Kennesaw State engineering professor awarded National Science Foundation CAREER grant

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jun 23, 2021

Yizeng Li
Yizeng Li

Kennesaw State University professor Yizeng Li has been awarded a highly competitive $526,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER grant, the institution's first, to support her study of cell migration and to launch an undergraduate research initiative.

The NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development Program, one of the most prestigious awards offered to early-career faculty, supports those who demonstrate the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education. Li, who joined Kennesaw State’s Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology in 2019, said funding will help further understanding of the role hydraulics play in cell migration during  immune response, wound healing and cancer metastasis.

“Having studied this for years, I believe this research has the potential to make a broad impact and will inform future studies of cell migration,” said Li, an assistant professor in KSU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “While the benefit to me is clear, I am also excited at the prospect of building the next generation of researchers by bringing KSU students into the field.”

After earning her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan, Li centered much of her research around how cell migration is influenced by the hydraulic environment of confined spaces in the body, such as between layers of tissue or within tumors. Using mathematical modeling, her NSF-funded research will attempt to demonstrate how the naturally occurring hydraulics help facilitate cell movement.

With a better understanding of how cell migration works, she believes it will help the healthcare industry identify ways in which they can promote positive cell migration, such as wound healing and tissue regeneration, and prevent negative events of cell migration, such as the spread of cancer cells throughout the body.

“Ultimately, our goal is to benefit human health,” she said. “We believe there are implications for both physicians and pharmaceutical companies that will help with the development of new treatments for patients built on this research.”

In addition to the research, the funding will allow Li to build an undergraduate research program in which she hopes to recruit first-time researchers and help them build the experience needed for post-graduate studies. Conceptualized as a three-semester program, it will be open to students studying engineering, mathematics, physics and biology, among other disciplines.

“We are thrilled to see Dr. Li’s efforts rewarded by this NSF grant, and we look forward to seeing her further bolster the research environment that exists at KSU and within the engineering college,” said Phaedra Corso, vice president for research. “Her research has a clear societal impact, and exposing students to this kind of transformative experience will hopefully leave an impression that lasts for years to come.”

– Travis Highfield

Photos by David Caselli

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit