Two scientists from The University of Texas at Austin are among the 2011 recipients of Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.
The recipients are Sara Sawyer, assistant professor of molecular genetics and microbiology and member of the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology in the College of Natural Sciences, and Ali Khademhosseini, a 2011 Donald D. Harrington Faculty Fellow in the Cockrell School of Engineering's Biomedical Engineering Department.
Sixteen federal departments and agencies join together annually to nominate the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America's preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies' missions.
"It is inspiring to see the innovative work being done by these scientists and engineers as they ramp up their careers -- careers that I know will be not only personally rewarding but also invaluable to the nation," said President Barack Obama. "That so many of them are also devoting time to mentoring and other forms of community service speaks volumes about their potential for leadership, not only as scientists but as model citizens."
Sawyer is being recognized for her research on the evolution of DNA repair genes, providing insight on both the formation of cancers and susceptibility to viral infection. Human cells contain a complex network of DNA repair pathways that have evolved to protect the integrity of chromosomes. However, viral pathogens, like HIV, use proteins in these pathways for their own benefit, and that may influence the evolution and function of those proteins.
Khademhosseini was recognized for his contributions at the interface of microengineering, materials science and biology to generate controlled microscale environments, regulate cell behavior and fabricate tissue-like structures. He is working with the Office of Naval Research to produce microfabricated tissues that act as actuators, or muscles, in robotic components. Khademhosseini is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and holds additional appointments at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences Technology and at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Sawyer and Khademhosseini will receive their awards from Obama in person next month. A full list of the 2011 PECASE recipients is available at the White House Web site.