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Research awards seen as milestone for Clemson University engineering and science

Awards help Clemson bolster research reputation

Clemson University

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IMAGE: The five Clemson University researchers who have won top awards are (from left to right): Rachel Getman, Joseph Scott, Feng Ding, Brandon Ross and Yue "Sophie " Wang. view more

Credit: Clemson University

Five Clemson University researchers have brought home some of the nation's top awards for junior faculty members and are helping make robots fly, develop new medicines, save buildings from the wrecking ball and create new ways to make fertilizer.

The university's College of Engineering and Science announced Monday that Feng Ding, Rachel Getman and Brandon Ross have won prestigious awards from the National Science Foundation, while Joseph Scott and Yue "Sophie" Wang have won top awards from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Five high-profile awards in two months is a milestone for a university that recently stepped up efforts to bolster its reputation for high-quality research. The awards bring more than $2.2 million in new research funding into the College of Engineering and Science.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering and Science, said the awards are a testament to the researchers' creativity, dedication and hard work.

"South Carolina deserves a world-class research university, and the awards confirm that these five Clemson University faculty members are the top young engineers and scientists in their disciplines," he said.

"Having five top award winners already this year speaks highly of Clemson's research environment, which bodes well for the entire state. Through research, we help create the jobs of the future, inspire a new generation of grand thinkers and conceive the innovations that overcome some of humankind's most complex challenges."

Ding, Getman and Ross won awards through the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development Program, often called the NSF CAREER award.

Scott and Wang received awards through the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program.

The awards were announced little more than a month after the university reached another key marker in research prominence.

The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education included Clemson in its R1 category for doctoral universities. The category is reserved for universities with the highest research activity.

Here are brief profiles of the award winners:

National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program Award (NSF CAREER Award):

  • Feng Ding, assistant professor of physics. He will use the $506,569 his team was awarded to better understand nanoparticles. They are tens to thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair and have helped improve everyday products ranging from baseball bats to eyeglasses. Nanoparticles show promise for engineering better medicines but have also raised concerns about environmental and biological safety.

  • Rachel Getman, assistant professor of chemical engineering. She will use the $503,922 her team received to explore new ways of making ammonia, a key ingredient in commercial fertilizers. The current method for making ammonia is expensive and energy-intensive, keeping it out of reach for about half the world. Getman and her team have a long-term goal of using water instead of hydrogen gas to create ammonia, which could lower the cost and amount of energy required.

  • Brandon Ross, assistant professor of civil engineering. His team has received $500,000 to help make buildings more adaptable to change so that fewer become obsolete and face the wrecking ball before their time. His team is developing a set of tools that helps measure building adaptability, similar to the LEED certification that recognizes best strategies and practices for making buildings environmentally friendly.

Fact: With the three new awards, Clemson now has 22 faculty members doing research as part of the NSF CAREER program, representing nearly $8.5 million in funding.

Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program Award:

  • Joseph Scott, assistant professor of chemical engineering. His team has received $330,000 and will use the money to develop mathematical techniques that account for uncertainties in the results of computer simulations. These techniques could help autonomous aircraft calculate trajectories that avoid danger without having to play it too safe. The Scott team believes these techniques could also be used for other applications, such as safety verification for chemical processes.

  • Yue "Sophie" Wang, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Her team has received $360,000 to help the Air Force overcome some of the challenges it faces in using teams of unmanned vehicles and other robots to carry out missions under human supervision. The primary focus of Wang's research will be on helping the Air Force with high-priority missions that include intelligence-gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance. Wang also won a NSF CAREER award in 2015.

Fact: Only 12 other institutions had multiple awards through the Air Force program this year, putting Clemson in the same club as Princeton University, the California Institute of Technology and North Carolina State University.

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