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Four faculty receive NSF CAREER awards

Assistant Professors Liang Guo, Ryan Harne, Jonathan Song and Yinqian Zhang recently received the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award—the National Science Foundation’s top award given to support the work of the nation’s most promising junior faculty. 

The award recognizes junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of both.

Initiatives by the four College of Engineering faculty will advance technology in treatments for cancer and neurological diseases, national defense and cybersecurity.

GuoElectrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor Liang Guo received a five-year, $500,000 grant to develop a new neural implant technology that uses a patient's own cells. His project will create an entirely new type of circuit design, called a multicellular biological neural pacemaker (BNP), as a proof-of-concept. The BNP will use cardiomyocytes—muscle cells that control the beating properties of the heart—as the power source and signal generator that will stimulate motor neurons, which in turn can excite muscle cells.

While electronic implants such as cardiac pacemakers and vagus nerve stimulators are the only available effective treatment for certain diseases, complications such as harmful immune responses and unsustainable power requirements prevent them from being a lifetime solution. Guo’s research seeks to resolve these issues. If successful, this transformative technology could have applications ranging from the development of a biological heart pacemaker to treatment for Parkinson's disease and muscle stimulation.

The project will also include educational activities, such as building a competitive interdisciplinary research team, organizing a campus-wide neuroengineering journal club and seminar series, and launching an annual symposium on biocircuits at the Materials Research Society Spring Meetings.


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Assistant Professor Ryan L. Harne was awarded a five-year, $500,000 grant for his work to enhance the state-of-the-art in wave guiding capability through the innovative use of origami science. His research will establish analytical and computational tools to yield understanding on how origami-inspired, adaptive acoustic structures may transform wave guiding practices, which are central to a wide range of applications from cancer treatment to underwater ecosystem monitoring.

Students at all levels—from elementary to graduate—will participate in the project. Harne seeks to increase student interest in acoustics by introducing and instilling acoustic principles for student groups.

Formal partners in Harne’s research include the Air Force Research Laboratory, Mide Technology and Dr. Frederick Davidorf from the Havener Eye Institute at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

SongMechanical and Aerospace Engineering Assistant Professor Jonathan Song’s five-year, $546,000 grant supports his work to develop a novel model platform to precisely examine the mechanisms by which the cellular components of the tumor stroma—tissue surrounding cancer cells—promote cancer progression. If successful, the research will remove technical barriers to studying the tumor microenvironment and will provide a deeper understanding of the role of tumor stroma in cancer.

In keeping with Song’s mission to increase the pipeline of engineering students contributing to interdisciplinary cancer research, the project will incorporate outreach to middle and high school students through the undergraduate level in order to promote careers at the interface of engineering and cancer. These efforts will emphasize attracting and retaining female students, who are underrepresented in engineering.

ZhangComputer Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Yinqian Zhang received a five-year, $500,000 grant to explore novel ways to address vulnerabilities in Intel’s Software Guard Extension (SGX), a hardware extension available in Intel processors that enhances software security in untrusted computing environments.

SGX provides software applications with shielded execution environments to protect their security against compromised operating systems. However, the primary security threat that SGX-protected applications still face is side-channel attacks—a technique to extract secret information by monitoring the SGX software’s use of computer micro-architectural resources.

Zhang’s research will develop novel principles and techniques to detect side-channel vulnerabilities in SGX software and thwart side-channel attacks.