CLEMSON — Seven Clemson University researchers have brought home some of the nation’s top awards for junior faculty members.

Feng Ding, who is standing, works with a student in the Kinard Laboratory of Physics.

The university’s College of Engineering and Science announced that Feng Ding, Rachel Getman, Brandon Ross and Andy Tennyson have won prestigious awards from the National Science Foundation, while Joseph Scott and Yue “Sophie” Wang have won top awards from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Mark Blenner has won an award through NASA.

Seven high-profile awards in less than a year is a milestone for a university that recently stepped up efforts to bolster its reputation for high-quality research. The awards brought more than $3.3 million in new research funding into the College of Engineering and Science.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering and Science, said the awards are a testament to the researchers’ creativity, dedication and hard work.

“South Carolina deserves a world-class research university and the awards confirm that these seven Clemson University faculty members are the top young engineers and scientists in their disciplines,” he said.

Rachel Getman points at a computer screen while working with her team.

“Having seven top award-winners already this year speaks highly of Clemson’s research environment, which bodes well for the entire state. Through research, we help create the jobs of the future, inspire a new generation of grand thinkers and conceive the innovations that overcome some of humankind’s most complex challenges.”

Ding, Getman and Ross won awards through the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program, often called the NSF CAREER award.

Scott and Wang received awards through the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program. Blenner’s award comes through the Early Career Faculty component of the NASA Space Technology Research Grants Program.

The awards were announced little more than a month after the university reached another key marker in research prominence.

The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education included Clemson in its R1 category for doctoral universities. The category is reserved for universities with the highest research activity.

Here are brief profiles of the award winners (Click the hyperlinks for more on their research):

Brandon Ross' research could help save buildings from becoming obsolete.

National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program Award (NSF CAREER Award):

  • Feng Ding, assistant professor of physics. He will use the $506,569 his team was awarded to better understand nanoparticles. They are tens to thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair and have helped improve everyday products ranging from baseball bats to eyeglasses. Nanoparticles show promise for engineering better medicines but have also raised concerns about environmental and biological safety.
  • Rachel Getman, assistant professor of chemical engineering. She will use the $503,922 her team received to explore new ways of making ammonia, a key ingredient in commercial fertilizers. The current method for making ammonia is expensive and energy-intensive, keeping it out of reach for about half the world. Getman and her team have a long-term goal of using water instead of hydrogen gas to create ammonia, which could lower the cost and amount of energy required.
  • Clemson professor Andy Tennyson speaks with a student in his lab on campus.Brandon Ross, assistant professor of civil engineering. His team has received $500,000 to help make buildings more adaptable to change so that fewer become obsolete and face the wrecking ball before their time. His team is developing a set of tools that helps measure building adaptability, similar to the LEED certification that recognizes best strategies and practices for making buildings environmentally friendly.
  • Andy Tennyson, assistant professor of inorganic chemistry. His $500,000 award will cover five years of research into modifying the artificial materials that go into the body as implants. His long-term goal is to help create medical implants that resist failure by preventing chemical degradation. He and his team hope that through their work, patients will be less likely to reject implants, preventing potentially life-threatening surgeries.

Joseph Scott will develop new mathematical techniques that could help the Air Force steer unmanned aircraft.

Fact: With the four new awards, Clemson now has 21 faculty members doing research as part of the NSF CAREER program, representing nearly $8.1 million in funding.

Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program Award:

  • Joseph Scott, assistant professor of chemical engineering. His team has received $330,000 and will use the money to develop mathematical techniques that account for uncertainties in the results of computer simulations. These techniques could help autonomous aircraft calculate trajectories that avoid danger without having to play it too safe. The Scott team believes these techniques could also be used for other applications, such as safety verification for chemical processes.
  • Yue “Sophie” Wang, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Her team has received $360,000 to help the Air Force overcome some of the challenges it faces in using teams of unmanned vehicles and other robots to carry out missions under human supervision. The primary focus of Wang’s research will be on helping the Air Force with high-priority missions that include intelligence-gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance. Wang also won a NSF CAREER award in 2015.

Yue "Sophie" Wang works with Khepera robots as part of her research.

Fact: Only 12 other institutions had multiple awards through the Air Force program this year, putting Clemson in the same club as Princeton University, the California Institute of Technology and North Carolina State University.

NASA Early Career Faculty Award

  • Mark Blenner, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. He received $600,000 for three years of research. Blenner and his team will study microbial synthesis of nutraceuticals and materials to enable long-term space exploration. The proposal focuses on engineering yeast to convert respiration carbon dioxide, algae biomass and human urine into nutritional omega-3 fats and 3D printable plastics. Blenner also won an award in 2015 through the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program.

Clemson professor Mark Blenner shows a student a piece of equipment in a lab.

Fact: Mark Blenner was among eight researchers from seven institutions in 2015 to win an award through NASA’s Early Career Faculty program, putting Clemson in the same club as Stanford University and Washington University in St. Louis.


Some of this material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under award numbers 1554385, 1553565 and 1553945. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.