Texas Engineers Earn NSF CAREER Awards

April 26, 2021

Three researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering have earned the National Science Foundation's prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards. The awards provide up to five years of funding to junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of their organizations’ missions.

Learn more about our 2021 NSF CAREER Award recipients and how the awards will advance their research and teaching efforts:

Audrey Boklage

Audrey Boklage

Research Associate, Center for Engineering Education, Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering 

Research Specialty: Engineering education, specifically examining makerspaces and how they can be more welcoming and inclusive to students and faculty of all backgrounds and disciplines

Background: A former high school science teacher, while Boklage was a postdoctoral researcher at Arizona State University, she and a group of colleagues were intrigued by the university makerspace. Some had positive experiences, while others didn't feel welcome. This experience motivated Boklage to start focusing on diversity and inclusion in makerspaces.

Boklage is working with the Cockrell School’s Texas Inventionworks to integrate promising practices that support inclusion. Texas Inventionworks is a leader in this field, Boklage said, and through her research, Boklage hopes to share these practices with other university makerspaces. She's worked with director Scott Evans to support an accessible scope of work that can help students and faculty learn how to use the cutting-edge machines available at Texas Inventionworks.

What the Award Means for the Researcher: There is an assumption, Boklage says, that makerspaces are bastions of collaboration and interaction. But that assumption isn't backed up by data, indicating it may not be the reality for all students. Boklage, who conducts research on learning, retention and inclusion as part of the Cockrell School’s Center for Engineering Education, wants to challenge that notion and study what's really going on to develop promising practices to make these innovation hubs more inclusive.

"I think this assumption that there is inherent magic in makerspaces misses the mark," Boklage said. "We will learn about where there isn't magic and what we can do to make it happen."

Filippo Mangolini

Filippo Mangolini

Assistant Professor, Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering

Research Specialty: Surface chemical reactions and transformations in materials exposed to extreme conditions and environments

Background: Mangolini grew up in Italy and studied there, as well as in Switzerland, France and the U.K. before joining The University of Texas at Austin in 2018. His research focuses on evaluating the phenomena occurring on material surfaces as well as at interfaces of materials in relative motion (think, a car engine or brakes).

Right now, his main focus is on ionic liquids, which are salts with a very low melting point that makes them liquid at room temperature. These salts have several potential applications as key components that could increase the energy efficiency of lubricants, enhance the energy storage of batteries, and they show promise for use in capturing carbon out of the atmosphere and as chemical solvents.

What the Award Means for the Researcher: Mangolini plans to create a new course focusing on tribology — the study of friction, wear and lubrication of materials and interaction of surfaces in motion — for mechanical engineering undergraduate students.

Beyond expanding his research and educational offerings, Mangolini plans to work with Student Veteran Services at UT Austin on outreach efforts to Austin’s large veteran population. He wants to create a pipeline to bring military veterans into his and other UT Austin research programs.

"I think we at UT can and should find ways to provide veterans greater exposure to higher education, including research and other opportunities to get back to a normal life after serving the country," he said.

Manuel Rausch

Manuel Rausch

Assistant Professor, Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, Department of Biomedical Engineering 

Research Specialty: Using experimental and computational tools to understand the mechanics and behavior of complex biological soft tissues in the body

Background: Originally from Germany, Rausch served as director of research and development at medical devices startup Micro Intentional Devices before returning to academia in 2015, when he became a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University. There, he became fascinated with blood and blood clots.

At UT Austin, Rausch is focused on understanding blood clots via fracture mechanics — the study of how and why things crack and break. Though heart attacks, strokes and other similar medical emergencies are typically categorized separately, they all can result from blood clots, making thrombosis one of the most common causes of death.

"We are hoping that our very fundamental work will, down the line, change the way we diagnose and treat patients with blood clot-related diseases," Rausch said.

What the Award Means for the Researcher: In addition to advancing his research, Rausch wants to increase public awareness of blood clots and their associated issues. He will work with UT’s Texas Institute for Discovery Education in Science to design a K-9 course in which students will make synthetic clots and learn by means of artificial, 3D-printed wound sites and deep veins, both the physiological and pathological roles of thrombus. The course will be available through the UTeach Outreach, a program that prepares students to become science teachers.

Rausch also plans to create an app and other tools that can be distributed to health clinics in Austin to teach people, specifically those in vulnerable populations, about preventative measures, self-diagnosis and self-care related to blood clot issues.