Bara Cola: from VU walk-on fullback to nationally acclaimed engineer

April 19, 2017

ARLINGTON, Va. - Dr. Bara Cola, who went from equipment manager to starting fullback as a Vanderbilt undergraduate, has distinguished himself among the nation's top young engineers and researchers since his Commodore playing days.

Last week, the National Science Foundation (NSF) named Dr. Cola as an Alan T. Waterman Award recipient. The recognition, considered the nation's highest honor for early career scientists and engineers, carries a $1 million, five-year research grant in the recipient's chosen field of study.

The NSF honored Dr. Cola for his pioneering research to control light and heat in electronics at the nanoscale. Cola and his team developed an optical reflecting antenna device that turns light into direct current far more efficiently than today's technology.

The discovery could lead to highly efficient solar cells, potentially powering new generations of cellular phones, laptops, satellites and drones.

The Waterman Award is just the latest honor for Dr. Cola. Previously, he received the 2012 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President Obama, and the 2015 Bergles-Rohsenow Young Investigator Award in Heat Transfer from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Dr. Cola serves as associate professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. In addition, he is the founder and chief executive officer of Carbice Corporation, and is the co-founder of the Heat Lab at Georgia Tech.

As a Vanderbilt undergraduate, Cola earned the School of Engineering Stein Stone Memorial Award in 2002 after completing a double major in mathematics and mechanical engineering. Though he went on to earn a master's in mechanical engineering from Vanderbilt, it was Cola's remarkable athletic journey that attracted widespread attention.

After suffering two knee injuries as a walk-on fullback early in his Commodore career, Cola endured the 2001 season as the team's student equipment manager. When Bobby Johnson brought a two-back offense to campus prior to the 2002 campaign, Cola saw opportunity and asked the new head coach for a tryout.

In his fifth and final year of eligibility, Cola took full advantage of a Commodore backfield in need of blocking backs. He saw limited action in the 2002 opener at Georgia Tech, and eventually became a starter at fullback. Against Furman, Cola capped his remarkable comeback with a 3-yard touchdown plunge.

At the conclusion of the 2002 regular season, Johnson recognized Cola with the program's Dedication Award.


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