July message from Dean Balakrishnan

The Case School of Engineering is fortunate to have a vibrant team of accomplished faculty including early-career rising stars.  I am pleased and proud to share that four faculty recently received National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Awards. Considered the foundation’s most prestigious grant to junior faculty members, recipients are selected for exemplifying the role of researcher-teacher-scholar through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of the two. As you’ll see from the following list, our most recent CAREER-winning faculty more than meet these criteria.

Kathryn Daltorio, Assistant Professor, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering: Professor Daltorio’s  NSF CAREER award will allow her to take the next step in developing “soft robots” that bridge the gap between the design and function of biological creatures and that of manufactured robots. With this funding, Daltorio and students in her lab will focus specifically on earthworm-like machines. These architectures will provide the basis for an on-going project to translate the locomotion strategies of soft-bodied animals into new classes of intelligent and responsive robots—with the hopes of better understanding how soft robots might move in confined spaces.

Burcu Gurkan, Nord Distinguished Associate Professor, Chemical Engineering: Professor Gurkan is continuing her work to combat climate change through the support of the NSF CAREER award, which she will use to further her research in capturing and converting carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas primarily responsible for human-caused global warming. This award will support fundamental scientific inquiry that informs future design of systems that capture and convert certain gases into different types of fuels. Gurkan also plans to work with students at the Cleveland Institute of Art to help visualize some of the project’s scientific concepts. The illustrations could then be used as educational materials for publications, seminars and public events

Julie Renner, Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering: Professor Renner will leverage her NSF CAREER award to accelerate research in fundamental properties and potential new uses for the protein elastin. Her work focuses on reengineering the chemical structure of elastin molecules and testing their behavior on solid surfaces to see how they might be used, especially in medical applications. Renner’s funded research will also be geared toward creating a more diverse workforce with expertise in biomaterials. She plans to have teams of university students in her protein engineering class develop new peptides to share with Cleveland-area high school students during summer outreach programs.

Xusheng Xiao, Assistant Professor, Computer and Data Sciences: Professor Xiao investigates the ways computer and mobile-device apps use consumers’ sensitive personal data—and then leverages that knowledge to detect abnormal behaviors from hackers. The NSF CAREER award will support Xiao’s development of more understandable language that automatically explains to users when and why certain apps are using their sensitive data. He also hopes to integrate the new tools into undergraduate and graduate education and raise public awareness of the importance of mobile-app security.

These Case School of Engineering faculty members exemplify the objectives of the CAREER award through their integration of stellar research and engaged educational opportunities for our students. I am proud to add these accomplishments to the robust list of national-level recognition received by our faculty in recent years. 

As always, thank you for your continued support of the Case School of Engineering. Please feel free to reach out to me at any time with questions or feedback at CSEUpdates@case.edu.

Venkataramanan “Ragu” Balakrishnan
Charles H. Phipps Dean, Case School of Engineering