Seven Clemson Faculty Win NSF CAREER Awards

The world is flooded with information, and Sara Riggs wants to change the way it’s presented.

As a 2018 NSF CAREER Award winner, Riggs, an assistant professor of industrial engineering, is rethinking and re-engineering displays to better reflect real-world needs. By understanding how teams use displays, Riggs and her team will learn when and how to present information, whether it’s visually, with sound or through touch.

“This work will hopefully help environments that are becoming increasingly complex, such as aviation, the military and health care, where people not only deal with more information but also need to work seamlessly together in teams,” said Riggs.

CAREER Awards are a signature accolade for young scientists, intended to boost innovative research toward solutions for society. For the second year in a row, seven Clemson assistant professors received the awards.

“These are highly competitive grants awarded to the brightest young minds across the country,” said Tanju Karanfil, vice president for research. “NSF CAREER awards are catalysts for scientific discovery and help propel the careers of young faculty who are destined to do great things.”


Joshua Bostwick, assistant professor of mechanical engineering: Bostwick’s research aims to improve drug delivery by understanding the physical interaction between internal liquids and soft tissue. Doing so will help physicians determine the proper dosage for a variety of medications, such as aerosolized drugs used for premature infants or people with asthma. It could also lead to better designs of drugs for more effective and efficient delivery.

Leah Casabianca, assistant professor of chemistry: Casabianca is studying the interaction between nanoparticles and the body. Nanoparticles such as microplastics are becoming more common in the environment and in the food chain. By understanding what happens to them in the body, Casabianca hopes to head off diseases they may cause. To study nanoparticles, she and her team are developing new techniques for nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging. Improving NMR could also improve the precision of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) used in clinical medicine.

Ethan Kung, assistant professor of mechanical engineering: Kung is creating a model for the human cardiovascular system that will predict how implantable devices (such as left ventricular assist devices in patients with heart failure) will interact with the body. A feedback loop will use computer simulation and a patient’s biological information to predict how a device will affect things like blood pressure and disease progression — information that will help physicians customize therapies.

Suyi Li, assistant professor of mechanical engineering: Li hopes to use principles of origami to create new building materials that either maintain their mechanical properties or become stronger/more enhanced when folded. Potential applications range from building materials that are both stiff and soft, so they absorb large vibrations, to robotic “skeletons” that stay strong when they shift shapes.

Xian Lu, assistant professor of physics and astronomy: Lu aims to predict how the Earth responds to the transfer of momentum and energy in the middle and upper atmosphere from weather events, which move energy upward into space, and from changes on the surface of the sun, which shifts energy toward the Earth. Such shifts can disrupt telecommunications, astronaut activities and even the power grid.

Hugo Sanabria, assistant professor of physics and astronomy: Sanabria’s work focuses on studying the structure, dynamics and function of a protein that modulates calcium. Calmodulin, as it’s called, is present in all eukaryotic cells and regulates vital functions such as heartbeat, muscle contraction, learning and memory. Although calmodulin is ubiquitous, Sanabria’s team aims to study modifications to the protein that likely alter the protein’s flexibility and three-dimensional structure. The obtained knowledge would explain how certain modifications regulate the way calmodulin interacts with intended target molecules.