Seven Penn State faculty win NSF CAREER awards

September 03, 2008

University Park, Pa. -- Seven assistant professors at Penn State have received Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards. This is the most prestigious award in support of junior faculty exemplifying the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research in the context of their organizations.

The CAREER awards provide five years of funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for each of the researchers and the awards are given across the NSF directorates at different times of the federal government’s fiscal year starting in October. At this time, Penn State has a total of seven CAREER awards; the NSF expects to award 425 CAREER awards this year.

The Penn State recipients are Stephon Alexander, assistant professor of physics; Martin Bojowald, assistant professor of physics; Sean Hallgren, assistant professor of computer science and engineering; Zuleima Karpyn, assistant professor of petroleum and natural gas engineering; Jacob Langelaan, assistant professor of aerospace engineering; Kamini Singha, assistant professor of geosciences; and Jun Zhu, assistant professor of physics.

Eligibility for the CAREER award is restricted to assistant professors, and awards are for a period of five years. Over the past five years, 19 other Penn State researchers have received this prestigious award, most of whom are still receiving this funding.

Alexander is in search of an understanding of the universe. His work includes investigations at the interface of cosmology and string theory in an attempt to merge quantum mechanics with the general theory of relativity. He also looks at the interface of cosmology and quantum gravity in an attempt to merge two theories that describe the four fundamental forces of nature into a unified "theory of everything." He looks at such vast problems as that of the cosmological constant and the asymmetry between cosmic matter and anti-matter.

Bojowald's research focuses on quantum gravity and cosmology using the loop-quantization approach developed primarily at Penn State. His work has revealed several candidates for observations of the effects of quantum gravity. He is interested in developing detailed calculation tools for comparing predictions with collected data, such as those anticipated from the Planck satellite scheduled for launch in 2008 by the European Space Agency. His new methods, called effective equations, can be used to improve the teaching of quantum mechanics. Bojowald also is interested in dynamical coherent states for quantum systems, field theory, and Poisson geometry and its applications in gravity.

Hallgren works in the area of quantum computation, which aims to use quantum mechanical systems for computation. Quantum computers can break widely used cryptosystems, including those used to protect e-commerce transactions. The goal of this project is to find new applications for quantum computers and to determine which cryptosystems are secure against them.

Karpyn investigates oil and gas reservoir characteristics and how fluids move through the porous rocks in which they are trapped. Her work has applications in hydrocarbon recovery, underground hydrology, and environmental remediation. She conducts experiments and numerical simulations of fluid flow through porous and fractured rocks to investigate the effect of rock heterogeneities and flowing conditions on the mobility of immiscible fluids in fractured formations. High-resolution X-ray imaging techniques are used to characterize rock structures and fluid migration.

Langelaan's research is focused on problems related to small and mini Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). These robotic aircraft are ideal for missions that are too risky for larger vehicles or missions where a large vehicle is impractical. However, small size results in performance limitations, capacity for onboard energy storage is limited, and the sensing payload is limited by size, weight and power constraints.  Also, at this scale, viscous forces are a large contributor to drag, making it difficult to design efficient small vehicles. To compensate for these physical limitations, he aims to develop planning and control algorithms that will enable these small and mini UAVs to extract energy from the surrounding atmosphere, like birds, they will be able to soar. This capability will greatly increase the range and endurance of the small robotic aircraft.  Langelaan's other research interests include sensing, data fusion and estimation, vision-aided control and navigation and trajectory planning.

Singha seeks to understand the fluxes, pathways and stores of water in the Earth, and her research includes quantifying subsurface water flow, imaging solute transport in groundwater and integrating flow and transport modeling with geophysical data. Her work, combining field work and numerical modeling, has demonstrated how contaminants may move between mobile and less-mobile domains in subsurface aquifers, increasing the timing and difficulty associated with cleaning up contaminated sites. This research has important implications for an ongoing debate over the validity of such processes as an explanation of anomalous transport behavior seen at countless aquifer remediation sites.

Zhu is an experimental physicist who focuses on the electronic properties of structures just above the atomic scale and in the nanometer range. She combines electric transport measurements and scanned probe studies. Zhu looks at single atomic layer two-dimensional graphene to see how that system behaves differently from already well known gallium arsenide and silicon metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor or MOSFET. She also looks at one-dimensional carbon nanotubes and nanowires.

  • Top left: Martin Bojowald, Jun Zhu, Sean Hallgren, Jacob Langelaan. Bottom left: Kamini Singha, Stephon Alexander, Zuleima Karpyn

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 18, 2010