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This year, Sharani Roy and Sarah Lebeis will join the exclusive group of College of Arts and Sciences faculty to be honored with a National Science Foundation CAREER award—one of the highest honors an early-career faculty member can receive.

The CAREER award indicates great promise in a burgeoning faculty member, and those selected receive a five-year grant toward their particular research project. Applicants must show great promise in their research as well as devotion to higher education.

This is a significant achievement for the College of Arts and Sciences. To date, the department has received nine awards; Roy and Lebeis will constitute the 10th and 11th.

“NSF CAREER awards are designed to prepare tenure-track faculty for a lifetime of outstanding research and education service,” said Drew Haswell, research coordinator for the college.

Sharani RoyRoy, an assistant professor of chemistry, focuses her research primarily on surface chemistry, a field that seeks to understand the chemical reactions that take place between gases and solid surfaces. These chemical processes can be found everywhere from the weathering of rocks to the interstellar formation of molecules.

Her research attempts to develop newer, more accurate methods of studying surface chemistry that extend beyond previous concepts of molecular dynamics simulations.

In addition to developing courses on computational chemistry, surface chemistry, and scientific computing, she has partnered with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to organize a symposium on surface chemistry.

Sarah LebeisLebeis, an assistant professor of microbiology, is interested in the future of agriculture and food production. Her work seeks to deviate from the tradition of nonrenewable chemical fertilizers, focusing instead on harnessing the power of plant microbiomes to encourage growth.

The educational component of Lebeis’s award will come in the form of community outreach that will, according the NSF website, “provide education, resources, and training to local and regional communities, targeting underrepresented groups.”

Of the almost 800 applicants in her category, Roy was one of about 170 chosen for funding. In Lebeis’s category of approximately 400, fewer than 50 were selected.

Six faculty members from UT’s Tickle College of Engineering also received CAREER awards this year:

  • Steve Abel, assistant professor, chemical and biomolecular engineering—modeling the physics of immune cells
  • Daniel Costinett, assistant professor, electrical engineering and computer science and co-director of education and diversity in the Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks—improving power electronics
  • Siris Laursen, assistant professor, chemical and biomedical engineering—developing inexpensive catalysts
  • Joshua Sangoro, assistant professor, chemical and biomedical engineering—unraveling the molten salt mystery
  • Andy Sarles, assistant professor, mechanical, aerospace, and biomedical engineering—unlocking the secrets of cell interactions
  • Tim Truster, assistant professor, civil and environmental engineering—understanding why materials fail


Will Wells (

Andrea Schneibel (, 865-974-3993)