctoral degree from the University of Chicago in 1978.

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Last Updated February 12, 2010