Texas Tech University

Two Researchers Win National Science Foundation CAREER Awards

Glenys Young

July 2, 2018

Zhe Wang and Jeremy Marston are among more than 300 early career faculty members from around the country to receive awards.

Zhe Wang
Zhe Wang

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has invested $150 million in 307 early career faculty to advance fields from intelligent infrastructure and collaborative robots to secure communications and brain-related technologies – and two Texas Tech assistant professors are among them.

Zhe Wang, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development & Family Studies within the College of Human Sciences, is using her award to research how anxiety about mathematics interacts with math learning over time.

“Given the rising need for scientists and engineers, low proficiency and engagement in mathematics is a pressing concern in the United States,” Wang said. “Being proficient in math is not an easy task. Some students develop negative emotions toward math learning, which profoundly influence math learning behaviors and performance. For example, many students experience math anxiety, which is a feeling of fear or worry related to math activities. Math anxiety is a highly prevalent emotion in the student population that has negative implications for math learning. However, research is still in its infancy when it comes to understanding how math anxiety influences math achievement outcomes.”

Jeremy Marston
Jeremy Marston

Jeremy Marston, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering, received his award for his work with needle-free injections, which not only could reduce the occurrence of accidental needle stick injuries, but also could help health care professionals deliver drugs in a more effective way.

“Ultimately, we aim to provide predictive capabilities, which means we could tell a drug manufacturer developing a new drug specific design considerations that could optimize delivery of that drug,” Marston said. “If the manufacturer told us we have to target a specific region of the body, we could fine-tune the parameters for the needle-free jet injection device to help deliver the drug successfully.”

Over the next five years, each researcher will receive up to $500,000 from NSF to build a firm scientific footing for solving challenges and scaling new heights and serve as academic role models in research and education.

The NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program, which extends across the agency's science and engineering directorates, allows promising junior faculty to pursue cutting-edge research while simultaneously advancing excellence in education.

This year's awardees hail from 120 institutions across 43 states. In addition, more than 18 percent of awards are to grantees in jurisdictions eligible for Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which helps traditionally underserved areas enhance their research competitiveness and strengthen science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and capacity.

“NSF is committed to helping academic scientists and engineers launch careers of discovery and leadership,” said Dawn Tilbury, head of NSF's Engineering directorate. “With NSF CAREER awards, junior STEM faculty have the opportunity to tackle important and unique research challenges and to make our country's future healthier, safer and more prosperous.”

Marston's award is through the Engineering directorate, while Wang's comes from the Division of Research on Learning under the Education and Human Resources directorate.

“We're delighted to support these early career researchers as they embark on long-term research and education activities that will advance the frontiers of our field,” said Erwin Gianchandani, acting assistant director for NSF's Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorate. “These early career faculty will catalyze new breakthroughs in computer and information science and engineering that will transform our nation in the years to come.”

More than 20 percent of engineering and computer science CAREER awardees are women and about 8 percent are from underrepresented groups, according to self-reported proposal data. These percentages are higher than those of U.S. engineering and computer science faculty overall.

NSF awarded more than 47 percent of these CAREER awards to first-time principal investigators. The awardees bring a diverse range of scientific and engineering thinking and expertise, essential for creating new knowledge and innovations to address complex problems.

NSF funding for these CAREER awards comes from NSF's Engineering and Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorates, with additional support from the NSF EPSCoR program.