Multi-Million Dollar Grants Go to Two Graduate Center Professors

May 16, 2019

Professors Andrea Alù and Patrizia Casaccia win grants of up to $12.17 million for open-ended research in neuroscience and photonics - among the largest for the GC's Advanced Science Research Center.

Professors Patrizia Casaccia and Andrea Alù grant winners

Professors Patrizia Casaccia and Andrea Alù

Two researchers at The Graduate Center’s Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) won highly competitive and prestigious multi-year, multimillion dollar grants to support projects that address fundamental questions of science and that may lead to paradigm shifts in their fields.
Professor Patrizia Casaccia, the founding director of the ASRC’s Neuroscience Initiative and Einstein Professor of Biology at The Graduate Center, received a grant of up to $9.17 million over an eight-year period from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a division of the National Institutes of Health. Professor Andrea Alù, founding director of the ASRC’s Photonics Initiative and Einstein Professor of Physics at The Graduate Center, was awarded a U.S. Department of Defense’s Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship, which provides $3 million over five years.
“The recent awards for professors Casaccia and Alù reaffirm the idea behind the ASRC: When you bring together talented scientists working in world-class facilities, embedded within a leading university, great things can happen,” said Graduate Center Dean for the Sciences Joshua Brumberg. “While neuroscience and photonics are different fields, the commonality is that the research projects synergize interdisciplinary approaches and have the potential to cross over from the laboratory to society and advance medical imaging, telecommunications, and neurological disorders.”
The awards are among the latest for researchers at the ASRC, which will celebrate its fifth anniversary this October. The ASRC was designed to promote a collaborative, interdisciplinary culture. Researchers from each of its five initiatives — which also include Environmental Sciences, Nanoscience, and Structural Biology — work side by side in its core facilities, sharing equipment that is among the most advanced available.
Casaccia’s award is the largest grant to a Graduate Center faculty member to date. It will fund her lab’s investigation of the mechanisms regulating the function of glial cells in healthy brains and how these cells’ dysfunction contributes to the development of neurological diseases and mental disorders. The research grant, known as the NINDS R35, was created to allow exceptional scientists to stay focused on high-impact research and conduct ambitious, long-term projects that hold promise for society.
“I am extremely grateful to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for this award,” Casaccia said. “The experiments set forth in this grant will push the boundaries of traditional science and develop new concepts inspired by the interdisciplinary science conducted at the ASRC. This grant will allow us to work with biophysicists, chemists, structural biologists, and physicists to explore novel approaches and strategies to promote and activate the regenerative properties of progenitor cells in the adult brain.”
Alù’s fellowship will support his work to develop novel materials that enable extreme wave manipulation in the context of thermal radiation and heat management. Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellows are free to pursue unfettered research, with the results of their work informing the Department of Defense’s research and efforts to train the next generation of scientists and engineers. The fellowship is the department’s most prestigious single-investigator fellowship, awarded to top-tier researchers whose high-risk, high-payoff work is of strategic importance.
“I am very honored and excited to have been selected for the Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship,” said Alù. “The award will fund interdisciplinary research that incorporates a broad swath of science — including nano-optics, electrical engineering, condensed matter physics, material science, and mathematics — to develop an original paradigm for thermal metamaterials.”