Rensselaer Professor Edmund Palermo Receives NSF CAREER Award


Edmund F. Palermo, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has won a Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER) from the National Science Foundation (NSF). He will use the five-year, $539,177 award to study “Biomimetic Macromolecules at the Materials-Microbe Interface.”

The CAREER Award is given to faculty members near the beginning of their academic careers and is one of the most competitive and prestigious awards given by the NSF to junior faculty. The award places emphasis on high-quality research as well as novel educational initiatives.

Palermo’s research lies at the intersection of two important disciplines, advanced materials and biotechnology. Palermo is developing materials that combat infectious pathogens, inhibit biofilm formation, and act as components in new medical diagnostic tools. To do this, he is taking inspiration from design features of natural biological materials and translating those to design novel man-made materials in a process known as “biomimicry.”

“The complexity and sophistication of biological materials design in nature has always been the envy of humankind,” said Palermo. “Today, materials scientists can leverage these design principles―from the macroscopic down to the molecular level―and apply them to the remarkably diverse pallet of synthetic materials. The ultimate goal is to vastly broaden our scope of capabilities in a broad range of high-performance technologies.”

“Ed is on an excellent trajectory, and I am delighted with the news of his NSF CAREER award,” said Shekhar Garde, dean of the School of Engineering at Rensselaer. “The materials-biology interface, which Ed is exploring, is truly interesting, and we look forward to many discoveries and applications that will come as a result of his research at the intersection of disciplines.”

The NSF award will support research designed to enable human control over the interaction between plastics and harmful bacteria to create surface coatings that kill germs on contact and prevent the accumulation of harmful biofilms on surfaces. Applications of these new materials could include self-cleaning ship hull coatings to reduce drag, pipe-flow inner linings to prevent biologically induced corrosion, and infection-preventing catheter devices for use in hospitals.

Involving graduate and undergraduate students in the research is an integral part of the grant. Palermo also has created a program for middle and high school students to visit campus, learn concepts in biology and materials science, and share their knowledge on social media.

Palermo joined the Rensselaer faculty in 2014. He earned his B.S. in mechanical engineering at Cornell University and his Ph.D. in macromolecular science and engineering at the University of Michigan. He was a postdoctoral researcher in the Chemistry Department, also at Michigan, before coming to Rensselaer.

In 2016, Palermo won a 3M Nontenured Faculty Award to design “Bioresponsive Polymers as Antifouling Coatings.” Also in 2016, he received an NSF Division of Chemistry Macromolecular, Supramolecular and Nanochemistry grant for “Photochromic Switching for Nanostructured Polymer Gels,” in collaboration with Chaitanya Ullal, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Rensselaer, and a fellow NSF CAREER award winner. Palermo’s work has also been supported by the Army Research Office.

Palermo’s research exemplifies the vision of The New Polytechnic, an emerging paradigm for teaching, learning, and research at Rensselaer which emphasizes and supports collaboration across disciplines, sectors, and regions to address some of the world’s most pressing technological challenges, using the most advanced tools and technologies.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. For nearly 200 years, Rensselaer has been defining the scientific and technological advances of our world. Rensselaer faculty and alumni represent 85 members of the National Academy of Engineering, 17 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 25 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 8 members of the National Academy of Medicine, 8 members of the National Academy of Inventors, and 5 members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, as well as 6 National Medal of Technology winners, 5 National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With 7,000 students and nearly 100,000 living alumni, Rensselaer is addressing the global challenges facing the 21st century—to change lives, to advance society, and to change the world. To learn more, go to