Three ECE Professors Receive CAREER Awards

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Within these past few months, not one, not two, but three professors from the ECE Department have won CAREER Awards, which are among the most prestigious awards from the National Science Foundation. Such awards help support faculty in the early stages of their careers. The three winning faculty are Michelle Sander (ECE, MSE), Lei Tian (ECE), and Sahar Sharifzadeh (ECE, MSE).


Professor Michelle Sander received $500,000.00 for a project entitled Towards Super-Resolution Label-Free Mid-Infrared Photothermal Imaging. In her research, she plans to use an infrared microscope to be less invasive, and even contactless, when sampling brain cancer cells. Her mission is to intertwine multiple disciplines, from microscopy and fiber lasers to biomedical analysis and chemical spectroscopy. The study will focus on the combination of absorption and thermal concepts that will then be integrated into a label-free and non-destructive super-resolution imaging device platform. The study will help advance cancer studies, diagnosis, and possible drug treatments by providing rich details on both biochemical spectral signatures and thermo-physical characteristics. Sander’s research plans to also use the intertwined disciplines to offer a unique interdisciplinary environment for the training of undergraduate and graduate researchers wanting to branch off into a wide range of career choices. To broaden participation in optics and address the gender gap in STEM, the PI will launch outreach activities on a local (Boston Women in Photonics Networking Series) and international scale. These initiatives will support the PI’s vision of empowering a diverse group of innovative next-generation engineers and scientists.


Professor Lei Tian received $500,000.00 for project Optical Intensity Diffraction Tomography with Multiple Scattering. Tian’s award focuses on tomography, a powerful technique that has found wide applications in life sciences and medical diagnosis. Optical tomography is particularly attractive since it is noninvasive and uses non-ionizing radiation. Recent development in optical tomography focuses on pushing the imaging depth, as motivated by many important needs including deep tissue imaging and brain photo stimulations. However, existing optical tomography devices can only provide high-resolution imaging up to ~100µm, limited by the single-scattering approximation. The goal of Tian’s project is to overcome this limitation by advancing both fundamental theory and practical devices. This program will establish novel multiple-scattering based tomography models that allow efficient use of the information contained in the multiply-scattered light.  A new type of optical devices based on the intensity diffraction tomography will be developed with simple experimental setups to facilitate easy adoption in existing microscope systems. The outcome of this program can enable scientific and biomedical discoveries by providing means to study biological samples and phenomena that would be otherwise not accessible, in areas such as histology, cytometry, brain mapping, and drug discovery.


Professor Sahar Sharifzadeh has also received a $105,000 CAREER Award for her project: First-Principles Investigation of Energy Transport Within Ordered Organic Assemblies.  Her work focuses on understanding the intricacies of electrons and solar energy. The basic idea behind solar energy is the interaction of sunlight exciting the electrons on the solar panels. This award supports her research to better understand light interaction with carbon-based organic molecules with the goal of creating new, more efficient materials for solar panels. The PI and her research team plan to investigate the fundamental properties that govern the behavior of electrons within organic structures in the presence of light and develop physically-intuitive models of the influence of molecular structure on electronic properties. Sharifzadeh also plans to use this research in education, for example by integrating the simulation methods developed in the project into the graduate level course, “Computational Materials Science”. Boston University Technology Innovation Scholars Program will help incorporate the applicability of the research to solar energy conversion in high school curriculums. The team will participate in the Boston University U-Design program that introduces middle school age kids to computational science through design projects.


Besides winning the NSF Career Award, Michelle Sander has many honors and awards up her sleeve. She is a recipient of the 2017 AFOSR Young Investigator Award. Also, in 2017, she became the Optical Society of America Ambassador and a Senior Member of the IEEE. At Boston University, she received the Nanotechnology Innovation Center Award (2017) and MSE Innovation Award (2016). She also received the College of Engineering Dean’s Catalyst Award in 2014, 2017 and 2018. Her areas of focus are femtosecond lasers, ultrafast photonics and nonlinear processes, and fiber and integrated optics.


Other than this current CAREER Award, Lei Tian has received the Boston University College of Engineering Dean’s Catalyst Award, 2018, Hariri Institute Research Incubation Award, 2019, and The Fumio Okano Best 3D Paper Prize in 2018. He has also received the Boston University Nanotechnology Pilot Grant Award in 2017.  He is a member of OSA, SPIE, and the Topical Editor of Applied Optics. His research interests are in the area of computational imaging and sensing, computational microscopy, imaging in scattering media, phase retrieval and neurophotonics.


Previously, Sahar Sharifzadeh’s received the Dean’s Catalyst Award, US Department of Energy Early Career Research Award, and the DOE Early Career Award. She is a member of the American Chemical Society & Materials Research Society, and the American Physical Society. Her areas of interest include: understanding the optoelectronic properties of materials, excited-state phenomena, semiconductor physics, electronic structure theory, and computational material science.


These three faculty members are expected to have a striking impact on their respective research communities. The outcomes of their projects will push the boundaries of knowledge and help the Electrical and Computer Science Engineering Department, at Boston University, blossom as a whole.