UC Davis

Four young researchers recognized

By From page A1 | April 02, 2013

Ken Loh

Ken Loh

Four young UC Davis professors have earned prestigious Early Career Development awards, totaling $2 million, from the National Science Foundation to fund projects aimed at developing new nanomaterials, smaller medical implants, “biological circuits” and a better understanding of timing in ecosystems.

The recipients are Ken Loh, assistant professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering; Stephen O’Driscoll, assistant professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering; Ilias Tagkopoulos, assistant professor in the department of computer science and the UCD Genome Center; and Louie Yang, assistant professor in the department of entomology.

NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development Program supports junior faculty who perform outstanding research, are excellent educators and who integrate education and research in their work. The awards, known as CAREER awards, typically support both a five-year research program and a program of outreach and education in local schools and colleges.

Loh was awarded $400,000 over five years for his work on thin, multifunctional structural coatings made from carbon nanotubes. His laboratory is exploring how these coatings might be used as a “skin” that detects flexing or damage in other surfaces, such as wind turbine blades and aerospace structures. The new project will develop the basic knowledge and theory necessary for future applications of carbon nanotube coatings.

Loh earned his bachelor’s degree at Johns Hopkins University in 2004 and then went on to the University of Michigan, where he earned two master’s degrees, in civil engineering and in materials science and engineering, as well as a Ph.D. in civil engineering. He joined the faculty at UCD in 2008.

O’Driscoll will receive $400,000 over five years for research on bio-adaptive wireless power delivery and signal acquisition electronics for implantable medical devices. O’Driscoll researches analog, radio frequency and mixed-signal integrated circuit design, wireless power transfer, and medical electronics. He will investigate ways to estimate the location of implanted devices and direct wireless power to them from outside the body.

He also plans new ultra-low power circuits that would allow for smaller and more deeply implanted devices, for example to deliver drugs with precision or to record neural activity at the scale necessary to control prosthetic devices.

O’Driscoll obtained his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from University College Cork, Ireland, in 2001. He earned both his M.S.and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 2003 and 2009, respectively. O’Driscoll worked as an analog integrated circuit designer at Cypress Semiconductor from 2001 to 2003 and has been a visiting research scientist at Google since 2012. He joined the UCD faculty in 2009.

Trained as an electrical engineer, Tagkopoulos became interested in applying principles from circuit design and computer science to biology. He uses a variety of approaches to address questions in evolution, systems and synthetic biology. His award of $600,000 will fund research on an integrative framework for designing robust and reliable “biological circuits” that aim to engineer living cells to carry out specific tasks and functions.

Tagkopoulos earned a diploma in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Patras, Greece in 2001, a M.Sc. in microelectronics from Columbia University in 2003, and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Princeton University in 2008. He joined the UCD faculty in 2009.

Yang will study the importance of timing in interactions between plants, animals and their environment, specifically studying the monarch butterfly and milkweed. Species interactions change with the seasons and with different life stages, and climate change may disrupt these interactions, for example if caterpillars emerge before food sources are available.

Yang’s $600,000 award will support work that will provide new knowledge about how natural communities respond to such changes.

Yang earned his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in 1999 and his Ph.D. from UCD in 2006. He conducted postdoctoral research at UC Santa Barbara before returning to UCD as a faculty member in 2009.

Including these latest awards, current UCD faculty members have held a total of 63 NSF CAREER awards.

— UC Davis News Service

Andy Fell

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