Newswise — Five Columbia Engineering professors have won the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards this year. Their work carries extraordinary transformative potential: Agostino Capponi is creating a framework to increase the resilience of global financial markets and other complex network systems, Dan Esposito is developing electocatalytic materials to propel a future of abundant solar fuels, Karen Kasza’s research on tissue mechanics could illuminate their role in birth defects and lead to the invention of new biologically inspired materials, Ioannis Kougioumtzoglou is devising a more robust and efficient modeling technique that can transcend the limitations of current stochastic engineering dynamical systems, and James Teherani is working on a class of transistors to drive ultra-low-energy electronics. The grants, each totaling $500,000 over five years, are among the most competitive given by the NSF.

“We are so pleased for our professors, whose forefront research promises to bring innovations that will benefit humanity,” says Mary Boyce, Dean of Columbia Engineering. “They join a growing cadre of NSF CAREER award winners on our faculty, whose research is addressing a wide range of challenges from sustainability to connectivity.”

Agostino Capponi, assistant professor in industrial engineering and operations research and a member of the Data Science Institute, is devising a strategic decision-making framework to address risk in complex network systems, where the performance of one participant can have destabilizing effects on the entire system—as with the 2008 financial crisis. His research will break new ground in providing a fundamental understanding of incentives that manage network vulnerabilities, mitigate systemic risk, and resolve failures when institutions cannot transparently observe the entire network structure.

Drawing on these insights, supervising authorities can fashion policies capable of accounting for reactions among financial institutions responding to shocks and failures. (Read more about Capponi’s research project.)

Daniel Esposito, assistant professor of chemical engineering, leads a research group that develops solar, catalytic, and electrochemical energy conversion technologies that convert abundant and renewable solar energy into storable “solar fuels” such as hydrogen. For his CAREER award, Esposito and his lab will develop new electocatalytic materials that could significantly improve the efficiency and selectivity of complex electrochemical reactions. Esposito is especially focused in exploring how electrochemical reactions occur at the buried interface between the overlayer and metal catalyst, with hopes of exploiting any unique opportunities to control chemical reaction pathways discovered there. (Read more about Esposito’s research project.)

Karen Kasza, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, draws on engineering, biology, and physics to understand and control how cells self-organize into functional tissues with precise mechanical and structural properties. Kasza’s work on light-gated manipulation of cellular force generation and mechanics expands our understanding of embryonic development, potentially illuminating how these forces contribute to birth defects. Ultimately, she seeks tools and approaches that could enable the building of multicellular tissues and new biologically inspired materials. (Read more about Kasza’s research project.)


With his NSF support, Ioannis Kougioumtzoglou, assistant professor of civil engineering and engineering mechanics, hopes to create a paradigm shift in the way modern engineering systems and structures are analyzed and designed under the presence of uncertainties. Modeling techniques require powerful mathematical tools that can account not only for complex response behaviors but also for the presence of uncertainties in the process. Current state-of-the-art methods of analysis are either highly accurate or computationally efficient, but not both. Kougioumtzoglou is pursuing fundamental research to adapt, extend, and apply path-integral-based mathematical tools and techniques from theoretical physics to determine the response and assess the reliability of stochastic engineering dynamical systems. If successful, his technique could have a major impact on a number of emerging technologies, including nano-mechanics and energy harvesting. (Read more about Kougioumtzoglou.)

James Teherani, assistant professor of electrical engineering and a member of the Data Science Institute, is working to experimentally demonstrate a new type of field-effect transistor capable of overcoming the energy limitations inherent to conventional devices, and thereby potentially enabling ultra-low-energy electronics. These transistors, known as ultra-low-energy Auger FETs, would empower a range of new applications—from long-lasting “micro-dust” sensors and implantable bioelectronics to cell phones that last a month on a single charge—driving a new wave of technological innovation. In setting the foundational physics for this innovative device concept, Teherani also hopes to broaden the understanding of Auger generation and recombination processes in quantum structures, which is critical for improving efficiency in LEDs, lasers, and photodetectors. (Read more about Teherani’s research project.)

Since 2015, 17 Columbia Engineering faculty members have been honored with the NSF CAREER award.

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