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Six California State University faculty members have been given the National Science Foundation's prestigious CAREER award this year.

The five-year award supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education, and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.

The CSU's 2018 faculty awardees come from Cal State Fullerton, San Francisco State and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Three of the six are from San Francisco State, which leads the CSU system in these awards with 17 winners since the program's inception in 1996.

The six awards range from $500,000 to $782,420 and total nearly $3.7 million.

All of this year's awardees, in CSU tradition, have ambitious plans to combine their research with the education of the next generation of STEM students in the lab, the classroom and beyond. Through research collaborations with faculty, CSU students gain opportunities for deep learning that connect them with their studies and prepare them for an ever-evolving job market. Undergraduate involvement in research is also a high-impact practice linked to higher retention rates and is a key pillar of the CSU's Graduation Initiative 2025.

Read on to learn more about each of these faculty members and their visions for the next five years:

Coleen Carrigan, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo:
Carrigan is an assistant professor of gender, race, culture, science and technology studies who is researching why minorities and women are underrepresented in engineering and computer science careers. Carrigan will use the award to study the cultures of different subfields in engineering and computer science. She and her student research assistants will compare their behaviors and customs to better understand why some are more successful than others in welcoming and retaining a more diverse workforce.

Nina Robson, Cal State Fullerton:
Robson—an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and director of CSUF's Human Interactive Robotics Lab—will lead research to advance the design of mechanical systems. Robson says her study will "lead to creating robust mechanisms that increase industry's ability to develop next-generation robotic systems, leading to improvements in health care, manufacturing and production, as well as augmenting technologies for the elderly and disabled."

Scott Roy, San Francisco State
Roy, an assistant professor of biology, seeks to understand "junk" DNA: genomic DNA that does not encode proteins that has a function that is not well understood. To read DNA, molecular machinery inside cells has to cut out and piece together the meaningful sections around this "junk," and scientists have looked closely at this process in only a handful of species. Roy plans to change that by analyzing the genetic material of 300 species, looking for bigger patterns in how organisms get around the constraints of their own DNA.

Andrea Swei, San Francisco State:
Swei's research, which focuses on ticks, is part of the biology professor's larger quest to understand how the natural context of host species affect the spread and persistence of diseases. Swei will be studying the groups of species that ticks like to feed on—from lizards to rodents and even larger mammals—throughout the Bay Area to better understand what impact they have on tick abundance and prevalence. This study could be a crucial step toward understanding why the risk of Lyme disease varies from place to place.

Stephanie Wissel, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo:
Wissel will test a new kind of detector for high-energy neutrinos: particles that contain clues about fundamental physical laws and the most extreme environments in the universe, which include supernovas, gamma ray bursts and violent explosions. Not many neutrinos make it to Earth, and those that do are difficult to find. The physics professor will work to develop a radio-frequency telescope that may be able to detect more high-energy neutrinos as the method is less costly than current detectors and can be set up at multiple sites.

Xiaorong Zhang, San Francisco State:
Current prosthetic technology only allows for simple motions and often requires manual control. Assistant Professor of Computer Engineering Xiaorong Zhang's work may pave the way toward creating a prosthetic with the subtlety and precision of a human hand. Her aim is to develop computer systems that gather and interpret electric signals from the human muscles using a grid of sensors. The technology could find use in next-generation prosthetics that sense a user's intentions, wheelchairs or even virtual reality video games.

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