Tufts faculty earn national awards for exceptional potential in science and engineering

National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy award winners include Presidential Early Career Award recipient, two Early Career Award recipients

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (March 23, 2016)— Promising research from Tufts University's School of Engineering has earned one faculty member the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award and two faculty members Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and U.S. Department of Energy. The awards are among the most prestigious honors given by the U.S. government to outstanding scientists and engineers at the early stages of their careers, when many do their most formative work.

“These extraordinarily talented and motivated faculty members represent the best of our nation’s engineers and scientists,” says Jianmin Qu, dean of Tufts School of Engineering. “With their strong research programs and dedication, I am confident their work will lead to breakthroughs in their fields and help us create solutions for the world’s most pressing challenges.”

Kristen Bethke Wendell, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and adjunct assistant professor of education, has been named a recipient of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest U.S.-sponsored honor given to science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.  President Barack Obama named 106 researchers as candidates of this award and NSF nominated only 21of them after their own vetting process, of which Wendell was one.

Awardees are selected on the basis of two criteria: pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and a commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach.

Wendell received a five-year $600,000 NSF early career award for her research project aimed at developing, implementing, and assessing a model that introduces novice elementary school teachers (grades one through six) to community-based engineering design as a strategy for teaching and learning in urban schools. This project aims to explore how teachers' engineering design abilities and understanding of engineering and scientific processes evolve during community-based engineering experiences, and determine if participating in extended professional development on community-based engineering has an impact on the teachers.

The two Tufts faculty who received NSF CAREER awards are investigating fresh approaches to fundamental research challenges.

  • Ayse Asatekin, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering and director of the Smart Polymers, Membranes and Separations Laboratory, received a five-year $500,000 NSF early career award to develop novel membranes with new capabilities by designing polymers that self-assemble to form nanostructures. Membrane filtration is energy efficient, simple, scalable, and a key technology for generating clean, safe water and for preventing water pollution. Most commercially available membranes are composed of a handful of polymers and are limited in the types of separations they can perform. This research will lead to the development of improved membranes for separations underserved by existing technologies such as peptide separations and textile wastewater treatment. As a part of this research, Asatekin will work with the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO) to develop new outreach activities related with chemical engineering, and start a new summer camp to attract middle school girls to STEM careers. She will also participate in mentorship and outreach events aimed at women because she is committed to broadening participation of underrepresented groups, especially women, in engineering.
  • Jeffrey Guasto, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Microscale Mechanics and Transport in Biological Systems Laboratory, received a five-year $500,000 NSF early career award for his investigation of how the properties of viscous fluids affect the motion of swimming cells. His research incorporates microfluidics and high-speed imaging to measure microscale cell mechanics and transport processes, which will help researchers understand how physical processes affecting cell motility can regulate a host of diverse biological functions such as infection and reproduction. The results of this research could have an impact on multiple fields, including public health, ecology, biomedical engineering, and medicine. As part of this research, Guasto will lead an education and outreach program, which integrates high-speed imaging to promote science and engineering careers among middle school students.


Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university is widely encouraged.

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