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.

Cheruzel Research Lab Connects Students to Skills

Dr. Lionel Cheruzel, an associate professor of chemistry in the College of Science, has been working on light-driven biocatalysts work with students in his research lab since joining San Jose State in 2009.

“We are making good progress, thanks to a great team of research students over the years,” he said, on a Friday afternoon in his Duncan Hall office.

Cheruzel will be sharing his research on Oct. 19, at noon, in MLK 255/257, as part of the fall 2016 University Scholars Series. His research is currently funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, and he strives to offer opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds in his lab.

Most semesters he has 15 to 20 students working with him on biocatalysts that may someday create green and sustainable synthesis pathways for pharmaceuticals, fragrances and fine chemicals. He and his students have published 10 articles since 2010. He focuses on recruiting undergraduate students, but also hosts high school interns during the summer and supports graduate-level researchers.

“I like recruiting lower division students because they can stay in the lab longer – for three or four years,” he said. “I get to see them grow as a researcher.”

Cheruzel recruits his students from chemistry, biology and engineering classes. For the last three years, Mallory Kato, ’09 Chemistry, ’13 MS Chemistry, has helped with the experiments and managing the lab.

Like Cheruzel, Kato enjoys working with students in the lab, and she sees the benefit of lab work to understanding the curriculum from her own experience as a student.

Chemistry master’s student Caroline Harmon and Evelynn Henry, ’16 Biochemistry, said one of the greatest things they learned from Cheruzel is how to conduct research with limited resources.

“The way Dr. C uses things in an original way – making it work for what he needs – is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned,” Harmon said. “Sometimes I can see how the wheels are churning.”

Henry placed as a finalist in the 2016 SJSU Student Research Competition for her project with Cheruzel as her faculty mentor.

“We are getting to apply things we learned,” she said. “It is very different. I learned a lot on site, and it made me appreciate my education.”

While Cheruzel said he enjoys teaching, his true passion is working with students in the lab.


“Research makes me happy,” he said.

Faculty Are Invited to Apply for University Grants Academy

Members of the University Grants Academy meet for a work session as a deadline approaches in their grant process. The inaugural academy provided support to two cohorts of faculty members.

Members of the University Grants Academy meet for a work session as a deadline approaches in their grant process. The inaugural academy provided support to two cohorts of faculty members.

Professors Amy D’Andrade and John Lee will again be leading the San Jose State University Grants Academy (UGA) program, with two informational sessions planned for September for tenured/tenure track faculty members who are interested in applying to participate this year.

Of the 2015-16 participants, 20 participants had completed a full proposal by the end of the program and as of the end of July, ten UGA participants had submitted proposals to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and other private funders for a combined total of nearly $4 million. Others have upcoming submission deadlines for proposals.

“In addition to these concrete outcomes, each of the UGA participants learned how to access the campus units and partners who will support them through the process of grant writing and grant submission, and made connections with successful SJSU grant writers who served as mentors,” D’Andrade said.

Two Informational Sessions: Thursday, Sept. 8, from noon to 1 p.m. via WebEx (email amy.dandrade@sjsu.edu for an invitation) and Friday, Sept. 9, from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., in IRC 210

Contact Info: Professor Amy D’Andrade, UGA Director, amy.dandrade@sjsu.edu

Website Link: http://www.sjsu.edu/research/funding/funding-opportunities/uga/

“Participants became more adept at all the major steps involved with writing an external grant proposal,” said D’Andrade, a social work professor and associate dean for research in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts. “After the UGA, participants reported feeling much more capable of locating a funder, drafting a budget and writing a strong proposal narrative for an external grant.”

The UGA launched in fall 2015 as an opportunity for faculty members to gain advice and insight on applying for external grants to support their research. Candidates who were selected had a viable project and were ready to apply for external funding. In addition to assigned time of 0.2, the program included informational sessions held in the fall, with representatives from the Office of Research, Research Foundation, University Advancement and the Center for Faculty Development. In addition, the 24 faculty participants received mentoring from SJSU faculty members who successfully received external grant funding, and received multiple reviews of their proposal drafts from UGA peers, campus experts, mentors and senior scholars from outside the university.

“The inaugural participants contributed several constructive ideas on how the program can be made even better,” said Lee, a professor of mechanical engineering in the Charles. W. Davidson College of Engineering. “They had suggestions on modifying the structure, sizing and sequencing of activities so that feedback could be used more interactively and constructively. I really look forward to benefitting from their suggestions in the next go-around.

First-year participant Child and Adolescent Development Associate Professor Nadia Sorkhabi, from the Connie L. Lurie College of Education, had a strong publication record and had largely been conducting research using intramural grants, which she believed provided her with an empirical basis to apply for external funding.

“By attending the talks and workshops, and consulting individually with Dr. Amy D’Andrade, Dr. Gilles Muller, Dr. Pamela Stacks and others, the most daunting aspects of grant writing – such as budget – were made manageable and even simple,” Sorkhabi said. “We also received invaluable emotional and motivational support, and encouragement, which I believe is among the most important impediments in undertaking grant writing.”

Professor Cay Horstmann, who teaches computer science in the College of Science, said he applied to participate in the UGA to get support in applying for external funding. While he has been at SJSU for many years during which he has been actively involved in publishing books and conducting research with graduate students, he had been unaware that the National Science Foundation (NSF) is now providing significant funding to universities whose primary mission is teaching

“I didn’t know that, and there is definitely money available for computer science education,” he said.

One of the key things Horstmann appreciated about the UGA was the opportunity to learn about other research interests on campus.

“It puts us together with other people – otherwise you are a lone player,” he said, noting that he met a colleague who is working with an NSF grant on math education and that they may be able to collaborate in the future.

D’Andrade said she appreciated the chance to get to know other faculty on campus, but also to see their work come together.

“In addition to having the opportunity to become acquainted with a great group of creative and determined faculty, it was wonderful to see all the proposals come together over the semester, piece by piece, and to see the list of all proposal titles at our final celebration,” D’Andrade said.

NSF Awards SJSU $900K for New Computing Equipment

Sen Chiao

Sen Chiao

San Jose State University professors Sen Chiao, Ehsan Khatami, Kamran Turkoglu, Brooke Lustig and Aaron Romanowsky have received a $900,798 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Their project, “MRI: Acquisition of Hybrid CPU/GPU High Performance Computing and Storage for STEM Research and Education at San Jose State University,” will support the purchase of new equipment that will benefit students.

The funding will primarily be used to purchase a high-performance computing (HPC) system to provide faculty and students regular access to a modern, on-campus facility for computational science and engineering research.

“As a key hub for STEM fields in the San Francisco Bay Area, this facility will promote the progress of science and engineering, as well as offer a wide diversity of experiences for our students, through required laboratory courses and research opportunities,” said Chiao, the principal investigator on the grant.

The interdisciplinary project includes faculty and students from biological sciences, chemistry, computer science, aerospace engineering, computer engineering, meteorology and climate science, physics, astronomy, mathematics and statistics.

The new equipment will add to SJSU’s ability to train students in the fields of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and information technology. Chiao estimated that more than 200 students a year would benefit from access to the HPC system in STEM-related courses or research.

Some of the projects that will be undertaken with the new computing system include: on-demand numerical weather prediction, assimilation, and analysis (Atmospheric Science); dynamical modeling of orbits and dark matter in gas-poor galaxies (Physics and Astronomy); computational modeling of Tat peptide mutants binding to BIV TAR RNA and protein-protein interfaces (Biochemistry); quantum mechanical properties of materials in the atomic scale (Physics and Astronomy); guidance and trajectory optimization strategies in presence of wind, and spacecraft and orbital trajectory optimization (Aerospace Engineering); genomic assessment of adaptation, and pharmacological and evolutionary perspective on bioactive compounds in marine invertebrates (Biological Science); high-resolution simulations of weather phenomena, dust transport, and climate on Mars (Planetary Science); and efficient algorithms for modeling large amount of data in high dimensions (Mathematics and Statistics)

Chiao is the director of the Center for Applied Atmospheric Research and Education (CAARE), funded with another NSF grant.

“This new facility will enable many further follow-up projects with CAARE, including cross-disciplinary collaborations as well as participation from the wider SJSU community,” he said.

SJSU Assistant Professor receives NSF CAREER Award

Dr. David Schuster

Dr. David Schuster

San Jose State University Assistant Professor Dr. David Schuster has received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program Award (NSF CAREER Award). Schuster is a professor of psychology and teaches in the interdisciplinary Human Factors and Ergonomics program. He will be conducting research on “Understanding Human Cognition in Computer Network Defense.”

While a large part of cyber security involves automated processes, Schuster is interested in the human-decision making required of cyber security specialists and the need for professional development/training to prepare individuals for employment in the field. His goal is to develop training that will increase access to cyber security careers, especially for underrepresented groups.

Read the full abstract of his proposal.

The prestigious NSF CAREER award was given out to 159 researchers from 2010-2015 nationwide. SJSU received the only CSU award during that time period in 2012, when Dr. Craig Clements, meteorology and climate science, was awarded for his research entitled “Toward a Better Understanding of Wildfire-Atmosphere Interactions-Integrating Fire Weather Research and Education.”

Other SJSU faculty members to receive an NSF CAREER Award include:

  • 2006, Xiao Su, Computer Engineering, CAREER: Integrated Coding and Content Delivery for Secure Media Streaming on P2P Networks
  • 2005, Dr. Eugene Cordero, Meteorology & Climate Science, CAREER: Connections between Stratospheric Perturbations and Climate Change – Research and Teaching Integration
  • 2005, Dr. Ferdinand Rivera, Mathematics & Statistics,CAREER: Developing a Mathematical Knowledge Base for Teaching and Learning Generalization in Basic Algebra at the Middle-Grades in Urban Contexts