Irvine, Calif., July 16, 2015 – Six University of California, Irvine assistant professors have been chosen from a highly competitive cohort to receive 2015-16 UCI Hellman Fellowships, which support research by junior faculty members who show great promise. Their projects focus on self-driving cars, economic instability at the U.S.-Mexico border and the production of carbon-neutral fuels, among other topics.

This brings to 34 the number of Hellman Fellowships awarded through UCI’s program, established in 2013 with a gift of $1.25 million from the Hellman Family Foundation.

“The applicants this year were impressive in their numbers – with more than two-thirds of eligible professors applying – and exciting in the quality and competitiveness of their projects,” said Diane O’Dowd, vice provost for academic personnel and professor of developmental & cell biology. “The diverse and meaningful research being conducted by young professors at UCI holds the promise of great things for both the future of our campus and our global impact.”

UCI’s 2015-16 fellows, who will each receive up to $50,000, are:

Emily Baum, history, School of Humanities: Her research, “Spit, Chains & Hospital Beds: A History of Madness in Republican China, 1911-1937,” investigates the ways in which everyday individuals accepted or resisted psychiatric epistemologies and institutions introduced to China in the early 20th century. Baum, who joined the UCI faculty in 2013, teaches courses on modern Chinese history, East Asian/world history and comparative medical history. “I am extremely grateful to UCI for providing such generous assistance to early-career professors. With the help of the Hellman Fellowship, I plan to present my research at a number of upcoming conferences and, ultimately, finish a draft of my book manuscript by the end of the 2015-16 academic year.”

Mohammad Al Faruque, electrical engineering & computer science, The Henry Samueli School of Engineering: The fellowship will support his research on new security solutions for driverless cars. The communication systems that let these autos “talk” to other vehicles and the roads they travel can reduce traffic injuries and fatalities. But this new paradigm “makes the communication vulnerable to attackers that … would not only compromise car information but pose significant risk to the health and safety of human lives,” said Al Faruque, who holds three U.S. patents. “New types and designs of security solutions are required for automotive communication systems” to be resistant to hacker attacks and other security threats. Al Faruque started at UCI in 2012.

Yilin Hu, molecular biology & biochemistry, Francisco J. Ayala School of Biological Sciences: Engineering proteins for the production of biofuel is the focus of Hu’s research, which explores the nitrogenase mechanism and nitrogen fixation and assembly, with an emphasis on the genetic manipulation of nitrogenase enzymes. She’s expanding her work into investigations that could establish an evolutionary link among nitrogen fixation, the formation of methane by microbes, and photosynthesis from a biochemical perspective. The aim is to develop industrial applications of these processes based on the intrinsic homology among these enzyme systems. Hu became a UCI faculty member in 2013.

Litia Perta, art writing and critical & curatorial studies, Claire Trevor School of the Arts: Perta’s two-part research project, entitled “Tidal Kinships,” explores the relationship between art and art criticism. The first phase, “Writing Bodies,” will kick off the fall program of the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York City. A sister event, “Just Speak Nearby: The Politics & Practice of Art Writing,” will convene artists, scholars, curators and writers on the UCI campus next winter. “I am thrilled and honored to receive such generous support,” said Perta, who came to UCI in 2013. “I look forward to using my Hellman Fellowship to bring a wide community of artists and scholars to participate in the extraordinary intellectual life at UCI.”

Seth Pipkin, planning, policy & design, School of Social Ecology: Pipkin researches international economic development and industrial policy with an emphasis on how local groups impact development outcomes by establishing practices that mediate between individuals and institutions. His current project investigates how violence and instability are affecting the economic and institutional landscape of the U.S.-Mexico border and how local responses might help this and other similarly challenged regions adapt, heal and move forward. “I am thankful that the Hellman Foundation is supporting this research,” said Pipkin, who arrived at UCI in 2012 and teaches international development, public policy and planning. “This is an important example of worldwide tensions among state power, social marginalization and economic change.”

Jenny Yang, chemistry, School of Physical Sciences: Yang’s project is to develop a generally applicable method of integrating molecular electrocatalysts to photovoltaic surfaces. Such materials could then be used to produce carbon-neutral fuels directly from solar energy in photoelectrochemical cells. Success in this research area could prove an important step toward storing energy or generating transportation fuel from solar energy.
“My research group and I are delighted to be recognized,” said Yang who joined UCI in 2013. “As a young investigator, this award will facilitate advancing our research goals.”

Established in 1994 by Warren and Chris Hellman of San Francisco, the Hellman Fellowship Program has supported more than 850 junior faculty members at 14 institutions, including all 10 University of California campuses.

About the University of California, Irvine: Currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $4.8 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit

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