Spot News Roundup

Jun 16 2021

Dean Boyce Appointed University Provost, Vice Dean Chang Named Interim Dean

After seven transformative years leading Columbia Engineering, Dean Boyce has been named the next provost of the University, becoming the first woman to hold the position of Columbia’s highest academic officer. In his announcement, President Lee Bollinger praised her “administrative capacity, academic accomplishment, and deep knowledge of Columbia” as well as her leadership in fostering public service and interdisciplinary collaboration. Once Boyce assumes her new role on July 1, Shih-Fu Chang, senior executive vice dean, will step in as interim dean.

Chang brings extensive leadership experience, having helped shape the Columbia Engineering for Humanity vision and strengthened Columbia’s standing among top engineering schools. He has also created numerous cross-disciplinary initiatives, collaborating with industry partners around research centers, and advanced diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at the School.

Chang’s research focuses on AI, multimedia content analysis, and computer vision. His intelligent systems extract knowledge from multimodal content, such as images, video, and audio. His work has led to breakthroughs with significant real-world applications, including image recognition capabilities for journalists and public health professionals and tools that prevent human trafficking. He has published more than 350 peer-reviewed articles, which have been cited more than 60,000 times.

Tough Stuff

In collaboration with researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory, a team led by Professor Oleg Gang has utilized DNA nanotechnology to produce extremely resilient materials that can still be processed through conventional nanofabrication methods. The technique involves folding DNA chains into desired nanostructures, which become programmable self-assembling building blocks. Previous materials were soft and fragile, but the new method allows for more robust creations. “These self-assembled nanoparticles-based materials are so resilient that they could fly in space,” says Gang, of chemical engineering and of applied physics and applied math.

Photon Avalanching Enabled

A team led by Professor P. James Schuck of mechanical engineering has developed the first nanomaterial that demonstrates “photon avalanching”—the absorption of one photon leading to the emission of many—a process unrivaled in its combination of extreme nonlinear optical behavior and efficiency. The discovery opens up possibilities for a host of sought-after applications, from real-time super-resolution optical microscopy and precise temperature and environmental sensing to optical analog-to-digital conversion and quantum sensing. “Nobody has seen avalanching behavior like this in nanomaterials before,” Schuck says. “This exquisite sensitivity could be incredibly transformative.”

Toward Tomorrow’s Batteries

One of the key obstacles to achieving green energy is the challenge of storage: Compact, long-lasting, and energy-dense batteries do not yet exist, in large part because rechargeable lithium metal anodes are highly susceptible to the growth of potentially dangerous microstructures known as dendrites. Using a combination of microscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance, and computational modeling, researchers led by Professor Lauren E. Marbella of chemical engineering have discovered that alkali metal additives such as potassium ions create a unique chemistry that can limit dendrite growth and enable next-generation energy storage.

Joint Replacement On Demand

Using lab-grown cartilage-bone grafts precisely engineered to each recipient, multidisciplinary researchers led by University Professor Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic of biomedical engineering have demonstrated a novel technique for personalized joint replacement. Working with stem cells from Yucatan minipigs, they induced cartilage-and-bone-forming cells shaped to the exact geometry of the complex temporomandibular joint. Over six months of observation, they found that the grafts integrated well with surrounding tissues. “What we found in this new work could be transformative,” says Vunjak-Novakovic. “We believe that this methodology could be extended to bioengineering other joints and to establishing high-fidelity models for studying joint diseases.”

Dawn Of Twistoptics

“Twistronics,” how twisting or rotating layers of 2D materials can change electronic properties of the system, has become a hot topic for recent research. Now, Professors James C. Hone and P. James Schuck of mechanical engineering have introduced a new field they call twistoptics, which is devoted to tuning optical properties for applications including laser, spectroscopy, imaging, and metrology systems, as well as next-generation optical quantum information processing and computing. Their new technique efficiently modulates and enhances a process known as optical second harmonic generation, combining two input photons into one with twice the energy.

Faculty Honors Galore

The past year has brought our distinguished faculty an array of awards and honors.