Rising stars

Rising stars

Four Case researchers win prestigious National Science Foundation awards that target promising young scientists.

National Science Foundation CAREER awards are harbingers of great things to come. Among the most prestigious honors for junior faculty, the grants are aimed at supporting promising young teacher-researchers and accelerating their impact.

This year, four Case Western Reserve scientists were selected for the award—all from the Case School of Engineering.


“We are honored to have a deep bench of early-career researchers gaining recognition on a national level,” said Venkataramanan “Ragu” Balakrishnan, the Charles H. Phipps Dean of the Case School of Engineering. “I am thrilled to celebrate the achievements of our faculty, and am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for this outstanding group.”


Here are the ones to watch:


Kathryn “Kati” Daltorio ’05, MS ’07, PhD ’13,  an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, received a five-year, $600,000 award to pursue her groundbreaking work in soft robotics. She hopes to bridge a gap between the design and function of live creatures and biologically inspired robots—her specialty.


With the NSF funding, Daltorio said she and students in her lab will continue their work on earthworm-like machines. They hope to better understand how a robot might worm its way through a tight space like, say, a pile of rubble, to help find people.


Daltorio came to Case in 2001 and earned three degrees, including her doctorate, before joining the faulty in 2017 and launching her research lab.


Dean Balakrishnan described her as “a rising star among our faculty, earning accolades and national-level recognition along the way. We could not be more proud to have this exceptional alumna as a member of our research community.”


Xusheng Xiao, an assistant professor of computer and data sciences, received a five-year, $500,000 award to support his research at the intersection of software engineering and computer data security.  


Xiao concentrates on making software and computer systems more “Reliable, Intelligent, Secure and Efficient,” or RISE, the name of his Case lab.


He and his lab members, who have attained six U.S. patents, are researching and developing automated analysis techniques for mobile app security, system-enterprise security, blockchain security, automated software testing, program analysis and bug detection.


Most recently, Xiao and his team have been examining how computer and mobile-device apps could use sensitive personal data to detect abnormal behaviors from hackers. 


This new NSF-funded work is in addition to his ongoing collaboration with Yinghui Wu, also an assistant professor of computer and data sciences at the Case School of Engineering. The pair recently received a three-year, $500,000 NFS grant to pursue their idea for a better defense system against data breaches in large enterprises and organizations.


Burcu Gurkan, the Nord Distinguished Associate Professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering, received a five-year, $550,000 grant to continue her research into capturing and converting carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that incites global warming.


Gurkan said this NSF award will support her research into converting certain gases into different types of fuels using “out of the box” approaches. It’s in addition to Gurkan’s ongoing research to capture CO2 more efficiently in spaceships—a project funded by an Early Career Faculty grant from NASA.


Balakrishnan described Gurkan’s work as “incredibly highly cited,” adding that she “exemplifies the best of our early-career researchers in her novel and innovative approach to society’s biggest challenges.”


Julie Renner, an assistant professor of chemical engineering, won a five-year, $523,00 grant to support her research into biomaterials. Renner has been investigating and developing a new generation of materials with applications in implantable devices, sensors, water treatment and renewable energy. 


More specifically, she and her students in the Renner Research Lab are investigating fundamental properties and potential new uses for the highly-elastic protein elastin.


She called the NFS award an “academic dream come true, and a chance to really make a difference in our field.”


This story was compiled from information published in The Daily, CWRU’s online news source.

Kathryn Daltorio

Xusheng Xiao

Burcu Gurkan

Julie Renner


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