Computational materials design expert Michael Webb wins NSF CAREER award

Written by
Sharon Waters
Feb. 17, 2023

Michael Webb, an expert in the use of molecular modeling and machine learning for materials design, has received the National Science Foundation’s CAREER award, a top honor for early-career faculty.

The NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development Program supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.

Webb, an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, uses a range of computational techniques to predict the properties of polymeric systems, leveraging those predictions to discover new materials for health and sustainability applications. The Webb Group, which includes seven graduate students and four undergraduates, focuses on novel soft materials for use in technologies including energy storage, water treatment, coatings and therapeutics.

The five-year grant of nearly $600,000 funds new research and requires a significant education or training component. Recognizing the growing need for molecular modeling and machine learning skills, the award aims to prepare the next generation of the workforce with suitable technical computation skills for use in academia and industry.

The grant allows Webb to solve problems related to modeling of smart materials that alter their properties in response to external stimuli. Webb said he is eager to leverage the NSF funding to work with collaborators to ensure his computational research has practical applications. Working with experimentalists provides valuable feedback on the real-world implications of his research, he said, and enables him to see how his predictions and optimizations manifest in real materials.

Webb’s past honors include a 2022 Howard B. Wentz, Jr. SEAS Junior Faculty Award; the 2016 Herbert Newby McCoy Award, Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Caltech; the 2016 Chemical Computing Group Excellence Award, American Chemical Society; and the 2012-2014 Resnick Fellowship from the Resnick Sustainability Institute. He joined the Princeton faculty in 2020.