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Two BU researchers will travel to Washington, D.C., later this year to accept the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), one of the highest honors for young science and engineering professionals.
Xue Han, a College of Engineering assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and Katherine Iverson, a School of Medicine assistant professor of clinical psychology, are among the 102 awardees, whose distinction comes with research grants lasting up to five years.
Han develops high-precision genetic, molecular, optical, and electrical tools and other nanotechnologies that make it possible to study the workings of the brain’s ultrafast neural pathways. Her research could ultimately be used to create new drugs and other therapeutic approaches for a wide spectrum of ailments, including attention deficit disorders, depression, Parkinson’s disease, and schizophrenia.
Iverson, who is also a clinical research psychologist in the VA Boston Healthcare System, was recognized for her work studying women’s mental health following potentially traumatic events, with a focus on intimate partner violence among military veterans. Her research is funded through a Department of Veterans Affairs Career Development Award.
“PECASE awards are extraordinarily competitive and provided only to those rare early career faculty who are judged likely to transform society through their research,” says Kenneth Lutchen, ENG dean and a professor of biomedical engineering. “Professor Han is an exceptionally innovative and creative bioengineer….Her ideas to advance optogenetic approaches are ingenious, especially since she is considering the most important and exciting questions in brain neuroscience.”
Karen Antman, dean of MED and provost of the Medical Campus, describes Iverson’s research on gender issues in the military as incredibly important. “We are delighted that Dr. Iverson’s contributions have been recognized by this very distinguished award,” she says.
In the past few years Han has received the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Award, and been named a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences, a Sloan Research Fellow, and a Peter Paul Professor. “I’ll be using this award to recruit some talented grad students and postdocs,” she says, “and also to buy materials and instruments for our experiments.”
This will be Han’s second trip to the White House; last spring, she traveled to Washington for President Barack Obama’s announcement of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, a $100 million program to invent and hone technologies to understand the human brain. While she was honored to attend, Han says, she didn’t have the opportunity to have a photo taken with the president. She hopes to do that this time.
Iverson says that at this point, her field has a “pretty good handle” on how to screen and counsel women who reveal that they have been abused. “For example, a few behaviorally specific questions such as ‘How often does your partner physically hurt you or threaten you with harm?’ can not only provide women with an opportunity to disclose abuse, but also send a strong message to the patient that she can talk to us about such experiences at any time down the line,” Iverson says. “But what is less clear is how to ensure that women get the care they need following such disclosures.”
She will use her award money to survey and interview women and clinicians for their take on what counseling should include, and then develop and test brief counseling interventions that she hopes will reduce women’s risk for violence and improve their health and safety.
Iverson says she was elated when she received the news that she had won the award, and she is deeply grateful for the support she has received over the years from her previous professors and mentors at the University of Notre Dame, the University of Nevada, Boston University, and the VA. She also appreciates the women and veterans she works with every day. “They have been willing to share their stories through my research,” she says, “and those experiences make me feel positive about continuing to do this work.”