Baratunde Cola Receives 2012 AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science

AAAS has named Baratunde A. Cola to receive the AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science, recognizing “his commitment to an exceptional research career while sharing his passion for science by engaging in creative outreach with teachers and students in underrepresented communities.”

He will receive the prize at an awards ceremony on 15 February at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts.

In particular, “Baratunde Cola has an impressive scientific record for one so early in his career, while at the same time engaging in substantial public outreach,” said Tiffany Lohwater, director of meetings and public engagement at AAAS. “His collaborative work with K-12 teachers to create broadly dispersed education materials in the fields of nanotechnology and energy conservation, from hands-on engineering competitions to nanotechnology-inspired art displays, is commended.”

Cola is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. His research is focused on fabricating and exploring

Baratunde Cola (Courtesy of Baratunde Cola)

Baratunde Cola
(Courtesy of Baratunde Cola)

the properties of nanostructured materials, surfaces, and interfaces to improve energy transport and conversion.

AAAS Chief Executive Officer Alan I. Leshner, executive publisher of the journal Science, commended Cola for his efforts as a champion for the scientific enterprise. “Going above and beyond his laudable research career, Dr. Cola shares his passion for science and engineering with a diversity of public audiences,” Leshner said. “He is an exceptional role model for the next generation of scientists and engineers.”

Cola received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Vanderbilt University and his Ph.D. in 2008 from Purdue University, all in mechanical engineering. At Purdue, he was honored with an Intel Foundation Fellowship, a Purdue Doctoral Fellowship, and a NASA Institute of Nanoelectronics and Computing Fellowship. He was also the recipient of the Purdue College of Engineering’s “Outstanding Dissertation Award” for his research on photoacoustic characterization of carbon nanotube array thermal interfaces. He is a recipient of a 2011 NSF CAREER Award and 2009 DARPA Young Faculty Award. President Barack Obama selected him to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientist and Engineers (PECASE) in 2012 for his work in nanotechnology, energy, and outreach to high school art and science teachers and students.

Cola has focused on public engagement on many fronts, working to inspire K-12 students and their teachers to learn about the latest research in nano- and energy technologies. He has formed new partnerships with teachers in many school districts to engage with hundreds of high school students, working with teachers to develop nanotechnology-focused lesson plans, and inspired art students and teachers to produce a nanotechnology-inspired public art display. He also negotiated to attain a tabletop scanning electron microscope for a science classroom at a high minority, low-income school and developed a hands-on engineering design competition to explore the fundamentals of heat transfer.

Cola’s “infectious passion for solving the world’s energy problems is apparent when he is working with teachers and students,” wrote Georgia Tech mathematics professor Richard Millman in his nomination letter. “Dr. Cola’s energy, charisma, and humor engages those interested as well as not interested in [science, technology, engineering and math] and inspires them to start thinking of our energy issues and how engineers are solving those problems every day.”

In the lab, Cola’s research is both fundamental and applied. His work is currently focused on characterization and design of thermal transport and energy conversion in nanostructures and devices. He is also interested in the scalable fabrication of organic and organic-inorganic hybrid nanostructures for novel use in technologies such as thermal interface materials, thermo-electrochemical cells, infrared and optical rectenna, and materials that can be tuned to regulate the flow of heat.

Established in 2010, the AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science recognizes the achievements of individual early-career scientists and engineers who have demonstrated significant contributions to public engagement activities while simultaneously pursuing a research career.

Read more about the AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement in Science.

Learn more about events at the 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting, 14-18 February in Boston.