February 2018 Newsletter: Khatami, Schuster Receive 2017 Early Career Investigator Award

By David Goll

Ehsan Khatami and David Schuster had nearly identical reactions to winning San Jose State University’s 2017-18 Early Career Investigator Award. Both assistant professors used the words “honored” and “humbled” to describe how they felt.

The annual award recognizes SJSU academics who are still early in their careers who have completed significant research, scholarship or creative activities (RSCA) in their chosen fields of research. A subcommittee that includes SJSU Research Foundation board members and SJSU faculty reviews each nomination for the award. The subcommittee reviews each nominee’s success in securing funds for RSCA and in publishing in peer-reviewed journals or carrying out other important scholarly or creative activities. Each awardee receives a $1,000 cash award, to be used at their discretion.

The assistant professors will be honored during the annual Celebration of Research, April 4 in the Diaz Compean Student Union, where they will give a presentation of recent work.

Khatami, who is a professor of physics in the College of Science Department of Physics and Astronomy, said he feels the award provides him incentive to do great work. He is credited with helping build his department’s first modern high-performance computational cluster. He has also — along with some of his students and in collaboration with such top-tier research institutions as MIT, Princeton University, Rice University and the University of California, Davis — conducted research projects in his field of Computational Physics, aspects of which are also known as solid state physics or condensed matter physics.

Now in his fourth year at San Jose State, Khatami, who also worked at Georgetown University and UC, Santa Cruz, said he is impressed with the level of support he has received for his research from departmental and university officials.

“It’s very encouraging to see that I have the freedom to pursue my research, with lots of room to grow,” he said. “But I also get to teach classes. I love to teach.”

Both Khatami and Schuster have been highly successful at pursuing grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) — as well as other organizations — to fund their research projects. Khatami helped secure a $900,000 grant as a co-principal investigator and Schuster received one for $500,000 from the NSF’s Early Career Development program. Khatami also individually secured a $171,000 grant from NSF.

The NSF grant for Schuster is a five-year award to support his work on improving cybersecurity in the private sector. Schuster is in his fifth year with the College of Social Sciences Department of Psychology and involved in the second year of work on his interdisciplinary research project.

“I feel great about the progress we have made so far,” he said. “This is such a tremendous opportunity, and we have the potential to get great results.”

Schuster and his students have been working with large technology companies “to try to make a dent in the many problems involving cybersecurity today. There are no easy fixes.”

He and his students are involved in the study of human factors, an interdisciplinary science and practice focusing on everything from ergonomics and workplace safety to product design and human-computer interaction.

“It is the intersection of psychology and engineering,” Schuster said. “These companies are interested in designing approaches incorporating technology and human behavior.”

Khatami is also pleased with his research progress, including projects publicized in such prestigious publications as Nature and Science. In the latter publication last fall, theorist Khatami and a team of experimentalist collaborators from Princeton reported their observation of an exotic magnetic phase of matter with ultra-cold atoms that may explain the workings of superconductivity at high temperatures. And in the past two years, Khatami has begun using artificial intelligence, or AI, in his research.

Khatami and Schuster to Receive Early Career Investigator Award

Left to right, Ian Cooke, Dr. Dave Schuster and Soham Shah pose for a photograph at San Jose State University, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Dr. Schuster has received a grant for cybersecurity research. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Left to right, Ian Cooke, Dr. Dave Schuster and Soham Shah pose for a photograph at San Jose State University, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Dr. Schuster has received a grant for cybersecurity research. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

Assistant Professor Ehsan Khatami, from the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Science, and Assistant Professor David Schuster, from the Department of Psychology in College of Social Sciences, have been chosen to receive the Early Career Investigator Award for 2017. Their selection was recommended by the Early Career Investigator Award Subcommittee, consisting of SJSU Research Foundation Board members and SJSU faculty. They will be honored at the annual SJSU Celebration of Research on April 4, 2018, from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. in the Diaz Compean Student Union ballroom. The event is open to the SJSU campus community.

The SJSU Research Foundation Early Career Investigator Awards recognize tenure-track SJSU faculty who have excelled in areas of research, scholarship or creative activity (RSCA) as evidenced by their success in securing funds for RSCA, publishing in peer-reviewed journals, and carrying out other important scholarly and creative activities at an early or beginning point in their careers at SJSU. One award goes to a faculty member in the College of Science or the College of Engineering, and another is made to a faculty member from the other colleges combined. Each winner receives a cash award of $1,000 to be used at their discretion.

In the three years since he joined the Physics & Astronomy faculty, Ehsan Khatami has made remarkable contributions to the computational infrastructure and capabilities in the department and college; published extensively in the highest-ranked science journals, including one paper in Nature and two in Science, with co-authors from institutions like MIT, Harvard, and Princeton; and served as research mentor for seven undergraduate and six graduate students.

Dr. Khatami was hired to help expand the department’s offerings in computational physics throughout the curriculum. The first project he undertook was to build the department’s first modern high-performance computational cluster, which is used extensively by students enrolled in big-data courses and undertaking computational research. Because of his computational expertise, Dr. Khatami joined Dr. Sen Chiao as Co-PI on the successful NSF Major Research Instrumentation proposal that funded the $900K supercomputer now installed at the Research Foundation. He also was awarded a three-year NSF Research at Undergraduate Institutions grant for his project on “Disorder in Strongly Correlated Systems.”

College of Science Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Ehsan Khatami had research published in September 2016.

College of Science Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Ehsan Khatami had research published in September 2016.

Dr. Khatami and his students have expanded their research focus to apply machine learning techniques to the solution of complex quantum problems, and one of his graduate students has been the lead author on two papers, one already published and highlighted in Physical Review X. This paper is just one of the 12 published and two submitted papers that Dr. Khatami and his collaborators have produced since he arrived at SJSU.

In addition, Dr. Khatami has been recognized by others outside the institution. In 2016, he was named one of only seven Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (KITP) Scholars. This three-year visiting position is awarded to faculty at teaching-intensive institutions who engage in ongoing research activity, and provides support for six weeks of travel to the KITP program at UC Santa Barbara. He has given several invited talks and has participated in national and international conferences, all of which spread the word about the outstanding research being done at San José State University.

David Schuster joined SJSU’s faculty in August 2013 and established himself early on as a highly productive grant writer and scholar.  His research is designed to increase understanding of individual and shared cognition in complex environments and is applicable to areas such as the cognitive aspects of cybersecurity, and perceptual training for real-world pattern recognition in such domains as aviation, transportation security training, and military human-robot interaction.

Dr. Schuster’s grant activity and success have been remarkable. He was granted the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for early career faculty, the CAREER Award, in 2016. Additionally, he serves as Co-PI with an SJSU colleague on a collaborative research NSF grant. He was also awarded a supplemental grant by NSF in support of undergraduate research training at SJSU. Dr. Schuster has been successful in his pursuit of internal grant funding as well, earning a number of awards in support of his research and the research of SJSU students.

Dr. Schuster has also been a productive scholar. He has one co-authored, peer-reviewed article this year, as well as one in press. He has authored four peer-reviewed articles in his short time at SJSU, as well as multiple peer-reviewed proceedings papers, two book chapters, and a number of invited research presentations.

Further, Dr. Schuster has made tremendous contributions to his students’ research productivity. He is serving, or has served, on five master’s thesis committees, chairing two, has an active research lab of undergraduate and graduate students. He also oversees the training of research assistants employed through his grants. He is highly committed to providing SJSU students with top-notch educational opportunities and research training.

Please join us in congratulating our two 2017 Early Career Investigator Award Winners.