By Mark Dwortzan
President Obama has named Assistant Professor Hatice Altug (ECE, MSE) among the recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. Selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service, awardees receive a research grant lasting up to five years and an invitation to attend a White House ceremony with the president in October.
In concert with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, 16 federal departments and agencies join together annually to nominate the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring U.S. preeminence in science and engineering, and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions. One of 94 researchers to receive the prestigious award, Altug was recognized “for advancing the frontiers of proteomics to enable the discovery of protein bio-markers for detection of disease, drugs and environmental monitoring, and for innovative educational and outreach activities that have helped students at all levels.”
Altug’s group recently developed a prototype for a low-cost, portable diagnostic platform that could be used by untrained personnel to detect blood or saliva-based proteins that serve as biomarkers for selected cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, allergens and other illnesses. By eliminating the need for heavy and costly lab equipment, the new biosensing platform offers unique opportunities for point-of-care diagnostics in clinical and field settings across the globe, including resource-limited countries.
Altug is one of a select group of Boston University faculty members to receive the PECASE award since its inception in 1996. Other recipients include Associate Professor Venkatesh Saligrama (ECE, SE) in 2004, and former Assistant Professors Paul Barber (Biology) in 2005 and Joan Walker (Geography & Environment) in 2007.
“This is an enormous achievement,” said Professor Selim Ünlü (ECE, MSE), associate dean for Research and Graduate Programs. “Hatice is highly deserving of this recognition. Her work is unique in the way she was able to take cutting-edge, transformative scientific principles and apply her engineering skills in technology development and translate her innovations to solving real-life problems.”
“It is a great honor to receive this recognition,” said Altug. “The award will enable me to tackle new challenges and open up new research directions in the field. Together with my students, I am looking forward to making significant progress both in research and education.”
A College of Engineering faculty member since 2007, Altug’s research involves confining and manipulating light at the nanoscale to dramatically improve biosensing capabilities. Initiating several advances in the fields of nanophotonics, nanoplasmonics and integrated nanofluidics, she has developed highly portable, extremely low-cost technologies for real-time, label-free and high-throughput detection of very low quantities of biological molecules, such as proteins and viruses. She has also contributed to the NSF Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center’s effort to build energy-efficient lighting-based communication and biochemical sensing systems in rooms.