By Mark Dwortzan
Recognizing seasoned and young faculty for moving society forward in significant ways, the College of Engineering has bestowed its annual Distinguished Scholar Award on Professor Thomas Bifano (ME, MSE), and its annual Early Career Excellence Award on Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE, BME).
The Distinguished Scholar Award honors a faculty member engaged in outstanding, high-impact research, and provides the recipient with a public forum to discuss and showcase research before the Boston University academic community. The Early Career Research Excellence Award celebrates the significant, recent and high-impact research accomplishments of exemplary tenure-track faculty within 10 years of receiving their PhD.
Distinguished Scholar Award
Professor Thomas Bifano’s research focuses on the design and manufacture of micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) in optical applications. For more than a decade, Bifano has developed deformable mirrors that are widely used to compensate for optical aberrations in telescopes and microscopes. His “adaptive optics” technique uses MEMS technology—electrostatic actuators and flexible layers of silicon—to shape the mirrors precisely and to bring images of everything from cells to planets into sharper focus.
In collaboration with Joslin Diabetes Center, Bifano recently developed a prototype scanning laser ophthalmoscope that uses deformable mirrors to compensate for optical aberrations of the eye, yielding unprecedented cell-scale, in vivo images of the retina to track disease progression and evaluate the effectiveness of clinical treatments.
In his public lecture scheduled for the spring semester, “Shaping Light: BU Deformable Mirrors Untwinkling the Stars and Deblurring our Eyes,” Bifano will describe his efforts at BU and at Boston Micromachines Corporation (as founder and CTO) to design, fabricate and control MEMS deformable mirrors (DM) for adaptive optics applications, particularly those related to telescopes and retinal imaging systems.
“MEMS-DM research offers the rare opportunity to introduce technology that is both more economical and more capable than the state-of-the-art,” he said.
Bifano has served as a BU professor of mechanical engineering for 25 years, chair of the Manufacturing Engineering Department from 1999-2006, and chair of the University Research Council from 2008-2011. He also directs the Boston University Photonics Center, where since 2006 he has led programs for education, research and development of advanced photonic device prototypes for commercial and military applications.
A member of the U.S. Army Science Board, he has served as conference technical session chair for five professional societies; member of the Board of Directors of the American Society for Precision Engineering; and associate editor of International Journal of Manufacturing Science and Production and Society of Manufacturing Engineers Journal of Manufacturing Processes. He has authored or co-authored more than 120 peer-reviewed journal articles and conference publications.
“His summary article, ‘Adaptive Imaging: MEMS Deformable Mirrors,’ which appeared in Nature Photonics in 2010, serves to underscore his position as an international leader in this field,” said Mechanical Engineering Chair and Professor Ronald Roy. “Tom is a courageous intellect, and his ability to transition fundamental research into useful and widely used technologies is reflected in his five patents, his two R&D 100 Awards (2007 and 2010) and the 2009 Bepi Colombo Prize for his work in ‘micro-deformable mirrors for astronomical telescopes.’”
Early Career Research Excellence Award
Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore has served as a member of the College of Engineering faculty since September 2010. Combining ideas from computer science, electrical engineering and systems biology, he develops automated tools for the specification, design and assembly of synthetic biological systems. His published tools, Clotho and Eugene, have gained widespread acceptance in the synthetic biology community, and the concepts behind them are explored in the recently published Design and Analysis of Bio-Molecular Circuits, which he co-edited.
At BU, Densmore was named the first Reidy Family Career Development Professor during the 2010-2011 academic year, and a junior faculty fellow of the Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science and Engineering in 2012. That same year he also received a Dean’s Catalyst Award and ECE Department Award for Excellence in Teaching, a rare honor for a faculty member with just two years of teaching experience. In 2011 he co-led a joint BU-Wellesley College student team that won a gold medal and placed first in the iGEM Competition’s Best Software Tool category, a feat he had accomplished twice before at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a PhD in electrical engineering in 2007.
Densmore is cofounder, past general chair, and steering committee member of the International Workshop on Bio-Design Automation, and a member of the organizing committee for the biological systems design group within the International Conference on Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology. He is also the founder and president of the Bio-Design Automation Consortium and the Nona Research Foundation, both non-profits dedicated to the advancement of bio-design automation. A recipient of substantial funding from the National Science Foundation, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Office of Naval Research, he has co-authored two books and more than 30 peer-reviewed journal articles and conference publications.
“There were many deserving nominees this year, as the College has recruited exceptional junior faculty,” said ECE Department Chair and Professor David A. Castañón (ECE, SE). “Doug’s research extends computer engineering in new directions, and this award recognizes his accomplishments-to-date and exciting potential for future developments.”