Praised by their graduate students for their scientific competence, work ethic, creativity and compassion, two ATLAS professors received Outstanding Faculty Mentor awards from CU Boulder’s Graduate school on May 3, an honor bestowed this year on only 18 faculty members campus-wide.
Ellen Yi-Luen Do, professor of computer science and director of the ACME Lab, and Carson Bruns, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Emergent Nanomaterials Lab, were both honored for outstanding contributions to mentoring individual graduate students and the quality of their interactions with them.
Their nomination materials showcased their many contributions in mentoring graduate students and supporting the mission of graduate education, while supporting their students’ career development and individual growth.
Bruns’ research focuses on emergent nanomaterials—engineering matter at the smallest of scales to create materials with particular properties. His group has received wide recognition for its work on “smart tattoos," which have the potential to impart new properties to skin.
Jesse Butterfield, an ATLAS-affiliated PhD candidate and alumnus of the Emergent Nanomaterials Lab, said that Bruns regularly comes up with “brilliant ideas for impactful scientific work.” One such idea—the use of invisible tattoo inks to protect skin from UV light and the cancers it causes—forms the backbone of Butterfield’s PhD studies.
“He spends more time with his grad students than any other advisor that I’m aware of, and with some of them by orders of magnitude,” Butterfield said. “He gives each of us his full attention.”
Bruns always pushes his students to work on their career goals, even when it slows progress within the lab, Butterfield adds, including when two students wanted to take time out to intern with companies of interest, and when Butterfield wanted to teach an undergraduate class.
Butterfield said Bruns’ kindness has been unwavering since they began working together in 2017. “I give the strongest recommendation possible for awarding Carson, in large part due to his capabilities and strengths in his work, but also for his personal qualities, which allow him to continuously raise up the people around him. He is one of those rare people who constantly makes those around him better.”
Ellen Yi-Luen Do
In Ellen Do’s ACME Lab, students are engaged in a wide range of projects, from alternative game control, to immersive musical jam sessions, to robotics for wellness, to visual analytics, toys to promote child development and generative art.
Despite the breadth of their work, she tells her nine PhD and two master’s students that she is always available: “only an email or door away.”
And on any given day, the ACME Lab is a busy central hub, buzzing and flowing with undergraduate and graduate students, says ATLAS PhD Student Sandra Bae. “Ellen has cultivated a lab culture where her students warmly welcome any student interested in research to join our weekly lab meetings, directly mentor undergraduate or master’s students for their capstone projects or simply invite others to socialize. She understands the importance of a social support system where the lab functions as a family.”
Bae points out that Do is excellent at harnessing and directing the interests of her students. “Her mentoring strength comes from how observant she is,” says Bae.
“As a PhD advisee of Ellen’s, her influence is imprinted on my life,” Bae said. “She is my academic mentor, who listened to my first conference presentation five times in a row; my senior, who taught me how to treat friends and myself with compassion; my spiritual leader, who motivates me with her delightful energy; my personal role model, who helps me, another Asian-American woman, be more confident that I belong and can succeed in academia.”