Four UCSB assistant professors recently received awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF), granting them money to fund individual research projects on campus.

Assistant professors Jeffrey Bode, Patrick Daugherty, Ram Seshadri and Timothy Sherwood received their awards in late March as part of the NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER). According to the NSF website, the award – given to young, promising professors who submit a research proposal to the organization – is money which is allocated to help fund research and education in each winners’ field of study. The four researchers received $1,841,272 total in prize money, which will be allocated over a five-year period.

Bode, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, received the largest amount of funding, $575,000, to help develop a new catalyst for chemical reactions. Bode said these new catalysts could one day be used to develop biodegradable plastics or new pharmaceutical drugs.

“The most important thing is that this method does not generate any waste, as opposed to the normal process,” Bode said.

Because the grant is supposed to be used for both research and education, Bode said, sophomore students taking Chemistry 6B – the organic chemistry lab he teaches – will be able to experiment with this new catalyst and contribute to the research instead of doing normal organic chemistry lab reports.

Daugherty, an assistant professor of chemical engineering, said he plans to use his $400,000 in CAREER prize money to fund research about peptide and protein interactions in order to study the interaction of molecules.

“We intend to develop experimental methods to measure and engineer the specificity of one molecule interacting with another,” he said.

Daugherty said this information could help chemical engineers develop a more cost-effective way to produce protein-binding biomolecules, which control cell functions.

Assistant professor of materials Seshadri received a $466,272 grant to conduct research on magnets and the production of half metals. He said the research might be useful in spintronic circuits, made using the electronic properties of electrons, and in improving computer efficiency.

“The question is ‘Why are magnets half metals and others are not?'” Seshadri said.

By answering this question, Seshadri said engineers would be able to design spintronic circuits, which could hold more data, as well as manipulate data faster than a normal electronic circuit.

Sherwood, an assistant professor of computer science, said his $400,000 CAREER prize would allow him to design and build new hardware devices that protect computer users from security problems.

Sherwood said every computer, ranging from large corporate Web servers to family desktops, are subject to hacking, spam and other problems. He said he plans to design a specialized tiny computer that can be added into any electronic communications device, such as a laptop or a cell phone, to protect against threats to computer security.