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Two Vanderbilt engineering professors receive NSF early career awards


Two assistant professors in the School of Engineering at Vanderbilt University have received prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program awards.

Scott Guelcher, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, will use the NSF CAREER award to study bioactive weight-bearing bone/polymer composites, which are emerging biological products that have the potential to offer relief from disabling vertebral fractures of the spine. The award is for a total of $500,000, and is issued for the next five years.

Aniruddha S. Gokhale, assistant professor of computer science and computer engineering, will use his five-year, $500,000 grant to support his effort to design new automated middleware – layers of software – that is easier to modify or specialize, require less maintenance, and provide for increased developer productivity.

The Faculty Early Career Development awards are considered NSF’s most prestigious honor for junior faculty members. They are given to exceptionally promising college and university junior faculty who are committed to the integration of research and education and who are most likely to become academic leaders.

A key component of Guelcher’s research will focus on alternative composites of allograft bone particles and resorbable polyurethanes that have compressive strength comparable to trabecular bone – the porous type of bone found in the spine.

Additionally, His research will be disseminated through two new undergraduate courses that support recent changes to the undergraduate curriculum in the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Also, he will develop curriculum materials on bioprocess engineering and regenerative medicine that will be appropriate for students in grades 9-12 in the Vanderbilt School for Science and Math, a part-time public high school located on Vanderbilt’s campus that is a joint venture with Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.

Guelcher received his bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Virginia Tech and a master’s of science degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He obtained his doctoral degree in chemical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.

While standardized, general-purpose middleware remain an attractive option to develop distributed systems – programs that run simultaneously on multiple computers over a network – the ‘feature richness’ of the middleware can adversely impact memory and application performance. Also, proprietary solutions and handcrafted optimizations to standard middleware can lead to high development and maintenance costs.

An alternative to these challenges would be to automate specialization of general-purpose middleware that would easily prune unwanted features and customize the necessary ones.  Gokhale’s research will investigate how automated specializations are realized by exploiting the structure of middleware that helps map the specialization problem into a feature-oriented software development problem.

The broader impact of this CAREER research lies in the development of new middleware design principles that will make the solutions amenable to specialization, and documentation of specialization patterns that will reduce software maintenance while enhancing developer productivity and system correctness.

Gokhale received a bachelor of engineering degree in computer engineering from the University of Pune, India, and a master’s of science degree from Arizona State University. He obtained his doctorial degree in computer science from Washington University, St. Louis, Mo.