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Five faculty honored with Presidential Early Career Awards

PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on young science and engineering professionals

Five Northwestern University professors — chemist Danna Freedman, computer scientist Han Liu, economist Mar Reguant, neuroscientist Joel Voss and surgeon Jason Wertheim — have been awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). President Donald J. Trump announced the recipients of the prestigious honor last week.

This year’s recipients will be honored at a July 25 ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Established in 1996, the PECASE honors the contributions of scientists and engineers in the advancement of science, technology, education and mathematics (STEM) through scientific education, community outreach and public education. It is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. The White House, following recommendations from participating federal agencies, confers the awards. 

The Northwestern researchers focus on a range of topics: Freedman tackles challenges in physics with synthetic inorganic chemistry; Liu uses computation to explore machine intelligence; Reguant works to quantify the effects of renewable energy; Voss develops novel treatments for memory impairment; and Wertheim explores new methods to bioengineer kidney and liver tissue for eventual transplantation. 

Northwestern’s recipients are:

Danna Freedman

Associate professor of chemistry at in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

freedman pecase
Danna Freedman

Nominated by the National Science Foundation, Freedman received the PECASE for her work on quantum computing.

Freedman and her team create and implement novel design principles to synthesize better qubits, the smallest unit of a quantum computer. Developing computers with quantum objects would enable scientists to understand electron transfer in a new way, paving the way for new generations of materials for renewable energy. Freedman applies synthetic inorganic chemistry’s tools and approaches to fundamental challenges in physics, akin to the highly successful application of inorganic chemistry to challenges in biology. Within this framework, Freedman and her research group focus on three vital challenges in physics: enabling quantum information processing, creating new permanent magnets and discovering new superconductors.

Han Liu

Associate professor of computer science at the McCormick School of Engineering

liu pecase
Han Liu

Nominated by the National Science Foundation, Liu received the PECASE for his work in artificial intelligence and data science.

Lying at the intersection of modern artificial intelligence and computer systems, Liu’s research deploys statistical machine learning methods on edges and clouds to achieve analytical advantages. His primary research uses computation and data as a lens to explore machine intelligence. He works toward this goal by using the point of view provided by the twin windows of statistical machine learning and computer systems. Statistical machine learning provides a unified framework which combines uncertainty and logical structure to model complex, real-world phenomena, while computer systems implement the learning algorithms with the highest performance guarantees.

Mar Reguant

Associate professor of economics at Weinberg

reguant pecase
Mar Reguant

Nominated by the National Science Foundation, Reguant received the PECASE for her research into the economics of renewable energy.

Reguant's research examines the economics of energy, with an emphasis on electricity and the pollution associated with electricity generation. She aims to develop new theoretical and empirical strategies to assess the impacts of renewable energy. To meet this goal, she works to empirically quantify the impact of renewable energy by analyzing recent relevant experiences in wind and solar integration. Given the practical relevance of this effort, she also plans to develop open-access programs that will allow other researchers to work with the data.

Joel Voss

Associate professor of medical social sciences, neurology, psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine

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Joel Voss

Nominated by the Department of Health and Human Sciences, Voss received the PECASE for his work in cognitive neuroscience. 

His laboratory uses human neuroscience methods, such as MRI and brain stimulation, to investigate mechanisms of learning and memory and their impairment in neurologic and neuropsychiatric disorders. His work with noninvasive brain stimulation has shown that it is possible to predictably influence brain networks responsible for memory in order to probe their function and to develop novel treatments for memory impairment.

Jason Wertheim

Associate professor of surgery at Feinberg and associate professor of biomedical engineering at McCormick

Wertheim pecase
Jason Wertheim

Nominated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Wertheim received the PECASE for innovative and applied research investigating how injured tissues and organs heal, regenerate and repair in order to develop new tissues as future treatments for chronic organ failure.

A clinical transplant surgeon and biomedical engineer, Wertheim focuses on discovering new methods to bioengineer liver and kidney tissue in the laboratory as a cutting-edge solution to donor organ shortage. Wertheim’s applied research develops bioartificial tissues, and his group has produced quantitative metrics to track how cells develop into new tissue within bioreactors. This work could uncover essential drivers of how tissues repair and regenerate to develop innovative, future cures for chronic diseases. Together, this research opens new scientific opportunities for development of future medical treatments to improve quality of life and health.

— By Silma Suba

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