The College of Engineering and Natural Sciences is home to a diverse group of ambitious 30-something professors whose fresh ideas and daring research agendas are big selling points for potential students. For some of these young faculty members, the journey to TU began thousands of miles away while others grew up in Tulsa.
Each of these new faculty followed their own path to TU and offer a special set of research and teaching strengths. While long-time professors remain the backbone of the college, the following three faculty represent a new generation of scholars emerging onto the academic scene.
Born on an island in the Indian Ocean 10,000 miles away from Tulsa, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Hema Ramsurn is a native of the republic of Mauritius. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Mauritius before completing graduate degrees at Brunel University in West London UK and Auburn University in Alabama. She’s always loved applied mathematics and is fascinated with the optimization processes of chemical engineering. When she interviewed at TU in 2014, helpful peers and a positive working environment made her feel right at home.
“My colleagues are very supportive, and my department chairman is always here for me,” Ramsurn said. “I can’t say enough about their support, especially in my first year.”
Solving open-ended problems gives Ramsurn the freedom to focus her research in many different areas. With emphasis on supercritical fluids for biofuels and converting catalytic gas to liquid, Ramsurn is passionate about exploring renewable and nonrenewable sources for a more sustainable planet. She has received funding from the Petroleum Research Fund to study the fundamentals of catalytic gas to liquid reactions.
“This is what drives me,” she said. “I love teaching because our students see the practical side of what they are being taught,” she said. “Many of them go to industry for internships, and they come back telling me they used what they learned — it’s so gratifying.”
One year prior to Ramsurn’s arrival, another young female scientist joined TU’s prestigious faculty ranks. Erin Iski (BS ’05) is an assistant professor of chemistry and one of the college’s most active advocates for STEM outreach. Following her undergraduate degree at TU, she completed her doctorate at Tufts University. Although she never expected to return to her alma mater, she’s glad she did.
“The students are exactly as I remembered — genuinely interested,” Iski said. “Some of the same professors are still here, and I value their relationships as mentors just as much as teachers when I was a student.”
A specialist in Liquid Scanning Tunneling Microscopy, Iski investigates the structures of amino acid molecules on metal surfaces. She invites undergraduates and grad students to join her in recording the images and studying the subsequent interactions of single atoms and molecules on metal surfaces immersed in liquid. An additional project is based on an extension of her graduate work at Tufts in which she studied an atomically thin layer of silver on gold. Iski said this research holds potential for unlimited real-world applications.
“The silver layer is incredibly thermally stable and can withstand temperatures up to 730 degrees Celsius,” she said. “We’re talking to scientists at NASA who are interested in using the technology to help protect metal electrodes for batteries.”
Iski collaborates with the TU Erosion/Corrosion Research Center as well as with faculty in the Department of Physics and Engineering Physics and TU CoRE. Off campus, she shares her work with Tulsa-area students and strongly believes in the power of teaching through research.
“We’re doing fundamental chemistry for elementary and middle school students, explaining ‘Here’s what an atom actually looks like,’ making that visual connection,” Iski said. “We’d like to purchase a portable microscope to bring into the classroom.”
Her outreach efforts also include directing the core chemistry course for Tech Trek, a week-long STEM summer camp for middle school girls supported by the American Association of University Women. Iski’s graduate and undergrad students helped develop the event’s curriculum, an opportunity to place those students at the top of the mentoring chain.
“It was lab work and research in CSURP (Chemistry Summer Undergraduate Research Program) that personally drew me to chemistry when I was an undergraduate at TU,” she said. “In that vein, I try to do as much outreach as possible with TURC (Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge), Junior TURC and CSURP students in my current position.”
The only tenure-track female faculty member in chemistry, Iski is blazing a trail not only in her research field but also among women in science.
“We’ve taken a lot of stands to make the issue more important,” she said. “I like the history I have with my faculty, and I know I’m supported in those measures.”
Assistant Professor Tyler Moore also has fond memories of life-changing undergraduate research. Much like Iski, he grew up in Tulsa and attended TU for the chance to participate in TURC. He joined Professor Sujeet Shenoi’s research team the summer before his freshman year.
“I got to do exciting work that makes a difference — writing peer-reviewed papers, presenting research to leaders at telecommunications companies and the White House,” Moore said. “Probably the most surreal experience was the phone call I received while shopping at Wal-Mart from the infamous hacker Kevin Mitnick, asking about my research.”
After graduation, Moore was awarded a Marshall Scholarship to study cybersecurity at the University of Cambridge in England. He served as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Center for Research on Computation and Society and taught at Wellesley College.
“I knew I wanted to work at a university that combined top-quality research with a genuine commitment to undergraduate teaching,” he said.
Moore returned to TU in 2015 to fill the role of Tandy Chair in Cyber Security and Information Assurance. He studies the economics of information security, cybercrime measurement and cybersecurity policy while serving as director of TU’s Security Economics Laboratory, a center dedicated to better understanding the behaviors of attackers and defenders. Moore also is director of StopBadware, a nonprofit anti-malware organization, and founding editor-in-chief of the Journal of Cybersecurity, an interdisciplinary journal published by Oxford University Press. He frequently collaborates with cybercrime experts from world-class universities in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Austria, Israel and the United States.
“Usually, I am the first researcher they have worked with from Tulsa,” Moore said. “I appreciate the opportunity to be an ambassador for the university, city and state. There are many institutions where I could have happily worked, but there’s something extra special about building a program at your alma mater.”
Moore’s fellow TU computer science classmates from the class of 2004 include other leading industry professionals such as Instagram engineer Philip McAlister. While much has changed at TU in the past 12 years, Moore is ecstatic to be amongst long-time professors and a new group of aspiring young faculty eager to share their research and mentoring abilities.
“It’s definitely an exciting time to be at TU, and the infusion of new faculty is a big reason why,” he said. “I know there’s an excellent foundation in place here to succeed — supportive faculty, engaged students and an institution that values research and teaching.”