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Three University professors win NSF awards

Katie Thurber

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Three University of Alabama professors were awarded CAREER awards from the National Science Foundation for research in biological engineering, earthquake seismology and solar energy technology.

The NSF’s CAREER award is a highly competitive research grant given to professors whose research displays both intellectual merit and broader impact on society and education.

Yuping Bao, Dawen Li and Samantha Hansen received over $1.6 million in grants to continue their research and advance their careers through the NSF’s prestigious achievement award.

Bao, an assistant professor in biological and chemical engineering, was awarded $493,000 for continued research developing iron oxide nanowires that could be used in magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, technology. The wires could be an alternative to the chemical commonly used with MRIs, which has been known to cause complications in patients with kidney or liver problems.

Bao said the award will fund materials preparation, structural validation and concept analysis for the project, hopefully resulting in a new and innovative product that can be easily implemented into current MRI facilities.

“All the strategies developed through the [CAREER] proposal will ultimately improve disease detection, therapeutic monitoring and treatment efficacy, potentially leading to the advancement of human health,” Bao said.

Li, who has been at UA since 2008, is an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. He plans to use his $400,000 grant to develop improved organic polymer solar cells to be used in solar energy technology.

Using organic polymer cells instead of the current standard, inorganic silicon, will allow greater application of solar technology. Li’s research team has been developing cells that last longer and have greater versatility.

“This CAREER award focuses on performance improvement of organic polymer solar cells, including both energy-conversion efficiency and device reliability,” Li said.

Li will also use some of his grant money to fund outreach programs to working class elementary students through the Alabama Black Belt program.

Hansen, an assistant professor of geological sciences, was awarded a $715,000 grant, which will go towards funding a new seismic deployment in Antarctica. Her research there will focus on the northern Transantarctic Mountains, or the TAMS, which she says are pivotal in understanding more about the continent as a whole.

“The TAMs are unusual because, unlike most other mountain ranges, they show no evidence for a compressional origin,” Hansen said. “Understanding how they formed has major implications for the tectonic and climatic history of Antarctica.”

Hansen also said she plans to use the grant to fund several educational and outreach opportunities for high school and early-career undergraduate students interested in geological sciences. One such opportunity will be a three-week summer field course for students from underrepresented groups.

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Three University professors win NSF awards