Posted on August 10, 2023 by Michelle Gaitan

National Science Foundation

National Science Foundation

UTSA researchers Itamar Lerner, David Restrepo and Christopher Combs have each been named recipients of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, one of the NSF’s most prestigious programs.  

The awards, totaling $1,984,339 in new research funding, are granted to early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and who lead advances in the mission of their departments or organizations.

Lerner is an assistant professor of psychology in the UTSA College for Health, Community and Policy. His five-year, $725,000 CAREER award will support research that helps scientists better understand the relationship between Rapid-Eye Movement (REM) sleep, stressful events and how well people cope with and perform under stress.

He and his research team will study firefighters and paramedics, who are prone to dealing with stressful real-life events, with the aim of understanding which individuals are prone to develop post-traumatic stress symptoms, and establishing protocols to help future emergency responders become less sensitive to these types of demanding events.

Lerner is a cognitive and computational neuroscientist and the principal investigator of UTSA’s Sleep and Memory Computational Lab. His research interests include the effects of sleep on learning and memory, and its involvement in pattern recognition, creativity and insight.

Additional interests include brain mechanisms contributing to semantic memory – a form of long-term memory comprised of basic facts such as the meanings of words—in wake and sleep, language acquisition, and the difference in cognitive processing between healthy and patient populations, including individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia.

His research has been funded by the NSF, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Department of Defense. He has published in various distinguished journals including the Journal of Neuroscience, Sleep Medicine Reviews, and Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

An assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the Margie and Bill Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design (Klesse College), Restrepo was awarded $641,398 in funding over five years to support his research into an emerging type of materials called Architected Materials (AMs).

His work aims to enhance the capabilities of AMs, and his Early CAREER funding will support educational initiatives to inspire and engage Latinx and Hispanic students in STEM fields.

In the laboratory, Restrepo and his team are manipulating the internal structure of AMs using a technique called micro-buckling to create adaptable materials that can transform their shape and mechanical properties in a controlled manner. Their project has the potential to create advanced materials for applications in aerospace, construction, transportation and medicine.

Restrepo is the principal investigator of UTSA’s Advanced Materials and Mechanical Systems Laboratory (AMMS Lab) and is an Endowed Faculty Fellow in Mechanical Engineering. His work is advancing the fundamental understanding of the nonlinear behavior and failure mechanisms in materials and structures, with the aim of designing new materials that exhibit unique properties and functionalities.

His research has appeared in notable publications such as the Nature, Advanced Materials, Advanced Functional Materials, and Extreme Mechanics Letters. He’s also received research funding from the Office of Naval Research, the Army Research Office and the Airforce Research Laboratory.

Discover the work of Itamar Lerner.

Combs is an assistant professor of aerodynamics in the Klesse College. Over the next five years, he will receive $617,941 in CAREER Award funding to support his research about hypersonic flight systems.

He will study how aircrafts operate at hypersonic speeds and how these high speeds impact aircraft control. His research has the potential to change the way governments and industry design the high-speed vehicles of the future. Combs’ award will also fund educational outreach to raise awareness of aerospace as an achievable career field among hundreds of traditionally underrepresented students.

A Dee Howard Memorial Endowed Faculty Fellow in Mechanical Engineering, Combs’ primary area of research interest is in the development and application of non-intrusive diagnostic techniques for compressible flows. He has also extensively studied hypersonic boundary layer and shock wave boundary layer interaction (SWBLI) flow physics.

Combs is the principal investigator at the UTSA Hypersonics Lab and is a current member of the AIAA Aerodynamic Measurement Technology Technical Committee.

His work has been published in a number of journals including the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Journal, Shock Waves and Optics Express.

— Michelle Gaitan