Vanderbilt engineer named one of nation’s top young scientists

A Vanderbilt University engineer was named a winner of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on young professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Sharon Weiss, assistant professor of electrical engineering, was among 100 researchers named Thursday by President Obama. The recipients will receive their awards at a White House ceremony this fall. They also will receive up to a $1 million five-year research grant for support of critical government missions.

Weiss was nominated for the PECASE by the Army Research Office, Department of Defense. Nine federal departments and agencies annually nominate researchers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for strengthening the nation’s leadership in science and technology and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions.

Weiss’ research involves sensors made from porous silicon, a material with billions of tiny nanometer-sized holes (1,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair). The extraordinarily large internal surface area of porous silicon facilitates the capture of biomolocules. By evaluating how light interacts with the porous silicon, it is possible to detect the presence of trace amounts of biological material. Sensors made in her photonic crystals laboratory have been used to identify specific DNA sequences and will be used to detect various toxins and viruses. More details on her group activities and research can be found at

“I am honored that my nanoscale biosensing research will be recognized on the national stage,” Weiss said. “I hope it helps emphasize the importance of accurate and reliable detection of biological and chemical materials that is essential for improved medical diagnostics, environmental monitoring, and homeland security.”

Weiss won a National Science Foundation CAREER award in 2008, providing her with $400,000 in research funding over five years. Weiss was also awarded a Young Investigator Program award from the Army Research Office in 2009.

“I’m thrilled that the extraordinary potential of this outstanding faculty member is being recognized by the Department of Defense and by the president of the United States,” said Kenneth F. Galloway, dean of the School of Engineering. “A PECASE and its support will have a lasting effect on Professor Weiss’ research career, and it reflects on the reputation of the school and its emphasis on exceptional research.”

Weiss joined the Vanderbilt engineering faculty in 2005. She has a secondary appointment as assistant professor of physics and is a member of the Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

Media Contact: Brenda Ellis, (615) 343-6314

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