Math Hires 1st Berger-Leighton Professor of Mathematics

Bonnie BergerThis spring, the Brandeis Department of Mathematics completed their search for the first Berger-Leighton Professor of Mathematics with the hiring of Dr. Daniel Alvarez-Gaviella, currently an Assistant Professor at MIT. Dr. Alvarez-Gaviella will be joining Brandeis in July 2024, after staying for one more year at MIT.

This new tenure-track faculty position is the result of the generous gift by Bonnie Berger ’83, a former Brandeis trustee and the Simons Professor of Mathematics at MIT, and her husband, Dr. Tom Leighton, Professor of Applied Mathematics at MIT and CEO and cofounder of Akamai Technologies. Brandeis Mathematics Chair Olivier Bernardi had this to say about the hire: “Dr. Alvarez-Gaviella is a superb scholar, and an individual who embodies all the qualities that Brandeis ought to represent. Dr. Alvarez-Gaviella is already collaborating with Brandeis Professor Kiyoshi Igusa on an ambitious research project aimed at importing sophisticated algebraic results (first developed by Prof. Igusa and his collaborators), to bear fruition in the context of symplectic geometry. The Math Department was unanimously enthusiastic about Dr. Alvarez-Gaviella and excited to see him come and develop at Brandeis, and contribute to the renewal of the Department.”

Piasta Receives the Louis Dembitz Brandeis Prize for Excellence in Teaching

Kene PiastaKene Piasta, Assistant Professor of Biology, has been presented the 2023 Louis Dembitz Brandeis Prize for Excellence in Teaching. This prestigious award is given each year to a faculty member of any rank that exhibits outstanding teaching skills. Piasta was selected by Dorothy Hodgson, the Dean of Arts and Sciences based upon recommendations from a faculty committee (including previous prize recipients) and input from the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. Decisions are based on student nominations, teaching evaluations, Faculty Activity Reports and CVs.

Liz Hedstrom, Professor of Biology and Chemistry and Biology Department Chair, said “Kene is a remarkable educator and an exceptionally worthy recipient of the LDB Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Kene has a gift for making dry subjects like statistics engaging without losing rigor and he somehow manages to create personal interactions in the largest introductory courses.  We are very lucky to have him at Brandeis.”

Piasta received his PhD in Biochemistry from Brandeis University in 2011.

Congratulations, Kene!

Lachman & Brandeis participating in multi-site Center for AI-technology to support aging in place

Margie LachmanThe National Institute on Aging has funded a new Center, the Massachusetts AI and Technology Center for Connected Care in Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease (MassAITC) for $20 million over 5 years. Based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, it also includes investigators from Brigham and Women’s and Massachusetts General Hospitals, Northeastern University, and Brandeis University. Margie E. Lachman, the Minnie and Harold Fierman Professor of Psychology, is the PI of the Center’s Aging Pilot Core. This Pilot core will fund several pilot grants each year. Lachman is also director of the Lifespan Lab and the Boston Roybal Center at Brandeis.

The MassAITC focuses on  the development, validation, and translation of AI and technologies to bridge the information gap between patients, caregivers, and clinicians to support successful aging at home. The Pilot program will focus on testing technology solutions that address key risk factors facing older adults such as obesity, high blood pressure, sleep disorders, depression, loneliness, anxiety, falls, and a sedentary lifestyle. Technology-based interventions are a promising way to improve quality of life, enhance individual choices, reduce caregiver stress, and cut healthcare costs in older adults.

Additionally, Lachman recently received the Distinguished Mentorship in Gerontology Award from the Gerontological Society of America. This award is given to an individual who has fostered excellence in, and had a major impact on, the field by virtue of their mentoring, and whose inspiration is sought by students and colleagues.

Gieseking Receives NSF CAREER Award

Figure from Rebecca GiesekingRebecca Gieseking, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, has received an NSF CAREER award from the Chemical Theory, Models and Computational Methods program. This award will enable her research group to develop computational models that provide chemical understanding of how light interacts with metal nanoclusters.

Harnessing solar energy is crucial to reduce humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels and alleviate the environmental impact of our ever-increasing demand for energy. Noble metal nanoclusters containing tens to hundreds of metal atoms have the potential to revolutionize solar energy technologies by harnessing light to produce chemical fuels. These nanoclusters strongly absorb light because they support plasmons, which are collective oscillations of the electrons. Understanding, controlling, and manipulating the plasmon properties is key to improving the efficiency of solar energy storage.

Rebecca has shown that efficient computational models can accurately model the light absorption of metal nanocluster, and her group is now extending these models to understand the decay processes after metal nanoclusters absorb light. They are using these models to understand how these decay processes change as a function of nanocluster size, shape, and composition to design metal nanoclusters with controllable decay time scales for efficient solar energy storage.

Bulbul Chakraborty Elected AAAS Fellow

Bulbul ChakrabortyBulbul Chakraborty, the Enid and Nate Ancell Professor of Physics and head of the Division of Science, has been named a Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This honor is in recognition of Professor Chakraborty’s important theoretical contributions in the area of condensed matter physics, particularly disordered systems including frustrated magnets and granular materials.

Chakraborty has been a Brandeis faculty member since 1989. She is a condensed matter theorist who is currently focused on understanding the emergence of rigidity in solids that emerge in strongly nonequilibrium processes such as jamming or gelation.

A virtual induction ceremony for the newly elected Fellows will be held in February 2021.

Read more: BrandeisNow

Grace Han named Landsman Career Development Chair in the Sciences

Grace Han, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, has been appointed the Landsman Career Development Chair in the Sciences. Lisa Lynch, Provost and Dorothy Hodgson, Dean of Arts and Sciences, noted that Han’s work as a “scholar, a teacher, and an advisor, makes [her] highly deserving of the Landsman Chair.”

Grace directs the Han Group at Brandeis. This lab, whose scientific inquiry focuses on light-matter interaction in various material systems that range from photo-switching molecules to inorganic 2D crystals.  Her team seeks to develop optically-controlled molecular switches for energy conversation and storage and optoelectronic applications.

Grace’s research has resulted in a project, “Optically-Controlled Functional Heat Storage Materials,” which was featured in Chemical and Engineering News upon being granted Brandeis SPROUT Awards in 2019 and again in 2020.  In this work, the Han Group developed materials that recycle waste heat from a running engine and warm up frozen oil upon triggering to facilitate car startups in northern climes.  The Han Group is currently developing the initial prototype for the device containing the functional energy material.

At Brandeis, Grace teaches “Inorganic Chemistry,” “Polymer and Inorganic Materials Chemistry,” and “Chemistry Colloquium.”  She is co-chair of the Graduate Student Admissions Committee and of the Departmental Colloquium Committee and is also a member of the Graduate Studies Committee. Grace has most recently co-authored articles for the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Chemistry of Materials, and ACS Nano.

The Landsman Chair was established in 2015 through a gift from Dr. Emanuel Landsman. The Landsman Chair reflects his deep commitment to nurturing rising young scientists.

Longtime supporters of the University, Manny and his wife, Sheila Landsman, also gifted the funds used to build the Landsman Research Facility. This is the structure that houses an 800 MHz magnetic resonance spectrometer. The 15,000-pound superconducting magnet is used by scientists to search for solutions to neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.  Dr. Landsman co-founded the American Power Conversion Corporation, served on the Brandeis University Science Advisory Council for many years, and was named a Brandeis Fellow in 2008.  The Landsmans’ grandson, Wiley Krishnaswamy, is a member of the Class of 2020.

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