VANCOUVER, Wash. – A WSU assistant professor is one of only 39 young scientists selected from 407 applicants from across the nation to receive this year’s prestigious Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Young Faculty Award.
Jie Xu is assistant professor in the School of Engineering and Computer Science at Washington State University Vancouver. His research into sensing sound frequencies has implications for hearing, hearing loss, drugs to treat hearing loss and artificial hearing in robotics.
He joins Bin Yang, WSU Tri-Cities, as a winner of the 2011 award. The objective of the DARPA Young Faculty Award program is to identify and engage rising research stars in junior faculty positions at academic institutions and expose them to Department of Defense needs as well as DARPA’s program development process. Applicants are required to be within five years of appointment to a tenure-track position at a U.S. university.
2011 award winners will receive approximately $300,000 to develop and validate their research ideas over a period of two years.
Xu received the award for “Ear on a Chip: Microfluidics for Characterization and Control of Hair-Cell Sensing with Acoustic Stimuli.”
“‘Ear on a Chip’ will be a microfluidic system containing live sensory cells to sense different frequencies of sound,” Xu said. “Such an engineered system will be capable of obtaining electrical signals from acoustic stimuli, mimicking the function of an ear.” 
In the short term, such a system can be used to study the mechanisms of hearing and hearing loss and to screen drugs that might protect hearing or even cure hearing loss. In the long run, Xu hopes the system can be developed into a prosthetic device for human beings or artificial sensory organs for future neuron-based devices, such as neural computers or robots.
The functional units of life are cells. Cells are usually micrometer sized with interfaces. Xu said he believes micro-interfacial sciences are the key to understanding life.
“As an engineer, I am not only interested in understanding nature, but also strive to learn from nature and create things that do not exist in nature to benefit human beings,” he said. “The emerging micro/nano technologies provide us the ability to shape the world at micro/nano scale.”
Xu earned both his master’s degree and Ph.D. from Columbia University. He earned his bachelor’s degree with distinction from Tsinghua University.
He has authored more than 40 journal and conference publications, including one “Best Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering” paper in 2008. Xu participated on the editorial board of the Columbia Undergraduate Science Journal and has reviewed for several professional journals and conferences.
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