Exploring the deepest reaches of space for newly formed stars, building cameras that can see around corners, and helping make solar energy conversion more efficient-Boston University’s three latest American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) fellows are pursuing research that spans the size scale, from studying single photons to an entire galaxy.
Every year, AAAS honors scientists across the country for their pioneering or outstanding contributions to their disciplines. BU’s 2023 honorees include an astrophysicist, a chemist, and an electrical engineer.
“AAAS is proud to elevate these standout individuals and recognize the many ways in which they’ve advanced scientific excellence, tackled complex societal challenges and pushed boundaries that will reap benefits for years to come,” said Sudip S. Parikh, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of the Science family of journals.
Get to know more about BU’s latest fellows and their work below.
Catherine Espaillat, Astronomy
As an astrophysicist, Catherine Espaillat and her team study the formation of planets. Their work is based on the observation of protoplanetary disks-dense balls of gas and dust surrounding newly formed stars that contain the raw materials to form planets or planetary cores. Much of this work relies on examining theoretical models of disks, as well as observing the disks of young stars in the galaxy. Both are critical to our understanding of planets and thanks to Espaillat, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor and director of undergraduate studies for astronomy, those processes are more comprehensive.
Espaillat and her team have “bridged the gap between theoretical models and the observable properties of young stars and their disks,” through multiwavelength observation, she says. “My goal is to obtain observational constraints that will lead us to a far more complete and quantitative view of planet formation, as well as to predictions of observable signatures of the planet assembly process.” Not only will that set the stage for future studies with ground-based and space telescopes like NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, but it will also “play an important role in shaping debates on the habitability of exoplanets and exomoons, leading to a better understanding of our own origins.”
She hopes being honored by AAAS will help advance her research. “I am thrilled to see my work recognized with this lifetime honor,” says Espaillat, who’s also director of BU’s Institute for Astrophysical Research. “I am dedicated to advancing science and teaching others about the universe.”
Vivek Goyal, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Vivek Goyal’s work in computational imaging combines elements of signal processing, statistics, computation, physics, and more-all to help us see and observe the world with greater clarity. His research has included projects examining how few photons are needed to capture accurate images with a camera and how to take photos of something hidden from view.
In 2019, Goyal, a College of Engineering professor and associate chair of doctoral programs for electrical and computer engineering, and his team demonstrated that non-line-of-sight imaging (NLOS)-a process that reconstructs hidden objects through diffuse light reflections off surfaces in an environment-was possible using simpler equipment than previously thought. “Our work shows that NLOS imaging is possible using only an ordinary digital camera and relatively simple computational algorithms. Based on this, it is even conceivable for humans to be able to learn to see around corners with their own eyes; it does not require anything superhuman,” Goyal wrote in a Nature Communities blog post after publishing a paper on the project in Nature Communications.
Goyal has won multiple awards from the IEEE Signal Processing Society, including nods for best paper and for his service as an editorial board member.
“While individual recognition is exhilarating,” he says of the AAAS fellowship, “this honor is due to the luxury of working with a collection of brilliant students. To be able to go on creative adventures with them is its own reward.”
Malika Jeffries-EL, Chemistry
Malika Jeffries-EL’s research focuses on the development of organic semiconductors (OSCs), a unique class of materials that combine the processing properties of polymers with the electronic properties of semiconductors. OSCs are used in items such as smartphone displays and artificial organs like pacemakers. They’re often more convenient to work with than their inorganic counterparts, as they’re cheaper to produce and have more flexible mechanical properties. Jeffries-EL, a CAS professor of chemistry and associate dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, and her team explore their use in applications like light-emitting diodes and solar energy conversion.
In addition to her research, Jeffries-EL is a fellow of the American Chemical Society and of the Royal Society of Chemistry. She has also been an active participant in CAS’ diversity and inclusion initiatives, and is nationally recognized for advancing diversity in the STEM fields.
“I am excited to receive this honor because it is a major acknowledgement of my contributions for the advancement of science,” says Jeffries-EL. “In particular, I am glad that AAAS recognized someone like myself-a scientist who excels in their research, while concurrently doing high levels of service to professional societies and organizations.”