2008-2018 CAREER Faculty
Mathematics, Awarded 2018
Mathematical modeling means posing a well-defined mathematical problem about an ill-defined non-mathematical scenario. As these skills are at the core of most empirical disciplines, STEM students need to learn them. Unfortunately, many math classes focus on pure math concepts and equation-solving techniques. For my CAREER, I am working on ways to improve undergrad’s learning of math so they can and do reflectively apply their knowledge to get the most out of their major courses. The project is also generating new mixed-methods for inquiry that can evaluate innovative pedagogy.
The best part about the project has been working with two incredibly talented doctoral students. Each has been able to pursue research questions she finds intellectually meaningful and experience the successes and failures that go with conducting studies where nobody knows the outcome. The CAREER also affords them opportunities for professionalization such as authoring papers, presenting their work at international conferences, and developing workload management skills.
Chemistry and Biochemistry, Awarded 2016
My research program at Texas State has focused on synthesizing molecules that challenge the established rules of chemistry taught in undergraduate textbooks. In this vein, we utilize carbenes, interesting molecules in and of themselves, to stabilize these unusual compounds. For my CAREER grant proposal, I used carbenes to develop materials for applications in flow batteries and as emissive materials for organic light emitting devices (OLEDs). My educational component integrated materials science concepts into “Science Days” events for elementary and high school students (who assisted in demos) at the McKenna Children’s Museum.
My CAREER grant had many long-lasting impacts—most notably, the freedom to pursue unexplored research avenues and the financial support to provide a competitive research environment for numerous students and postdocs. It also increased my involvement with NSF through participation as a panelist at an NSF CAREER Workshop in Washington D.C. (2016) and in proposal and panel reviews.
Biology, Awarded 2016
Robust immunity in plants against pathogens requires a rapid molecular change in the genome. This project seeks to gain insight into the role of immunity-related molecular changes to further improve plant health against infection and increase crop yield to feed the growing human population.
This opportunity has expanded the scope of my research program to tackle one of the most challenging questions in plant pathology. Excitingly, outcomes from the grant are now used to assess the role of our newly discovered molecules in human cells. The funding transformed the program into a significant player in the molecular immunology field.
Computer Science, Awarded 2013
For my Ph.D. dissertation, I worked on mathematical models of the human eye. Using such models at Texas State, I have asked the question: how can we infer the invisible properties of the oculomotor plant (eye globe and extraocular muscles) and the brain from captured eye tracking signals? I also asked if these inferred characteristics are unique to each individual and if we can perform accurate person recognition and health assessments based on such characteristics. These questions and a corresponding research plan formed the basis of my CAREER grant.
The CAREER award and a subsequent PECASE award from President Barack Obama brought a lot of attention, recognition, and opportunity to the work I have proposed and executed. I strongly believe that approaches suggested by the research will have a high impact on the field of cybersecurity and healthcare.
Computer Science, Awarded 2013
The High-Performance Computing world is at a critical juncture. Supercomputers being built today are so complex that even the smartest humans find it difficult to program them effectively. My CAREER and ongoing research address this challenge. We are employing machine learning insights to develop algorithms that automatically generate efficient code for future architectures. So, essentially, we are teaching supercomputers to program themselves.
The CAREER grant gave me the freedom to pursue my intellectual interests with more conviction and build a foundation for my career. But perhaps more importantly, it allowed me to provide sustained support for my students, who do the real work.
Physics, Awarded 2013
Quantum computing uses non-classical properties of materials to solve extremely complicated problems very quickly and efficiently. In this project, we studied the quantum properties of layers of different types of materials assembled with atomic precision. We discovered that quantum properties become more robust and survive at higher temperatures when we make some layers a bit defective or disordered. Our results have applications in the field of quantum computing.
The CAREER grant allowed me to take on a challenging problem. I was able to redesign experiments based on intriguing experimental results that led to understanding the quantum properties of electrons in ultra-thin oxide heterostructures. The grant also enabled students to learn the basics of scientific methodology, train in advanced experimental techniques, and, for some of them, mature scientifically from undergraduate students to PhD candidates.
Mathematics, Awarded 2012
As a former high school mathematics teacher, I noticed that much of the time in math classrooms was spent talking, but not all of the talk was mathematically productive. I often wondered which aspects of teacher-student interactions really mattered for learning. In my CAREER grant, I documented consistent features of mathematics classroom discourse—such as responsiveness to student thinking and mathematical authority—that supported students to generate, explain, and reason about mathematical ideas.
A CAREER grant has allowed me the flexibility, funding, and time to pursue complex, intellectually-significant, and personally-meaningful research questions. It has allowed me to take risks in my research and to learn from the challenges of doing research in K-12 schools.
Computer Science, Awarded 2012
Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) are systems that combine sensing, computation, communication, and control technologies to impact our physical world. CPS are emerging as key components in enabling major technological advances in transportation, manufacturing, energy, and medical domains. The research conducted through my CAREER award identified and protected against cyber-attacks that cross from the cyber realm and impact the physical environments in which these systems operate.
Applying for the CAREER grant allowed me to think critically about relevant research problems with significant societal impact. Receiving the award materialized such processes and allowed me to contribute and expand the knowledge base in CPS security, establish a state-of-the-art lab, work with many undergraduate and graduate students, and present my research in conferences, articles, talks, and invited seminars.
Mathematics, Awarded 2011
When I first arrived at Texas State, I learned from local school leaders that some teachers from impoverished districts were successful at teaching mathematics to students for whom English is a second language. Working with these teachers, we developed new measurement tools to analyze teaching practices and identified effective ways to teach mathematics as students become bilingual. As a whole, the project measured the positive impact effective teaching practices have on student mathematics test scores.
Receiving the CAREER award provided me opportunities to collaborate with graduate students and other scholars on the important issue of making mathematics education more equitable and accessible.
Biology, Awarded 2009
Since Charles Darwin wrote The Power of Movement in Plants in 1880, scientists have wondered what causes the movement of plants toward light. This question led to the discovery of the first and vital plant hormone “auxin” in 1928. Since then, there has been a long and exhausting journey to find the receptor for auxin that responds to light. This journey ended in 2005 when my postdoctoral research revealed an unconventional receptor system, a discovery with far-reaching impact on both plant and medical research. Many structurally diverse synthetic chemicals with auxin-like activities are used as herbicides or growth regulators in agriculture. Are all these auxin-like chemicals recognized by the same receptor and signaling system? This was the fundamental question I addressed in my CAREER grant proposal.
The CAREER award helped me to train Ph.D., M.S., undergraduate, and high school students in auxin research. Those high school students chose STEM fields during their university education. The CAREER also helped me identify several new plant genes, including a receptor for picloram (an auxinic herbicide) and a picloram transporter. These findings have been described in several manuscripts and in a recently issued patent.
Benjamin Martin – Chemistry and Biochemistry, Awarded 2008
My research program at Texas State has always focused on creative ways to synthesize useful materials that cannot be created using traditional methods. For my CAREER grant proposal, I developed a framework for exploring four promising approaches to synthesize an understudied but important class of compounds. These approaches spanned a range of difficulty levels, from relatively simple experiments with a high chance of success to high-risk/high-reward explorations. My educational component integrated materials science concepts into “family science night” events for elementary and middle school audiences.
My CAREER grant had many long-lasting impacts. The five-year time frame and flexible nature of this grant allowed me to follow the science and deeply explore the most interesting and unexpected discoveries. My research group was able to expand into new areas, seeding ideas that led to my current work. It also increased my involvement with NSF through participation in proposal and panel reviews. This experience has been valuable in securing additional NSF grant funding.