Mechanical engineering associate professor Franck Vernerey has been awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest U.S. government honor awarded to promising scientists and researchers beginning their careers.
In a statement, President Barack Obama congratulated the 102 newest award recipients. “These innovators are working to help keep the United States on the cutting edge, showing that Federal investments in science lead to advancements that expand our knowledge of the world around us and contribute to our economy,” said Obama.
“It is a great honor to receive an award from the White House. I did not expect it, and it came as a wonderful surprise,” said Vernerey, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and a Vogel faculty fellow. “I feel that this distinction is much more than just a recognition of my current research directions — it is a special inspiration for me to excel in research and gives me the freedom to pursue novel, perhaps risker ideas.”
Vernerey’s work centers on understanding soft matter, a peculiar class of materials that ranges from polymers to gels to micron-scale particles. The materials can be synthetized to perform active tasks and possess properties reminiscent of biological tissues and cells, giving them the potential for use in nano-medicine, tissue regeneration and individualized drug delivery strategies.
“In 2017 and beyond, we will increase our efforts to use mathematical modeling to explore the physics and mechanics of polymers, hydrogels and lipid membranes and seek to tailor their functionalities for optimized interactions with biological materials,” said Vernerey.
Vernerey and his colleagues in other CU Boulder labs will use computational simulations to “program” the function of hydrogels to act as scaffolds that can support the regeneration of biological tissue in the hope that the research will enable ways to replenish tissues of injured, infected or aging patients.
The group will also explore the structure and function of micron-sized carriers (such as micro-bubbles or vesicles that can carry drugs through the body) that are used for both diagnosis and therapeutic applications. A better understanding of the interactions between soft particles and the surrounding tissue could enable much more efficient and targeted systems to fight a number of diseases such as cancer.
“Going forward, we will work to ensure that our theoretical approaches will be critical to applications that will make an impact to the real world, with a particular emphasis on personalized medicine,” said Vernerey.
Vernerey also expressed gratitude to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Vogel faculty fellowship for supporting his research.
“This work would not be possible without our sponsors, the great interactions with colleagues at CU Boulder, the hard work of my graduate students and the support of my family,” said Vernerey.
Vernerey is one of three CU Boulder affiliates to win the Early Career Award in 2017. The others are Anne Perring of CIRES / NOAA and John Teufel of NIST.