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Research Success Starts Early

July 9, 2004

Mary Ann Travis
Michael DeMocker

The Tulane University Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers--funded by an endowment established with a round-three Wall Fund grant of $500,000--does more than pat new faculty members on the back. The award "reinforces the importance of research at Tulane," said John Clements, professor and chair of microbiology and a principal investigator on the grant proposal. There are young researchers at Tulane who have the potential to be "true scientific leaders in the next decade," he said.

tulsp04_wall6However, these "superior incoming faculty members need help through the initial hurdles to success." The award provides help in the form of extra time and support to rising research stars so they can concentrate on developing their research programs.

Yunfeng Lu, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, is the first recipient of the three-year funding award that amounts to approximately $20,000 annually. New recipients will be named each year.

Lu works in the nanorealm, studying ex-tremely small structures. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. At the nanostructure scale, materials have properties radically different from materials of conventional bulk.

In Lu's lab, postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate students are engaged in what many think is a new industrial revolution--the nanotechnology revolution--where structural and interactive properties of materials at the molecular level take over, allowing bottom-up fabrication in contrast to traditional top-down methods of manufacturing.

Lu focuses on the self-assembly of materials in the nanorealm. Computer chip fabrication, chemical and biological thin-film sensors, high-efficiency solar cells and thermoelectrics for converting heat energy to electricity are among the applications for Lu's research.

Lu has already been awarded more than $1 million in research grants from external funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research. He's published 41 journal articles, one book chapter and has 17 patents and patents-applied-for. In 2003, he received the Young Investigator Award from the Office of Naval Research--the first ever for a Tulane faculty member.

The National Science Foundation also awarded Lu its CAREER award for faculty early career development. Lu is just the kind of researcher Tulane wants to attract and keep. Gary McPherson, professor of chemistry and associate dean of the liberal arts and sciences faculty, said that recommendations from Lu's doctoral advisers at the Sandia National Laboratories and the University of New Mexico, where he earned his PhD in 1998, placed him in the category of "walks on water."

Nick Altiero, dean of the School of Engineering, said, "We are delighted to have attracted a faculty member of Dr. Lu's caliber to Tulane. It is now incumbent upon us to keep him here and do all we can to help him reach his maximum potential." Helping junior faculty members reach their full potential is precisely the objective of the Presidential Early Career Award.

Yvette Jones, senior vice president for external affairs, said the award's aim is to "help free up time for young faculty who we really believe have the potential to move their research along in a fast manner." While research is important, Lu says that excellence in both research and teaching is his ultimate career goal.

Lu vows, "I will build a successful career at Tulane through endless hard work; greater patience, care and responsibility for students; and promoting the visibility of Tulane in the science and engineering communities." For more about Lu, visit Lu's Tulane website at


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