July 20, 2009

Two Johns Hopkins faculty members receive 2009 White House early career awards


Pablo A. Celnik

Two Johns Hopkins faculty members—Pablo A. Celnik, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and of neurology at the School of Medicine, and Thao “Vicky” Nguyen, assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering—are among the 100 winners of this year’s Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Celnik was cited for his research on the underlying mechanisms of “plasticity” in the brain and central nervous system, work designed to speed the development of new treatments that promote recovery of function following an injury.

As medical director of the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Outpatient Neurologic Rehabilitation Program, he heads a team that manages problems associated with spasticity, weakness, cognitive deficits and the aftermath of stroke, brain cancer, multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury.

Thao “Vicky” Nguyen

Thao “Vicky” Nguyen

Nguyen’s research focuses primarily on tissue mechanics, shape memory polymers and the fracture mechanics of polymers. She is developing mathematical and computational methods to help understand and predict the mechanical behavior of soft materials.

Her work has potential medical, aerospace and security applications. One of her projects, in collaboration with the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins, involves studying how the mechanical behavior of the eye’s cornea and sclera transmits mechanical stress to the optical nerve. The research could lead to better treatments for glaucoma.

Winners of Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers are selected by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the award represents the nation’s highest honor for scientists at the outset of their professional careers. Awardees will be honored by President Obama at a White House ceremony this fall.

The July 10 White House announcement included a statement by President Obama noting that “these extraordinarily gifted young scientists and engineers represent the best in our country. With their talent, creativity and dedication, I am confident they will lead their fields in new breakthroughs and discoveries and help us use science and technology to lift up our nation and our world.”

Phil Sneidman also contributed to and wrote portions of this report.