Two Faculty Win NSF CAREER Awards

Michelle Digman and Han LiDec. 21, 2018 - Two UC Irvine engineers, Michelle Digman and Han Li, have earned National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Awards. Among the NSF’s most prestigious, the CAREER award supports early career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education. Begun in 1995, the program provides recipients the opportunity to pursue outstanding research, excellence in teaching, and the integration of education and research.

Digman, an assistant professor in biomedical engineering, will receive $500,000 for her project to develop an imaging platform with a fast orbital tracking technique to follow mitochondria with nanometer precision and, at the same time, non-invasively measure metabolic changes at the local environment in cancer cells.

“I am most grateful and honored to have received this award,” said Digman. “My lab is excited to continue to push the envelope in developing imaging technologies to non-invasively track mitochondrial recruitment and how environmental cues influence mitochondrial function within specific regions inside cancer cells, which may lead to aggressive cancer invasion.”

Li, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, will receive $502,234 to support her research in engineering metabolism inside cells. Synthesis of chemicals from renewable resources by metabolically engineered microbes holds promise for transforming the current fossil fuel-based chemical industry toward a sustainable future. Although numerous fuels, pharmaceuticals and commodities have been manufactured by engineering metabolism, the vast majority of these processes failed to proceed beyond lab scale because their efficiency is still low. Li’s research will contribute a universal technology to make metabolism more easily understandable and engineerable.

“I am truly honored to receive the CAREER award and very excited to carry out this work,” said Li. “I believe this project will open up many new opportunities and lay the foundation for my long-term success.”

Both projects include an effort to develop educational and outreach activities that help students grow their leadership, teaching and training skills and promote STEM research.

These two awards bring the school’s number of recent CAREER awardees to seven, including Aparna Chandramowlishwaran, Kristen Davis, Anne Lemnitzer and Yoonjin Won from 2018 and Solmaz Kia from 2017.

– Lori Brandt



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