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Three Swanson School faculty earn 2021 NSF CAREER Awards

Marking another successful year of grant support, three rising stars among the faculty in the Swanson School of Engineering have received CAREER awards from the National Science Foundation. Leanne Gilbertson, Wei Xiong, and Liang Zhan were notified of their successful applications during the most recent NSF funding cycle.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a foundation-wide activity that offers the NSF's most prestigious awards in support of 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.

"For the past five years my office, along with SSOE Associate Dean for Faculty Development Anne Robertson, have put a special focus on not only encouraging but assisting new faculty on a path toward winning a CAREER award as an early goal. Because of this group effort, 18 young professors have received CAREER awards since 2016," noted David Vorp, Swanson School Associate Dean for Research. "I am very proud of this funding cycle cohort and I look forward to the results of their impactful research."


Leanne Gilberston

Lead is not the only danger when it comes to drinking water – harmful bacteria can also find their way into the water we consume despite treatment prior to distribution. In the face of water scarcity and aging infrastructure, there is a need for innovative, affordable, and portable solutions to sustainably provide safe drinking water across the globe.

Leanne Gilbertson, who this year was promoted to associate professor of civil and environmental engineering,will use her CAREER award to create a sustainable material design framework to mitigate pathogen exposure in this invaluable resource. Read more.

Wei Xiong

Additive manufacturing (AM) allows engineers to specifically manufacture a complex component in any shape. However, due to the unique processing involved, the alloy behaves differently during fabrication using AM when compared with other traditional manufacturing techniques.

The alloy components produced by AM can easily develop a texture that makes them behave like wood in some ways—stronger along the grain than against it—and thus limits the strength and ductility. There is a well-known trade-off between strength and ductility, which cannot be fully solved using current AM techniques, like reducing the grain size through externally applied deformation. Wei Xiong, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, will study the fundamental mechanisms behind this trade-off. Read more.

Liang Zhan

Alzheimer’s disease currently affects 5.8 million Americans and is projected to nearly triple to 14 million people by 2060. Researchers are developing a variety of methods to uncover the mechanisms behind Alzheimer’s onset and progression, but there is a lack of effective computational tools to study this disease.

Liang Zhan, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, will leverage his CAREER award to develop computational tools that illuminate how genetic factors impact brain structure and function. In collaboration with the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), he will couple this CAREER award with two R01 grants from the National Institutes of Health to further investigate brain function in neurological disorders. Read more.