The National Science Foundation’s Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems has awarded a five-year CAREER grant of $504,813 to Erkin Şeker, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Şeker will be PI on the research project, titled “Multifunctional Nanostructured Electrodes for Closed-Loop Control of Neural Activity.”

Erkin Şeker, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Erkin Şeker, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

This project builds on an expanding regimen of medical devices — commonly known as neural interfaces — that can be implanted into the brain, in order to treat neurological disorders while providing a greater understanding for the complex network underlying the brain’s operation. Such devices must be engineered with attributes that minimize adverse tissue response, enhance fidelity in recording electrical signals, and control brain activity via the precise delivery of electrical and chemical signals. Although existing miniaturization technology has shrunk such neural interfaces down to a few hair-widths, the increasing demand for integrating multiple functions into such devices requires innovations in even smaller dimensions. This is where novel device coatings have shown promise.

Şeker intends to engineer multifunctional devices that can monitor the electrical signals that precede an epileptic seizure, and in response deliver anti-epileptic drugs in order to prevent full-blown seizures. To that end, he will develop advanced device coatings that will enhance the sensitivity of electrical signal monitoring, while having the additional ability to deliver pharmaceuticals. This work also promises to benefit a wide range of other fields, including vascular stent and orthopedic implant coatings, catalytic fuel cells, and biosensors for pathogens.

Şeker completed his undergraduate work in electrical engineering at Virginia Tech in 2002, then obtained both a master’s degree (2004) and PhD (2007) in the same field at the University of Virginia, at Charlottesville (UVA). He subsequently spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow at UVA, then served as a research associate at the Harvard Medical School’s Center for Engineering in Medicine. He joined the UC Davis College of Engineering faculty in 2011, where his research has focused on nanostructured materials, energy storage, high-throughput material characterization platforms, structure-property relationships in micro- and nano-scale, tissue-material and biomolecule-surface interactions, microfluidic flow control schemes, multi-functional biomedical devices, drug delivery and neural electrodes.

Şeker’s CAREER Award comes from the NSF’s Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems (CBET), which supports innovative research and education in the fields of chemical engineering, biotechnology, bioengineering and environmental engineering, and in areas that involve the transformation and/or transport of matter and energy by chemical, thermal or mechanical means. CBET research and education investments contribute significantly to the development of major components of the U.S. economy: chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, forest products, metals, petroleum, natural gas, food, textiles, energy utilities, alternative energy sources, microelectronics and other sectors.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is the NSF’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research, within the context and mission of their organizations.