Professors Peng Bai and Ashish Kulkarni of the UMass Amherst College of Engineering have each been awarded prestigious five-year grants through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career Development (CAREER) program.
The NSF's CAREER program provides highly competitive awards that support promising and talented early-career faculty's research, teaching, and outreach activities. Bai and Kulkarni are both assistant professors in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and their CAREER grants provide $551,035 and $637,359 for their activities, respectively.
Bai’s research focuses on developing computer simulation methods that help engineers better understand chemical separations and energy conversion processes in complex materials systems.
“Millions of tons of alcohols and carboxylic acids, used to create polymers, food additives, solvents, and pharmaceuticals, are produced industrially via catalytic carbonylation every year,” Bai says. “Because this process makes use of expensive rare-metal catalysts and requires corrosive chemical agents to promote the desired reactions, the result is stringent and costly reactor designs, complex catalyst recycling schemes, and environmentally unfriendly waste streams.”
With the CAREER grant, Bai will develop computer models to discover catalysts that are made of abundant elements and are environmentally friendly.
Kulkarni's research combines nanotechnology, engineering, and immunobiology to study and create nanoscale technologies that interact with the body’s immune system in ways that could treat diseases and improve human health.
"One of the biggest questions in the field of immunoengineering today is how do these nanomaterials interact with immune cells, and what kind of interactions do they create, whether positive or unwanted?" Kulkarni says. "This project is about understanding and mapping these interactions to develop guidelines for future generations of nanomaterials that are more effective and beneficial."
With his CAREER grant, Kulkarni will focus on researching and measuring how the surface differences and core properties of a nanomaterial affect the immune response, with the goal of sharing this research with other scientists and engineers to collaboratively accelerate work in the field.
Faculty in the College of Engineering have been awarded 14 CAREER awards since 2019. With Bai and Kulkarni's awards, all five current chemical engineering assistant professors in the College of Engineering have now received an NSF CAREER award.