Four engineering scholars among Princeton’s first Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellows

By Denise Valenti
April 09, 2019

Twelve scholars from a wide range of disciplines, including four in engineering, have been named among Princeton’s first cohort of Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellows, a program aimed at enhancing diversity in the professoriate. 

The fellows program — along with the new Presidential Visiting Scholars Program, which will launch in 2020 — is intended to recognize and support scholars who can contribute to the University’s diversity, broadly defined, including groups that have been historically and are presently underrepresented in the academy or in certain disciplines. Fellows will begin their terms between July 1, 2019, and Jan. 1, 2020.

“The Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellows Program is meant to encourage early-career scholars to pursue a career in academia by supporting their postdoctoral work here,” said Sanjeev Kulkarni, dean of the faculty. 

The program is coordinated by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty, with support from the Office of the President and the Office of the Provost. The Faculty Advisory Committee on Diversity, chaired by the dean of the faculty, reviews the nominations and selects the awardees. Up to twelve postdoctoral research associates will be supported each year for a one-year appointment. The award is renewable for a second year.

“I am thrilled that Princeton has started the presidential fellows program to support talented postdocs recruited to research groups at Princeton and to increase diversity in the academic pipeline,” said Mala Murthy, professor of molecular biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. “This is an incredibly valuable investment in our future. There are not enough funding sources at the postdoc level, and Princeton is leading the way in demonstrating that universities can and should do more to support underrepresented minorities at all levels.”

Candidates are nominated by Princeton faculty members, who then serve as sponsors. Each fellow plans a research project for the duration of the fellowship and fellows may be given opportunities to teach or advise undergraduates. In addition to receiving a full salary, each fellow also will receive funding for professional development, such as travel to conferences.

“The program is another way in which the University is showing its commitment to improving diversity and racial integration on campus and the broader academy,” said Rodney Priestley, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering. “More and more, the path to the professoriate requires the completion of at least one postdoctoral research experience. This program helps to increase such opportunity to those underrepresented in their discipline while simultaneously enhancing research on campus.” 

The 2019 Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellows are:

Christine Allen-Blanchette

Christine Allen-Blanchette will join the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, building upon her expertise in constraining models from machine learning to maintain compatibility with the underlying structure of variation in visual images. Allen-Blanchette is completing her Ph.D. this summer in computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania and holds dual bachelor’s degrees in computer engineering and mechanical engineering from San Jose State University. Allen-Blanchette will be advised by Naomi Leonard, the Edwin S. Wilsey Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, director of the Council on Science and Technology and associate director of the Program in Robotics and Intelligent Systems.

Melissa Ball

Melissa Ball will join the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, focusing on developing chemistries to realize new forms of hybrid organic-inorganic perovskites. Ball is completing her Ph.D. this spring in chemistry at Columbia University. Prior to pursuing chemistry, Ball worked as an economist and equity strategy analyst. She holds a master’s degree in economics from the London School of Economics and bachelor’s degrees in economics and political science from the City University of New York. In addition to her research in chemical and biological engineering, Ball plans to assess the economic implications of rapid decarbonization through the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. Ball will be advised by Lynn Loo, the Theodora D. ’78 and William H. Walton III ’74 Professor in Engineering, professor of chemical and biological engineering and director of the Andlinger Center.

Kathrin Stark

Kathrin Stark will join the Department of Computer Science, utilizing her education and research experience in the theory of programming languages and logics as the foundation of her research to design, build and verify a foreign function interface for verified programs. Stark has a passion for hard technical problems that require a mix of theoretical insight and engineering. She will complete a Ph.D. in computer science this year at Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany. Stark holds a master’s degree in advanced computer science from the University of Cambridge and a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Saarland University. Stark will be advised by Andrew Appel, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Computer Science.

Xiaohui Xu 

Xiaohui Xu will join the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, focusing her postdoctoral research on developing near-infrared-responsive core-shell microgels and amorphous solid dispersions for controlled drug release. Xu’s research has provided significant contributions to the synthesis of photothermal materials and core-shell and yolk-shell nanoparticles, as well as their application in drug delivery, sensing and catalysis. She is completing her Ph.D. this spring from the College of Environmental Science and Engineering at Chang’an University in Xi’an, China, while undertaking thesis research at the Institute of Soft Matter and Functional Materials at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie in Germany. Xu holds a master’s degree in applied chemistry from Chang’an University and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the Zhengzhou University of Light Industry. Xu will be advised by Rodney Priestley, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering.