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Promising young faculty receive prestigious career award

Grants recognize ‘individuals who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar’
From left to right: Northwestern professors Sepehr Vakil, Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy and Nicholas Diakopoulos

Three Northwestern University assistant professors — Nicholas Diakopoulos, Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy and Sepehr Vakil — have received the prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the foundation’s most prestigious honor for junior faculty members.

Diakopoulos is an assistant professor of communication studies in the School of Communication and director of the Computational Journalism Lab. He will receive $549,562 over five years from NSF’s Division of Information and Intelligent Systems to develop tools to advance the practice of computational journalism.

Kozorovitskiy is an assistant professor of neurobiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute. She will receive $824,670 over five years from NSF’s Division of Integrative Organismal Systems to map the proteomic landscape of neural systems, work that can be applied to a broad range of cells.

Vakil is an assistant professor of learning sciences in the School of Education and Social Policy. He will receive $672,379 over five years from NSF’s Division of Human Resource Development to design and study innovative learning contexts that engage contemporary issues of race, ethics and technology.

The CAREER Award is designed to support promising young faculty members who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar through the combination of outstanding research and education. 

Nicholas Diakopoulos

The goal of Diakopoulos’ project is to develop computational news-report discovery workflows and tools that weave together expert journalists, online crowd contributors and algorithms, with the intent of lowering the cost and increasing the efficiency, effectiveness and scale at which new news reports can be identified.

In an effort to better equip those who operate in an algorithm-driven media landscape, Diakopoulos says his work will help increase journalists’ data literacy and computational skills, as the research underscores the importance of understanding how computing can enhance the future of journalism.

Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy

The major focus of the Kozorovitskiy lab is to understand the function of neuromodulation and plasticity in the brain and, along the way, to develop and share new tools that advance this core mission.

The brain is composed of intricate circuits of neurons that communicate via electrical signals. The slower signals that function on the order of milliseconds to hours are known collectively as neuromodulation. Humans would be unable to pay attention, move, eat or sleep without these instructive signals, but relatively little is known about them compared to fast neurotransmission. 

With her NSF support, Kozorovitskiy and her group will build and use a powerful suite of techniques for unlocking the proteome of any cell type in the brain or in the body -- not only neurons. (The proteome is the entire complement of proteins expressed by a given cell.) The researchers will use their new platform to understand how particular cell types essential for motor behavior and reward processing develop after birth and reshape their proteomes in response to neuromodulation. The tools will help Kozorovitskiy’s group and other biologists target the precise groups of cells they want to study and capture the proteins within them. 

Sepehr Vakil

Vakil’s NSF CAREER project aims to illuminate how undergraduate learning experiences within engineering and computer science are interconnected with identity development processes for historically underrepresented students of color. In particular, his project examines how opportunities to explore the ethics of new technologies shapes students’ political and civic as well as disciplinary identities.

Through a participatory community-engaged approach, Vakil and his research team will co-design and study a learning environment that brings together undergraduate students from Northwestern and local high school students from Evanston and Chicago to critically interrogate how new technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence) are shaping the experiences of communities of color in the city of Chicago and surrounding areas.