RAMP Up's 2011 Career Campaign Award Winners

RAMP-Up, Rensselaer's university-wide initiative to improve representation of female educators in academia's influential high-ranking positions, recently announced the recipients of the 2011 Career Campaign Awards. Intended to address advancement needs at the individual level, these awards are presented to women faculty who have worked with senior faculty mentors to develop strong career plans to pursue and enhance ongoing professional goals.

At the level of the individual, we will be supporting the advancement of women, including post-tenure and minority women, through the ranks with Career Campaigns.



2011 Campaign Winner Profiles

Rena Huang is an Assistant Professor in Electrical, Computers & Systems Engineering Huang is proposing research of graphene solar cells on Si is a natural expansion of her present research activities. As graphene is as thin as a single atomic layer, it is transparent but extremely dense. A 3D stacked graphene solar cell is an exciting and appealing new energy source with high performance and low cost.

Huang's career development is at a critical point at present. Her tenure dossier was sent out for external letters in fall 2010 and will be evaluated internally at Rensselaer in the spring of 2011. The Career Campaign Award is timely and necessary in supporting and accelerating her future career growth. The Award will enable Huang to conduct preliminary research and collect necessary experimental results to pursue external funding. The financial support of the Award is crucial to allowing her research group to enter an exciting but competitive field as well as establishing Huang's niche area in graphene optoelectronics in a timely manner ensuring success.




Feng Yan Li is an Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Mathematics
Li has proposed to further advance her academic career by presenting research findings at seminars, conferences and workshops, supervising graduate and undergraduate students, and especially planning to devote more time to identify and initiate new research areas and establishing new collaborations. She also plans to recruit a PhD student in Fall 2011 or Fall 2012.

With the career advancement plan described Li proposes to support one graduate student in Summer 2011. The primary objective of this activity is to prepare the research group for a new research area, namely, PDE constrained optimal control (PDE stands for partial differential equations). With the relative short period of time, the focus will be on a constrained optimal control problem for linear second-order elliptic PDE and to establish the understanding towards the fundamental mathematical framework and the relevant numerical techniques. In particular, the first step is to review the mathematical aspects of the existence of the optimal control and derive the optimality conditions. Then numerical algorithms will be examined to approximate the optimal control. This activity combines theoretical aspects based on PDE theory, functional analysis and convex analysis, and the numerical simulations, and therefore it will provide a well-balanced training for the participated student. In addition, if the success is satisfactory, the student will also have the opportunity of continuing working with the Li in this area.

The proposed activity will be carried out under the guidance of the mentor, Professor Ronald Hoppe (Professor of Mathematics at University of Houston, C4-Professorship at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, University of Augsburg). Professor Hoppe is an established researcher in the area of PDE constrained optimal control and optimization problems. They have had some discussions on these relevant topics. Professor Hoppe also has a research code related to the proposed research and the student will have the opportunity to work with the code if the preparation is succinctly made. This activity also has the potential to initiate new collaboration.




Deanna Thompson is an Assistant Professor, Biomedical Engineering
Thompson's tenure-track faculty appointment at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has given her an opportunity to establish an independent research program in the area of Neural Engineering with an emphasis on PNS and CNS repair.

Research in the Thompson Laboratory is focused on Neuronal-support cell interactions relevant to nerve injury and repair using complex multicellular in vitro models to examine neuronal-Schwann cell interactions, capturing the more complexity in a controllable platform, allowing for detailed observations and manipulation the environment to test multi-cue stimuli that are likely to influence both neurons and resident glia, as well as evaluate their interplay. While the bulk of this work is directly focused on peripheral nerve repair, this research has broader applicability to injuries related to spinal cord injury as both PNS grafts and Schwann cells influence re-growth in the CNS.

Projects in my laboratory are focused on. Data generated may be useful in strategies relevant to PNS and CNS repair. My research fits nicely within the mission of the NSF, specifically under the division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems. The focus of this Career Campaign Award is to continue a project with mentor, Dr. Linda McGown related to biomaterials for nerve injury and due to her success in obtaining funding from NIH and NSF, work on preparing both a submission to NSF and continue the project to generate data that will result in a joint publication serving to cement our collaboration. The monies from this award will be used as summer support for a graduate student and some biological reagents to support the work.

The project description is listed below: Historically, spinal cord injuries (SCI) resulted in a high mortality rate and were viewed with no hope of recovery. Injured neurons can re-grow if given the proper microenvironment. Despite significant progress toward development of materials for treatment of SCI, none has yet emerged that satisfies the need for an injectable, tunable material that will match the mechanical properties of the spinal cord, minimize astroglial scarring, enhance axon migration via functionalization to support cell attachment or deliver soluble factors in the hydrogel, in addition to containing the proper geometry to direct cell migration while exhibiting the appropriate degradation profile to support re-growth of the injured cells.

The goal of this proposal is to investigate a newly invented class of hydrogels that are formed by reversible selfassociation of mixtures of guanosine (Guo) and 5'-guanosine monophosphate (GMP) for neural tissue engineering. These binary G-gels are highly responsive to variations in the total monomer concentration, the proportion of the two compounds in the mixture, pH and cation content, providing multiple parameters with which to generate a wide library of gels with varying stiffness, porosity and alignment. A unique combination of physicochemical properties makes binary G-gels ideally suited to serve as an orienting, solubilizing scaffold for bridging damaged tissue with surrounding healthy tissue, supporting and guiding cell growth and elongation, incorporating structural elements and exchanging signaling and therapeutic molecules and enzymes between the gel insert and surrounding environment. We will evaluate several binary G-gels spanning a range of composition in the thermoassociative region to identify the best candidates that will be supportive of both axonal extension and glial migration and that can be easily used to fill in defects. If successful, this injectable material will be capable of supporting the functional regeneration of damaged spinal cord with translation to other injured tissues in the nervous system.




Mary Ann Staniszewski, Associate Professor, Arts
Staniszewski has served as Acting Head from 2008 to 2010, and Graduate Director from 2006 to 2008. She looks to advance her research in an area that she has been developing for more than a decade--an investigation of the modern and contemporary sense of self that features the history of science and current issues of biotechnology. The grant support would facilitate a transformation in her research and career so that this new area of research would be integrated into her previous research and professional profile. The key focus on this new work is the completion of a book based on this research.

During her scheduled sabbatical, Staniszewski plans to finish the first volume of her trilogy's third component, "On Race" (a working/ descriptive title). "On Race" spans from the founding of the Virginia colony in 1607 to today. Central to this study is the emergence and on-going transformation of the concept of race in modern scientific and current biotechnological discourses. Although the consolidation of race in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is featured, the instability of definitions of race and the inexorable "mixing" of the so-called races are key theses. The development of the concept of race is traced in science, language, law, and culture by creating a mosaic of interrelated and paradigmatic case studies. My analysis involves doing close readings of pre-modern and early-modern scientific texts and featuring early modern and contemporary cases studies dealing with the instability of the idea of race.

The work related to completing this book, attending conferences dealing with the research of "On Race," and attaining the remaining interviews for the case studies will aid in expanding Staniszewski's professional and research networks beyond those related solely to art, media, curation, and culture. Previously, she would spare only limited time for presentations and travel, and these would be for invitations for lectures, or occasionally panels, based on her reputation as an expert in art, media, curation, and culture. Support from RAMP-Up, timed with the sabbatical, would facilitate enhancing and broadening her professional networks and opportunities so that they would be more reflective of the full scope of her research.




Kim Lewis, Assistant Professor, Physics, Applied Physics & Astronomy
In Fall 2006, Lewis was appointed as a tenure‐track Assistant Professor of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy. She successfully passed the 3rd year review in 2009 and is now entering her 5th year at Rensselaer. Lewis expect to submit her tenure packet in Fall 2011 and her tenure case is expected to be decided in Spring 2012. Her assigned mentors for research and teaching are Toh‐Ming Lu, Ray Palmer Baker Distinguished Professor of Physics and Peter Persans, Professor and Associate Head of the Physics Department, respectively. One of Lewis' current career goals is to secure tenure at Rensselaer. To obtain this goal, she believes it is necessary to strengthen her academic credentials (i.e., teaching, publishing in peer‐reviewed journals, and acquiring external funding) and increase scientific visibility through self‐promotion. In particular, the Career Campaign Award will enable her to complete the later objective, which will strategically place her in a favorable position to solicit the top ten senior colleagues in her research field for external letters for tenure review. Lewis plans to advance her career through this grant by proposing the following activities to increase scientific visibility. She will seek Invited Talks/Seminars/Colloquiums & NSF Visits & Attend a Major Conference. Seeking opportunities to visit campuses of the top ten senior colleagues in her research field will enhance her scientific visibility. Lewis plans to schedule a visit to NSF in May 2011 which is about two months before the Career Campaign Award deadline. The timing of this visit is crucial, because she expects to use this opportunity to gain critical feedback about the research plan for her proposal. She will use any remaining travel funds to defray the cost to attend the Fall 2011 Materials Research Society (MRS) Conference in Boston.






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