Two Purdue University researchers have been named as recipients of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor given by the U.S. government to young researchers.

Selected for the awards were Arezoo Ardekani, an assistant professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering, and Milind Kulkarni, an associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

They are among 105 recipients who will receive the award from President Barack Obama during a spring ceremony in Washington, D.C. The awards were announced last week by the White House.

Arezoo Ardekani "It is an honor for Purdue Engineering to have two of our faculty members recognized with the PECASE," said Leah Jamieson, Purdue's John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering. "They join an elite circle of young researchers and educators who are tackling some of the greatest engineering challenges facing the world today. We are enormously proud of Arezoo and Milind."

 Among Ardekani's ongoing research is work pointing toward future approaches to fighting bacterial biofilms that foul everything from implantable medical devices to industrial pipes and boat propellers. Biofilms cost the nation billions of dollars annually due to human and animal infections, product contamination and biofouling of membranes.

 "I am deeply honored and humbled to have been selected for Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers," she said. "It was a great joy seeing my name in the list of extraordinary Early Career Scientists that are being honored by President Obama. I'm extremely fortunate to have my dream job and being recognized for what I love doing most, scientific research and education."

Her recent research has yielded insights into the physics behind the swimming behavior of bacteria and spermatozoa, information that could lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms affecting fertility and formation of biofilms. Other recent research also includes findings suggesting that small marine organisms swimming in concentrated "hotspots" likely contribute to the mixing of water needed to distribute nutrients for ocean species. Ardekani's research group employs three-dimensional computational fluid dynamics modeling and experimental techniques to study bacterial aggregation and their interaction with surfaces as well as fluid flow.

She received master's and doctoral degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering from the University of California, Irvine, in 2005 and 2009, respectively, and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 2003 from Sharif University of Technology, Iran. Before joining Purdue, she served on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame and as a Shapiro Postdoctoral Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has received numerous awards, including the Society of Women Engineers and Amelia Earhart awards in 2007; the Schlumberger Foundation Faculty for the Future Award in 2009; and a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2012.

Milind Kulkarni  Kulkarni said, "Hearing that I got this award really took me by surprise, and it was all I could do to restrain myself from telling everyone until the announcement was official. It's an incredible honor to receive the PECASE and to be recognized for my work alongside so many other fantastic researchers from around the country."

Kulkarni received a master's degree in 2005 and doctoral degree in 2008, both in computer science at Cornell University. His bachelor's degrees were in computer science and computer engineering from North Carolina State University in 2002.

Kulkarni joined Purdue in 2009 as an assistant professor and rose to associate professor in August 2015.

Prior to coming to Purdue, he was a postdoctoral research associate at the Institute of Computational Engineering and Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin in 2008 and 2009 and a visiting scholar at the Parallel Computing Laboratory in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California at Berkley.

Kulkarni's research interests include programming languages and compilers. He is interested in various facets that are necessary to unlock the potential of complex computation platforms including multicore processors, heterogeneous architectures, sensor networks and distributed systems. His research develops automatic techniques for optimizing the complex, irregular problems that drive application domains such as graph analysis, data mining, simulation and graphics.

His award was given for his work on analyzing and transforming simulation and data analysis applications to improve their performance and allow them to scale up to large-scale inputs and systems.

Kulkarni most recently received the College of Engineering's Exceptional Early Career Teaching Award in 2015. His other honors include the NSF CAREER Award in 2012, the Department of Energy Early Career Research Program Award in 2013 and the Ruth and Joel Spira Outstanding Teaching Award in 2014.

The Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers was established in 1996 by then-President Bill Clinton. Several Purdue faculty members to previously win the award have been researchers in areas from psychological sciences to mechanical engineering. 

In the 1970s, scientist Edward Lorenz famously asked whether the flapping of a butterfly's wings in Brazil could lead to a tornado in Texas.

During the decades since, the butterfly effect and chaos theory have sparked countless debates and pop culture references. But the question also holds practical importance: What do small, unpredictable events mean for the future of weather prediction?

A University of Washington study asks whether unobserved, minuscule disturbances -- like those from butterfly wings -- actually affect weather forecasts. Luckily for those who rely on the weather report, the answer is no.

"The butterfly effect is important, as an example of how errors might theoretically spread to larger scales, but actual butterflies don't matter for forecasts," said Dale Durran, a UW professor of atmospheric sciences.

He is lead author of "Thunderstorms Don't Get Butterflies," published in the February issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

What matters, he says, is getting the bigger picture right.

"The uncertainty in a meteorological forecast generated by ignoring the flapping of a butterfly's wings -- or even broader circulations 1 mile wide -- is less than that produced by very-small-percentage errors in our observations of much larger-scale motions," Durran said. Thunderstorms can grow rapidly from a small cloud to a huge storm, and are notoriously difficult to forecast. The researchers used this as their test case.

"The evolution of thunderstorms is thought to be particularly sensitive to small-scale disturbances," Durran said.

The study used supercomputer simulations of squall lines, the row of thunderstorms that can form ahead of a cold air front. The authors looked at the effect of beginning the simulation with modest errors at different horizontal scales. Minor errors at large scales of about 80 miles (128 kilometers) mattered as much for the forecast as more significant errors at a smaller scale of about 5 miles (8 kilometers). On the one hand, this is good news, since small-scale motions, which are almost impossible to observe routinely, don't matter so much, confirming Durran's earlier paper on the meteorological irrelevance of butterflies. On the other hand, it's bad news, because even little mistakes in the large-scale observations can throw off a forecast for a thunderstorm or a snowstorm.

"Perhaps counterintuitively, you have to know the large scale with a great deal of precision to get the small scale right," Durran said. "There's a lot of energy in the larger scales, so if you make a small fraction of a percent error there, it might not seem like much at the start, but a couple hours into the forecast, it makes a difference."

It's not necessary to create a dense network of observing stations to measure the atmosphere at finer and finer scales, Durran said. Instead of sweating the small stuff, he says, scientists need to improve the way they assimilate, or input, existing observations of the atmosphere on horizontal scales between 100 and 300 miles (160 to 480 km) in order to start local-area forecasts with the best possible description of the air circulating.

"It's going to be difficult, but not impossible, to improve the larger scales," Durran said The other co-author is Jonathan Weyn, a UW doctoral student in atmospheric sciences. The research was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), an organization dedicated to increasing the number of black engineers, will celebrate Engineers Week from Feb. 22–26, 2016. For this popular event within the engineering community, organizations come together each year to call attention to the contributions that engineers make to society, increase public dialogue about the need for engineers and bring engineering to life for children, educators and parents.

At NSBE, Engineers Week goes beyond celebrating the contributions of black engineers. It also focuses American society on the untold stories of these engineers’ dynamic achievements and the impact of those achievements on the U.S. and the world. On Feb. 22, NSBE will launch a takeover of its homepage, www.nsbe.org, featuring content about black engineers and the thriving black communities within NSBE, including the Society’s Special Interest Groups, collegiate and NSBE Jr. membership, and NSBE Professionals. Among its activities in recognition of Engineering Week’s “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day,” NSBE will feature NAVAIR engineer LaTisha Durham on NSBE’s website and social media.

“Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to raise a generation of black engineers,” says NSBE’s national chair, Neville Green. “In order to achieve our collective goals, we must collaborate with partners who are also passionate about the topic,” Green says. “It is our hope that this cooperation with our partners to increase the number of black engineering graduates will fill a critical void in the nation’s workforce,” Green concludes.

Green references workforce demands that the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) community as a whole must overcome. For example, STEM jobs are projected to grow by 953,200 between 2012 and 2022, a growth rate that is 30 percent higher than that of the overall workforce. Yet this demand will be met with a projected shortfall of one million STEM workers over the next decade, according to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (2012).

In addition, NSBE will feature its ongoing campaign, Be 1 of 10,000, to increase the number of black engineering graduates. Visitors will be invited to the campaign landing page to “take the pledge,” to help NSBE meet its 10-year goal for U.S. colleges and universities. That goal is to graduate 10,000 black engineers annually, with bachelor’s degrees, by 2025. 

“Engineers Week is a great opportunity for those who are not familiar with NSBE to get a clear understanding of what our programs, and ultimately our mission, have to offer to the community at large,” says NSBE National Programs Chair Noral Walker. NSBE’s long history includes the creation and development of programs for pre-college students, including the Society’s Pre-College Initiative,  NSBE Jr. chapters and the Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK), as well as academic and professional development programs for NSBE’s collegiate and professional members. “It is our hope that many readers outside of our organization will enjoy our website content, participate in our activities and develop a lifelong love of engineering, or expand on the deep interest in engineering they may already have.”

NSBE invites the community to enjoy its content on NSBE.org and also partner with the organization and support its efforts. Please see the next page for NSBE activities and programs during Engineers Week.

NASA grant to improve fluid flow in outer space

Future astronauts may boldly go farther than ever before, thanks to research at Washington State University recently funded by NASA to study fluids in space.

Liquids are used in many space station systems, such as fueling, heating and cooling. Oxygen for breathing is also stored as a liquid. As space missions get longer, researchers want to conserve energy when moving these fluids in order to make longer space missions possible.

Led by Sinisa Mesarovic, professor in the WSU School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, the researchers will study capillary forces for moving liquids through narrow spaces. The goal is to develop a supercomputer model and designs for improved liquid transport systems for future spacecraft.

Capillary forces move liquid via materials that either attract or repel it. For example, when a straw is put into a glass of water, the water level inside the straw is higher than the level in the glass.

"This is because the straw is made of material that likes contact with water," Mesarovic said. "Capillary forces can hold a certain weight of water above the water lever in the glass."

On Earth, capillary forces have to fight gravity. But in space, the only resistance is the viscosity of the liquid, which slows the flow but cannot stop it.

Mesarovic's team will use the experiments conducted aboard the International Space Station during the past few years to quantify capillary flow in the absence of gravity. The researchers will develop a predictive supercomputational model and, eventually, designs for better liquid transport systems.

Eastman Chemical Company is becoming a national “Pacesetter” in the movement to bring more women to careers in information technology and supercomputing. Eastman has joined a cohort of companies and universities who commit for two years to being part of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Pacesetters collective. Organized by NCWIT, the Pacesetters program is designed to break down barriers and perceptions that prevent more women from choosing careers in IT. Eastman had already become a NCWIT member company in 2015 and collaborated on a Sit With Me event that addressed the issue of declining numbers of women in IT, but participation in the Pacesetters initiative is an even longer stride forward.

NCWIT Pacesetters is designed for member organizations that are committed to taking especially proactive measures to increase the numbers of women in IT. All 40 participating organizations in the 2016 cohort must set aggressive and measurable goals over a two-year timeframe.

Other companies that are part of the Pacesetters cohort with Eastman include Apple, Bank of America, Intel Corporation and Merck & Co.

“We are committed to making a real difference in reversing this national trend,” said Keith Sturgill, Eastman’s chief information officer. “We know that a powerfully diverse and broadly inclusive workforce will not only help our team members to reach their full potential but also uncover more insights, better ideas, and exciting new innovations.” Women held 57 percent of U.S. professional occupations in 2014, but only 26 percent of professional computing jobs. Numbers for the “pipeline” of potential professionals are even lower. In 2013, as only 18 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients in computer and information science were women.

“We’re a global, Fortune 500 company, so we’re in competition with other companies to hire the best people in the world to fill IT positions,” Sturgill said. “Women comprise more than half of the available talent pool, so it’s important for us as professionals to show how rewarding and diverse a technical career can be.”

Eastman’s Pacesetters initiative is being led by Mike Austin, director of process excellence and program management for Eastman IT. He said hiring targets are not the only area where Eastman will make advances. Fine-tuning processes to advance retention, career development and advancement will also be at the forefront.

“One of the advantages of the Pacesetters cohort is the chance to share processes and experiences with our peers, so we can identify areas where we can improve,” Austin said. “One area could be the area of career advancement. Not all IT professionals – women and men – want to choose a management track, but for those who do, we need to be sure we’re giving all IT members – men and women – the chance to realize their full potential.”

Sarah Bastian was charged by Sturgill to spearhead the overall Eastman IT initiatives. In addition to the workforce retention and advance sub-team, additional teams are focused on the areas of community involvement and recruiting.

Bastian, an advanced systems analyst at Eastman who is an expert in cybersecurity, said the commitment of Eastman and other members of its Pacesetters cohort can make a collective impact. “The decline in the percentage of women who choose IT didn’t happen overnight, and it will take time for us to reverse the trend,” Bastian said. “Throughout the industry, it’s going to take women and men working together to make a difference, and that’s what is happening at Eastman. Joining Pacesetters is an important step forward, and it’s further proof that Eastman is serious about making a difference.”

To learn additional details about Eastman’s ongoing initiative to increase women in IT, read about the first Eastman Sit With Me event here. A video about Eastman diversity in IT is available on Eastman’s YouTube channel.

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