Woodruff School Professors Receive NSF CAREER Awards

Three faculty members from the Georgia Institute of Technology’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering received Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The award is one of the NSF’s most prestigious honors in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. Each CAREER award provides a minimum of $500,000 over five years.


Bioengineering Assistant Professor YongTae (Tony) Kim received the 2017 CAREER Award for his research on integrated microfluidic systems for scalable manufacturing of hybrid nanoparticles (NPs) for drug delivery. Despite the increased use and demand of therapeutic NPs for many fatal diseases, Kim says robust NP manufacturing remains challenging. “While substantial research, including our approaches, has elucidated the mechanisms of NP synthesis in both diffusion and convection driven microfluidic platforms, considerably less work has been done for large-scale production of NPs particularly with integrated microfluidic settings.” 

“Professor Kim’s research with biomimetric nanostructures and nanodevices for therapeutic drug delivery has paved the way for developing a drug delivery approach to fight medulloblastoma, a serious brain tumor,” says Dr. William J. Wepfer, Chair of the Woodruff School. “I clearly remember when we recruited Tony. As we were walking to my car, a Hyundai Genesis, he remarked that as he had worked at Hyundai for several years, he could completely tear down and rebuild my vehicle. In my view this reflects his ability to think and work as a truly co-disciplinary researcher.”

The primary education goal of Kim’s research proposal is to impact a wide range of students, including underrepresented minorities, by developing a scientific introduction to multiscale and cross-disciplinary features, and exciting a new generation of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines.


Heat Transfer, Combustion and Energy Systems Assistant Professor Caroline Genzale was awarded the NSF CAREER Award for her research on elucidating fuel spray atomization physics. The laser-based spray diagnostic Genzale is developing for this project will tackle a significant and long-standing knowledge gap for high-pressure liquid combustion systems and has the potential to transform the design of fuel injection systems for future high-efficiency clean combustion engines.

“Professor Genzale has established herself as one of the leading scholars in spray combustion. She has built a unique high pressure experimental facility and her work contributes to the improvement of engine performance and the reduction of emissions,” explains Wepfer. “Professor Genzale loves fast cars and she gets spectacular teaching effectiveness ratings in the ME 4011 Internal Combustion Engines course.”

Genzale’s grant will help support the establishment of a new undergraduate research scholarship program to promote the engagement of female students in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering in faculty research. “It is an honor to be recognized with an award of this significance. I think that the NSF CAREER, more than any other young investigator grant, is a recognition that your work will help shape the long-term future of your field, so it is both humbling and immensely motivating to receive this award” says Genzale. “My ambition is to help first-and second-year undergraduate women catch the research bug early on and provide them with the mentoring resources they need to advance through a successful research career.”


Micro and Nano Engineering Assistant Professor Matthew McDowell was honored with the 2017 CAREER Award for his research on interfacial transformations in ceramic ion conductors for solid-state batteries. With research focusing on micro and nano materials with specific attention on energy storage applications, McDowell has developed highly sophisticated experimental techniques to study electrochemical transport in materials and at material interfaces.

“Professor McDowell fills a critical area in Georgia Tech’s electrochemistry and energy storage research enterprise that spans ChBE, ECE, MSE, and ME,” Dr. Wepfer explains. “His first teaching assignment at Georgia Tech was in our sophomore level ME 2110 Creative Decisions and Design studio sections.  He just dove in and earned incredible teaching effectiveness ratings.”

“I am very thankful to receive support through the NSF CAREER Award, as it will allow my research group to understand and tackle some of the fundamental issues holding back solid-state batteries,” said McDowell. Rechargeable solid-state batteries are attractive for electric vehicles and mobile applications because of their high energy density and their potential for improved safety compared to lithium-ion batteries. Despite the recent development of new ceramic materials for fast conduction of lithium ions, these battery systems have not been commercialized. A current major outstanding problem is that solid-state interfaces between the ion-conducting ceramics and other materials within the battery are unstable, which leads to poor battery lifetimes. McDowell’s research will use novel experimental techniques to understand interface degradation processes in real time and to determine how to protect these interfaces from degradation - a fundamental understanding critical for the creation of reliable, long-lasting solid-state batteries. His research includes an education initiative focusing on integrating materials and energy sciences in ways that are relevant to high school students’ daily lives, helping to prepare students from underrepresented groups for careers in science and engineering.


“I am extremely proud of Caroline, Tony, and Matt on their accomplishments. They are outstanding researchers as well as exceptional classroom instructors. Perhaps of more consequence is the fact that they are great role models for our students and great citizens of Georgia Tech,” states Wepfer proudly. “Last year we also had three faculty members win NSF CAREER Awards (Professors Asegun Henry, Jon Rogers, and Shuman Xia). This demonstrates that the Woodruff School is a destination landing spot for the best and brightest young people seeking careers as mechanical engineering faculty members. The Woodruff School’s future continues to be exceedingly bright.”