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NSF CAREER Award Recipients

2020 Awardees

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Shengfeng Cheng

Shengfeng Cheng


Paint is an example of a soft matter solution.The drying process of this soft matter solution provides a way to fabricate materials and a way to investigate physics in systems out of equilibrium. With the award, Cheng will use computer simulation techniques and simple physical models to explain the collective behavior of particles intrinsic to the evaporation processes of particle suspensions, polymer solutions, and their mixtures. He will also map out the optimized drying conditions under which the materials have desired structures. The findings will be used to guide the design of new solvent evaporation processes for more efficient material fabrication.

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Sterling Nesbitt.

Sterling Nesbitt


Approximately 252 million years ago, 95 percent of all life on Earth was destroyed in what was the largest mass extinction in Earth’s history. But not long after, there was a sudden surge of reptilian diversity that coursed throughout the land, in the oceans, and in the skies.

“Do communities persist for millions of years? Are the communities that we see outside our very windows always in this state of change or are they pretty stable and it takes a lot of pushing from a natural disaster to move them to a new state?,” asks Nesbitt, an affiliated faculty member of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute and the Global Change Center.

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Sarah Stamps

d. Sarah Stamps


After billions of years of slowly moving, the interactions between tectonic plates created the geologic formations we see today, such as volcanoes, mountain ranges, valleys, and faults. Stamps will investigate the role of volcanism in early phase continental rifting — the process in which two plates move apart and stretch the continental crust — at the Natron Rift in Tanzania. Stamps and her team of researchers will travel to the Natron Rift in the East African Rift System in Tanzania to collect GPS field data. By using GPS to measure surface motions, they will quantify how the Earth’s surface is moving both vertically and horizontally on the volcano and on the surrounding areas within the rift valley. To learn more, read the full story.

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Josef Uyeda

Josef Uyeda


With increasing rates of global change, it is vital to understand how and why species either adapt and survive, or fail to adapt and perish. This project builds a bridge between the causes of evolution studied over short timescales and the long-term outcomes evident from existing evolutionary diversity with a new set of computational tools and resources for biology research and education. New models will integrate field, genetic, and experimental studies with patterns of trait change from across the tree of life. Uyeda will apply these models to comprehensive datasets in mammals and fishes to better understand the causes of trait change over million-year timescales and how current global change will affect the long-term outlook of biodiversity. To learn more, read the full story.

For more about all of the 2020 NSF Career Awardees, read: Early career faculty earn 14 National Science Foundation CAREER awards.