Career Development Professorships for Promising Scholars Awarded to Five BU Junior Faculty
This year’s recipients: experts in workplace technology, robotics and computer architecture, neuropsychiatric disorders, corporate decision-making, and energy transfer in photosynthesis systems
Each year, the Provost’s Office awards Career Development Professorships to junior faculty who have been nominated by their deans and colleagues as promising scholars in their fields. These professorships are named for the donors and alumni who fund them (except when donors request anonymity) and in some cases are tied to specific BU schools. All appointments provide three years of financial support for the recipients’ salaries and scholarship. Below is a list of this year’s five recipients, who will be honored at a dinner on September 14.
David R. Dalton Career Development Professorship, established by BU trustee Nathaniel Dalton (LAW’91) and Amy Gotlieb Dalton (LAW’91)
Minjung Son, assistant professor of chemistry, College of Arts & Sciences. Son works across multiple scientific disciplines, at the interface of chemistry, physics, optics, and materials science. Her research focuses on controlling and investigating energy transfer in photosynthesis systems. “I use materials science tools to make samples. I also shoot lasers onto those samples, which is more like physics than chemistry,” Son says. “Working across disciplines is all about broadening your skill set in a collaborative way. Talking to and working alongside people who have different backgrounds helps you learn new skills and tackle challenges in new ways.”
Her research focuses on the fundamental physical processes that govern how biological systems function. “If you think about trying to build an efficient device that can capture sunlight and convert the energy into different forms,” Son says, “it starts by thinking about the fundamental physical processes that get fed down to the machinery.”
Plants, she notes, “are really good at transporting absorbed sunlight with nearly 100 percent efficiency.” Son is working on answering some important questions about energy and climate change: “What if we could wire the pathways of plants in a specific way to actually control the efficiency of photosynthesis,” she says, “which would impact crop yield and biofuel yield, which could help save our planet?” That same know-how could also apply to improving the efficiency of solar panels, she adds.
Son earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, and a PhD from MIT.
Innovation Career Development Professorship, sponsored by proceeds from BU Technology Development
Sabrina Neuman, assistant professor of computer science, College of Arts & Sciences. Neuman works on designing computing systems, particularly for robotics applications. “The challenge,” she says, “is that robots have to interact with the real world, which means they’re under time pressure to decide what they’re going to do in a complicated, dynamic environment. They also need to safely interact with people.”
The applications for the pioneering technology Neuman is working on could be far-reaching, beginning with assistive technology and elder care. “Robots could help people who have any sort of sensory processing issues, who have any mobility issues,” she says. “I love Siri and voice-activated systems, but they’re not embodied. They can’t pick us up if we fall. They can’t help us get out of bed or chairs.”
Neuman places a lot of emphasis on inclusive design principles for engineered systems. “When systems are getting built for the real world, we have to be inclusive of people from different backgrounds so we don’t find ourselves with an end product that has biases and blind spots,” she says, pointing to “a disastrous potential disconnect if the community of engineers and computer scientists is not diverse and inclusive.”
Neuman says that we’ve seen a lack of inclusion hamper efforts at artificial intelligence, such as facial recognition systems that can’t seem to accurately differentiate black and brown faces, and that “if we could get more diversity in computer science and robotics, it would change the whole design process for the better.”
How does she build for inclusion? “I’ve been active in communities that seek to promote the participation of traditionally underrepresented groups. I’ve actually been co-coordinating BU’s partnership with a program run by the Computing Research Association in which we’re trying to encourage undergraduates, in particular women and other gender-marginalized individuals, to do research and explore research as a future career.”
Neuman holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees and a PhD from MIT.
Reidy Family Career Development Professorship, established by BU trustee Richard D. Reidy (Questrom’82) and his wife, Minda G. Reidy (Questrom’82,’84)
Leroy Gonsalves, assistant professor of management and organizations, Questrom School of Business. Gonsalves works at the interface of technology and the future of work. He uses qualitative and quantitative methods to understand how evolving management practices, including remote work and the algorithmic valuation of employees, affect employees’ experience of autonomy, meaning, and equity in their workplaces.
“Many post-pandemic changes in how people and organizations work appear here to stay and raise interesting research questions,” Gonsalves says. “I’m particularly interested in understanding how managers make sense of this new world of work and how it affects the practices they use to motivate their workforce.”
Gonsalves earned a bachelor’s degree from York University, master’s degrees from the University of Toronto and Harvard University, and a PhD from Harvard Business School.
Peter Paul Career Development Professorship, established by BU trustee emeritus and University Advisory Board member Peter Paul (Questrom’71)
Philipp Mews, assistant professor of pharmacology, physiology, and biophysics, Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine. Mews studies epigenetic regulation in drug and alcohol use disorders. His work has helped to identify targets for new drugs and therapeutic strategies for neuropsychiatric disorders associated with maladaptive memory formation. He has established numerous collaborations in the field of drug addiction and neuropsychiatric disorders and is an active member of the neuroepigenetics scientific community.
Mews has a bachelor’s degree from Freie Universität Berlin and a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
Global Business Career Development Professorship, established by an anonymous donor
Luis Ballesteros, assistant professor of strategy and innovation, Questrom School of Business. Ballesteros studies the impact of systemic shocks (social and environmental) on the decision-making and corporate success of international business. He researches the innovations that occur during, or in the aftermath of, systemic shocks to globally interdependent corporations. His research has been published in top-tier strategy and management journals, and his research has won several awards.
Ballesteros received a bachelor’s degree from Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, a master’s from MIT, and a PhD from the Wharton School.
“Outstanding faculty are the lifeblood of an institution, and this cohort of young emerging scholars represents the next wave of exceptional talent that will carry our momentum forward,” says Kenneth Lutchen, interim University provost and chief academic officer. “Boston University —and the donors who generously support these professorships—can take great pride in these five colleagues and the innovative, societally relevant discoveries they are advancing in the sciences, engineering, and business. We are excited to see where their research takes them.”