Four Columbia Scientists Honored with Presidential Early Career Awards

Four Columbia University faculty members have been named recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The PECASE is the highest honor given by the United States government to early-career scientists and engineers who show exceptional potential for leadership in the advancement of science and technology.

Established by the National Science and Technology Council in 1996, the awards are conferred annually to acknowledge the contributions scientists and engineers have made to the advancement of STEM education and to community service. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy coordinates the PECASE with participating departments and agencies.

Three Columbia recipients were nominated by the National Science Foundation:

Luis Campos, Associate Professor of Chemistry

Luis Campos

Campos is an organic chemist whose research interests revolve around understanding how chemical structure impacts the properties of small molecules and macromolecules. The Campos Research Group studies interfacing organic materials in energy generation and storage, tissue engineering, and catalysis, using fundamental research to drive the design and synthesis of organic materials and exploring unconventional applications.

Campos joined Columbia as an assistant professor in 2011 and has co-authored more than 100 articles and 13 patents. In addition to the PECASE, Campos has received numerous awards, including the ACS Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award, ONR Young Investigator Award, NSF CAREER Award, Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for new Americans, the Cottrell Scholar Award, Columbia University Presidential Teaching Award, and the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, among others.

“The PECASE is a wonderful recognition that reflects the creativity of my students, postdocs, and our collaborators,” said Campos, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico as a child. “I’m grateful to the NSF for the nomination and to my department for its support. I’m also enormously proud to represent Columbia as part of this White House recognition. As I reflect on my journey to this country with my mom, I would have never imagined that one day we would both get an invitation to such a ceremony.”

Cory Dean, Professor of Condensed Matter Physics

Cory Dean

A leader in the field of quantum physics, Dean studies the electronic properties of quantum materials, with a focus on two-dimensional materials such as graphene. By layering different kinds of two-dimensional crystals, his lab has been able to make entirely new materials with unique and often exotic quantum properties, such as superconductivity, unusual magnetism, and topological order. Additionally, the group studies the impact of conditions, such as ultra-low temperatures, very high magnetic fields, and extreme pressures on the properties of these new materials. Dean’s lab aims to develop a deeper understanding of how quantum mechanics plays a role in determining the properties of materials encountered in everyday life, while also identifying novel materials that could enable innovative technological applications.

“It is a great honor to receive this award in recognition of the team’s research efforts,” said Dean, who completed his postdoctoral research at Columbia before returning to the university as an assistant professor in 2014. “I am fortunate to work with an incredibly talented and collaborative research community of scientists and engineers. Additionally, I’m hopeful that this award more broadly reflects an appreciation for the importance of science and technology in our nation’s future and a continued commitment to invest in this future at all levels.”

Kristin Myers, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering

Kristin Myers

Myers studies the mechanics of biological soft tissues. Her research focus is understanding the mechanical environment of pregnancy and discovering the structural mechanisms of preterm birth. Her research group is one of only a few engineering teams in the world creating biomechanical models of pregnancy to study how the female body responds, grows, and protects the fetus during gestation. Collaborating with maternal fetal medicine specialists at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, the Myers lab is working to identify mechanical risk factors in pregnancy and to develop clinical interventions to eliminate those risks.

Myers joined Columbia Engineering in 2010 after earning her MS and PhD in mechanical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She received the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Y.C. Fung Young Investigators Award in 2017 for her work in pregnancy biomechanics.

Timothy Berkelbach, Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Timothy Berkelbach

Breaking new ground in quantum science, Berkelbach is a theoretical chemist whose research occurs at the interface of physical chemistry, condensed-matter physics, and materials science. The Berkelbach Group works on a variety of quantum-mechanical problems motivated by excited-state phenomena, with a focus on quantum dynamics, the phenomenology of emerging materials, and first-principles condensed-phase quantum chemistry. The computational methods for quantum chemistry and materials science developed by Berkelbach and his team are providing a new understanding of nanoscale materials and advancing capabilities in alternative energy, computing, and information storage.

Berkelbach, who received his PhD from Columbia in 2014, was nominated for the PECASE award by the Department of Defense while an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago. In January 2019, he returned to New York City as an assistant professor of chemistry at Columbia and a research scientist at the Flatiron Institute.

“It’s an honor to be among the other incredible scientists and engineers who have received the PECASE this year and in years past,” Berkelbach said. “I’m grateful to my mentors and colleagues for their support and to my amazing graduate students and postdocs for their hard work and innovation.”

The awardees will be recognized in Washington D.C. on July 25.

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