In 2022, the College of Science launched the College of Science Excellence in Research Awards. These awards celebrate recent research accomplishments by members of our faculty. Each awardee receives a certificate and a $1000 prize. The goals of the award are to:
1. Recognize perhaps yet-unheralded research accomplishments by COS faculty.
2. Build faculty capacity for external awards competitiveness.
3. Encourage and celebrate collaboration.
The 2022 COS Excellence in Research Awardees are:
Steven A. Lopez, Assistant Professor in Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Ke Zhang, Associate Professor in Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Xuwen Zhu, Assistant Professor in Mathematics
Dr. Lopez and his collaborative team of students and postdocs developed a machine learning approach to simulate sustainable light-driven reactions. The method radically accelerates the speed and accuracy of the simulations, allowing the study of reactions and processes that were previously unthinkable due to prohibitive computational cost. This discovery formed the basis of a $16M National Science Foundation Institute, where Lopez is a co-PI. These simulations allow academic and industrial researchers to determine the best methods to construct complex molecules in advance of any costly experiments, thus avoiding inefficient trial-and-error experimentation.
“I appreciate the support and recognition from the College of Science for my group’s substantial advances in sustainable chemistry through computations and machine learning.”
Dr. Zhang’s team invented pacDNA, a bottlebrush-shaped delivery system for DNA-based therapeutics. The pacDNA blocks DNA interaction with proteins, but still allows the DNA to hybridize to its target. This selectivity helps the DNA-based drug reach its targets and regulate gene expression without the toxicity or side effects often seen with this class of pharmaceuticals.The invention has led to multiple publications, patents, and a spin-off company aimed at transforming the field of gene regulation therapeutics.
“We are pleased to see our research recognized among all of the good work of the COS faculty. It’s been quite an intellectual journey since we first tested the concept seven years ago, and hopefully, a real therapy based on the pacDNA technology is not too far away.”
Dr. Zhu and her collaborators made significant discoveries in differential geometric singularity theory, a field of mathematics that studies systems that undergo sudden changes under small variations of underlying parameters. They developed new geometric and analytic criteria to detect these singularities in geometric objects, as well as a method to resolve those singularities, allowing for a more thorough study of the underlying systems. This work has interesting connections with an array of disciplines, including modeling of electromagnetic systems, gauge theory, and string theory.
“I am honored and delighted to receive the COS excellence in research award. I would like to thank COS for the recognition and encouragement, and the math department for all the resources and heart-warming support they have been providing. I am deeply indebted to my advisor, mentors, and collaborators for the wonderful experience of exploring many facets of singular geometry, and I am looking forward to more fun explorations and discoveries in the future.”