Seven young faculty to watch

Impressive grants, cutting-edge research hallmark of recent hires

The School of Engineering is stepping up recruiting efforts to ensure a continued pipeline of talented young professors, with administration increasing its focus on creating a diverse faculty.

This year, the school unveiled its Emerging Scholars in Engineering Lecture series, a recruiting tool for members of groups underrepresented in engineering who have recently completed or will soon complete doctorate degrees.

But the success of prior efforts is clear in the faculty who have chosen to come to Vanderbilt in recent years. They’re attracting generous grants for impressive, cutting-edge research. Here, we highlight seven of them.

Rizia Bardhan


Assistant Professor Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Ph.D. in chemistry, Rice University, 2010
Grantor: National Science Foundation
Title: Nanoscale Control in Hierarchical Assembly of Liposomes with Gold Nanoantennas for Multifunctional Theranostics
What it means: She and her team are developing a nanoparticle that ultimately will allow physicians to find signs of cancer more quickly and accurately. It will simultaneously deliver precise treatments, saving patients the collateral damage caused by chemotherapy.

Brett Byram


Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering
Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, Duke University, 2011
Grantor: National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering
Title: Suppression and Analysis of Ultrasonic Clutter During Liver Focus Biopsy
What it means: Ultrasound is the most widely used imaging method, but it often produces low quality images that can be hard to interpret – especially when used to guide biopsies.  A physics-derived model can enhance useful parts of the image while rejecting degraded parts.

Ethan Lippmann


Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Ph.D. in chemical engineering, University of Wisconsin, 2012
Grantor: Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
Title: Pharmacogenomic Drug Screens Enabled by Human iPSC-Derived Neurovascular Tissue Structures
What it means: Lippmann seeks to improve drug screening processes by creating three-dimensional tissue models of the human brain using induced pluripotent stem cells. These models eventually can be used to identify new avenues for treating schizophrenia.

Maithilee Kunda


Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Computer Engineering
Ph.D. in Computer Science, Georgia Tech, 2013
Grantor: National Science Foundation
Title: NSF INCLUDES: South East Alliance for Persons with Diabilities in STEM
What it means: Kunda’s specialty is using artificial intelligence to better understand the thought processes of people with cognitive conditions such as autism. Under this grant, she’s exploring ways for students with disabilities enter into and succeed in STEM educational pathways.

Karl Zelik


Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, University of Michigan, 2012
Grantor: National Science Foundation
Title: Leveraging Toe Dynamics to Improve Prosthetic Feet and Amputee Mobility
What it means: Zelik’s team is attempting to reverse-engineer the foot and apply what they learn about toe function to enhance the design of prosthetic feet. That could lead to more affordable and effective prosthetic feet that improve the quality of life for users.

Yevgeniy Vorobeychik


Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Computer Engineering
Ph.D. in computer science and engineering, University of Michigan, 2008
Grantors: Sandia National Laboratories, Office of Naval Research, National Science Foundation, U.S. Army
Titles: Design of Social and Economic Incentives and Information Campaigns to Promote Solar Technology Diffusion Through Data-Driven Behavior Modeling, Protocol Design for Decentralized Coordination, Theory and Application of Mechanism Design for Team Formation, Designing Resilient Data Processing Systems for Adversarial Environments, Protocol Design for Decentralized Coordination, Integrated Safety Incident Forecasting and Analysis
What it means: Vorobeychik combines approaches from artificial intelligence and game theory to solve important social problems, for instance, police and fire departments using limited resources to protect an entire city. His work in developing secure machine learning algorithms results in more effective detection of fraud and cyber attacks.

John T. Wilson


Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Biomedical Engineering
Ph.D. in bioengineering, Georgia Tech, 2009
Grantors: Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Science Foundation
Titles: Inside-Out Immunotherapy: Preventing Metastatic Breast Cancer Recurrence via Nanoparticle-Directed Modulation of the Tumor, Inside-Out Immunotherapy: Combating Neuroblastoma via Nanoparticle-Directed Reprogramming of the Tumor, Engineered Nanoparticles for Protective Subunit Vaccine Delivery and Discovery, CAREER: Engineering Polymeric Nanomaterials for Programming Innate Immunity
What it means: Wilson’s team is studying materials engineering and immunology to harness the immense power of the body’s immune system. Their current research is focused in three primary areas: nanoparticle- and biomaterials-based approaches to treat and prevent cancers, programming immune responses through controlling the delivery of immunological messages and next-generation vaccines to prevent respiratory infections.


Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614
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