Profs. Karen Kasza and James Teherani Win 2018 NSF CAREER Awards

Feb 28 2018 | By Holly Evarts | Karen Kasza photo: Timothy Lee Photographers; video: Columbia Engineering; James Teherani photo: James Teherani

Two Engineering professors, Karen Kasza (mechanical engineering) and James Teherani (electrical engineering) have won Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF). These five-year grants are the NSF’s most prestigious award in support of the early career-development activities of junior faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their organization. The reviewing, award, and selection process is one of the most competitive within the NSF.

“We are so pleased for Professors Kasza and Teherani, whose forefront research promises to bring innovations that will benefit humanity,” says Mary Boyce, Dean of Columbia Engineering. “They join a growing cadre of NSF CAREER award winners on our faculty, whose research is addressing a wide range of challenges from human health to connectivity.”

Karen Kasza, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, won the CAREER award for her proposal on “Biophysical Mechanisms Underlying the Generation of Tissue Structure and Mechanics during Drosophila Development.” Kasza, who joined the School in 2016, uses approaches from engineering, biology, and physics to understand and control how cells self-organize into functional tissues with precise mechanical and structural properties. She is particularly focused on discovering fundamental physical and biological mechanisms that underlie tissue morphogenesis—how shape and form are generated in biological materials. Because many genes and cell behaviors are shared by fruit flies and humans, she is using Drosophila (the fruit fly) as the model organism in these studies.

For her CAREER project, Kasza is combining biomechanical and confocal imaging studies with optogenetic tools for light-gated manipulation of cellular force generation and mechanics to study embryonic development. Her work could lead to a deeper understanding of tissue mechanics and movements as well as shed light on human development, including what happens when tissue movements are improperly regulated and result in birth defects. She plans to develop tools and approaches to enable the building of multicellular tissues and new biologically inspired materials.

Karen Kasza

Go behind the scenes at Karen Kasza's lab, where she uses approaches from engineering, biology, and physics to understand and control how cells self-organize into functional tissues with precise mechanical and structural properties.

James Teherani, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering, won the CAREER award for his proposal on “Exploiting Many-Particle Physics for Low-Energy Nanoelectronics.” Teherani, who joined the School in 2015, studies emerging semiconductor materials and devices. His group conducts both theoretical and experimental research—from quantum-mechanical simulations to nanoscale fabrication—to explain the physics of novel devices made from a new class of two-dimensional materials that form atomically thin sheets.

His NSF project is focused on experimentally demonstrating the Auger FET, a new type of field-effect transistor based on the many-particle physics of Auger generation that overcomes the energy limitations of conventional transistors, potentially enabling ultra-low-energy electronics. In setting the foundational physics for this innovative device concept, Teherani also hopes to broaden the understanding of Auger generation and recombination processes in quantum structures, which is critical for improving efficiency in LEDs, lasers, and photodetectors. Ultra-low-energy Auger FETs would empower a range of new applications—from long-lasting “micro-dust” sensors and implantable bioelectronics to cell phones that last a month on a single charge—driving a new wave of technological innovation. What’s more, use of low-power Auger FETs in existing applications would considerably decrease energy consumption providing significant benefits to humanity.

James Teherani