Eleven UC Riverside professors receive prestigious NSF CAREER Awards

Author: Holly Ober
July 16, 2020

Eleven UC Riverside faculty members received 2019 National Science Foundation CAREER Awards, more than in any previous year.

Seven of these prestigious awards, which support early career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models and lead to the advancement of their organization’s mission, went to women — another record for UC Riverside.

CAREER Awards are given to faculty members to fund research that is expected to form a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research. UC Riverside’s 2019 CAREER Award recipients and the projects funded by the award are listed below.

Hoori Ajami (Environmental Sciences) Frequent drought and changes in snowpack in the Sierra Nevada are expected to change groundwater recharge rates, posing challenges to California’s water security, sustainable water management, and agriculture production. Ajami’s project will investigate the most important drivers of groundwater recharge in the Kaweah River watershed in southern Sierra Nevada, and will quantify surface water and groundwater responses to climate variability, droughts, and changes in vegetation.

Jiasi Chen (Computer Science & Engineering) Chen’s vision is to create augmented reality, or AR, technology where multiple users can visually scan the environment, and a common set of relevant virtual objects swiftly pop up on top of the real-world objects. Her project seeks to develop the network capabilities of the underlying AR platform. This will support future multi-user AR applications, such as multiple AR-equipped students in a classroom, and multiple AR-equipped first responders in a disaster scenario. 

Jeffrey Diez (Botany and Plant Sciences) Diez will examine how changes in the timing of life events of plants, such as blooming time, may influence their competition with other plants, which in turn may influence the types of plants that will be found in an area. While focusing on wildflower communities in California, the research will inform the broader understanding of how plant diversity can be maintained given changing environmental conditions.

Hyoseung Kim (Electrical & Computer Engineering) Kim wants to enable greater capabilities across the Internet of Things and cyberphysical systems like smart cars, smart buildings, factory automation, and mobile health. His project will improve the real-time performance of data-intensive applications, improve data-oriented scheduling, and enable intelligent applications to deal with software infrastructure failures and dynamic environmental conditions.

Mohsen Lesani (Computer Science & Engineering) Distributed systems are the backbone of modern computing. However, they are complicated and prone to bugs. Lesani’s project addresses programmer productivity and reliability of distributed systems that spans both the client applications and the supporting distributed middleware. His group will examine both novel automatic synthesis techniques for client applications and novel verification techniques for distributed middleware.

Joshua Lui (Physics & Astronomy) When a semiconductor absorbs light, some electrons can be freed. The vacancies left behind, called holes, behave like particles with positive charge. In atomically thin semiconductors, the electrons and holes can attract each other to form robust bound states, called excitons, which govern the materials' optical properties. Lui's research explores strong interactions between excitons and other particles in atomically thin semiconductors and how such interactions can lead to novel quantum states and phenomena.

Dawn Nagel (Botany and Plant Sciences) Nagel’s project seeks to understand how extreme temperature affects circadian clock function and growth in plants. The circadian clock, which regulates physiological processes in 24-hour cycles, is an internal timekeeping machinery found ubiquitously in bacteria, plants, fungi, and animals. Both temperature and the clock affect fundamental processes such as growth in plants. Through the identification of new temperature regulators of clock function or links to clock-controlled growth responses, Nagel will uncover new insights regarding how temperature affects the clock, as well as the growth and resilience of life forms. Integrated within this proposal is a 10-week summer research class followed by mentor-guided research experiences to promote recruitment and retention of transfer community college students that are members of underrepresented minority groups.

Jessica Purcell (Entomology) Recent evidence from insects, birds, plants, and fungi suggests many different complex traits, such as social behavior, may be controlled by common genetic structures called supergenes, which lock together two or more genes with coordinated actions so that beneficial combinations are transmitted together to offspring. Purcell’s group will investigate characteristics of a supergene that controls social organization in a group of ants. The project will specifically investigate how an ancient supergene changes in form and function in a group of related species.

Carolyn Rasmussen (Botany and Plant Sciences) Despite the fundamental importance of cell division, we know relatively little about how division planes are oriented in multicellular organisms. Rasmussen will investigate how dynamic structures within plants promote proper positioning of the new cell wall, how proteins that help position the division move within cells, and how mechanical and biochemical cues regulate the position of the division plane.

Laura Sales (Physics & Astronomy) Although dark matter plays an important role in the formation and the complex dynamics of galaxies, there remains a discrepancy between the amount of dark matter predicted versus the amount observed. Sales will conduct a detailed study of the dark matter content of dwarf galaxies found in galaxy clusters. Sophisticated computer simulations will be used to complement and inform current observations of globular clusters in dwarfs. These results should lead to insights that could help resolve the controversy concerning the amount of dark matter in the universe.

Rachel Wu (Psychology) Learning to adapt to a changing environment, especially to technological advances, is important for older helping older adults live independently. For example, as health care providers move toward only accessing patients' medical records online, older adults would benefit from learning to use new online portals rather than asking others to access their personal medical records. Wu will test whether providing older adults with an informative, rich, and encouraging learning environment helps them identify what to learn, and how to learn in new situations.