Published: April 16, 2020 By

Seven faculty members within the College of Engineering and Applied Science have received CAREER Awards from the National Science Foundation.

CAREER Awards provide approximately $500,000 over five years for those “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.” The college has a long tradition of success in the award, with more than 80 winners serving as current and past faculty members.

Here’s a look at the projects from the winners in our college this year:

Assistant Professor Emiliano Dall'Anese, ECEE

Project title: Synthesis of Feedback-based Online Algorithms for Power Grids

Dall’Anese's long-term research goal is to develop and analyze algorithms to optimize and control the networks that are ubiquitous in the modern world, from power systems and transportation, to connected vehicles and the Internet. To this end, Dall’Anese aims to develop distributed, data-driven and real-time algorithms that coordinate the operation of a multitude of interacting entities in a network to pursue engineering, social and economic goals. His proposal targets a more sustainable and resilient power grid as one application of the work. That is because within the current structure of our power system we are not able to fully take advantage of new technologies of solar power or electric vehicles without experiencing reliability issues. The innovative algorithms he proposes would allow for better control of the grid, while also acknowledging the needs of individual users, like homeowners with solar panels and electric vehicles.

Assistant Professor Laura Devendorf, ATLAS

Project title: Investigating Novel Tools and Collaborative Programs for Smart Textiles Innovation

Devendorf hopes to shift the norms in smart textile research by bringing weavers to campus for a series of extended residencies over the next three years, permitting collaborations with engineers and design teams. 

One of her overarching goals for the initiative is to develop new, open-source tools to support smart fabric development. Devendorf’s Unstable Design Lab previously developed one of the first digital frameworks for integrating circuit design into textile weaving. Over the next three years, she hopes to make new open-source, smart textile design resources freely available to engineering and crafting communities to accelerate innovation and the creation of increasingly sophisticated textiles. Another key goal is to inform and support similar collaborations in the future, whether in smart textiles or other domains that require a material skill and an engineering mindset such as smart ceramics and smart concrete.

Assistant Professor Adam Holewinski, ChBE

Project title: Understanding Bifunctionality in Organic Electro-oxidation Catalysis

Holewinski's proposal centers on understanding the reaction mechanisms of small organic molecules that are interconnected by the addition or removal of oxygen or hydrogen atoms by so-called "bi-functional" catalysts.

Each component of a bi-functional catalyst is intended to perform a specific job, such as binding to a molecular fragment that will later combine with a different fragment. But there’s mounting evidence that on many materials it may not happen the way researchers have previously assumed. This award addresses this inconsistency with a whole suite of analytical techniques, including one novel method developed by his group to monitor the isotopic composition of a product with fast-time resolution and use that information to discover what intermediaries are present on a catalyst’s surface. Understanding the molecular-scale mechanisms underpinning oxidation processes is relevant to diverse applications including fuel cells, wastewater treatment and chemical synthesis, such as for building blocks of green-friendly plastics. 

Assistant Professor Fatemeh Pourahmadian, CEAE

Project title: Real-time In-situ Characterization of Evolving Rock Systems for Smart-controlled Subsurface Engineering
The goal of this project is to furnish real-time feedback on the nature of stimulation-induced variations in unconventional geo-energy systems for closed-loop controlled engineering of treatment schemes, in particular, fracking. 
In this vein, a physics-based data analytics platform will be established to enable 3D in-situ imaging and characterization of (thermo-) hydro-mechanical evolution in process zones induced by fluid (or gas) injection in the subsurface. The proposed framework takes advantage of broadband, multiphysics datasets obtained in a continuous mode of active sensing, leading to a non-iterative data inversion solution that is fast and efficient for application to big data and real-time sensing, and germane to complex subterranean environments whose structure and chemophysical properties are a-priori unknown (or uncertain) across scales. This research will potentially contribute to prudent development of enhanced geothermal systems as well as unconventional hydrocarbon reservoirs.


Assistant Professor Dimitra Psychogiou, ECEE

Project title: RF Co-Designed Fully-Directional Antenna Interfaces for Dynamic and Efficient Spectrum Access

Psychogiou's long-term goal is to develop new types of highly reconfigurable and miniaturized radios that will use the electromagnetic spectrum more efficiently and provide access to a plethora of applications, systems and devices that are critical for human health, public safety and economic growth.

Currently, every application that utilizes the radio spectrum needs dedicated frequency bands to transmit and receive, but the spectrum is running out of space quickly – especially at lower frequencies that are more congested than ever. Because of that, researchers are looking for solutions that would allow transmission and reception on the same band, for instance. With this award, Psychogiou will continue to develop the hardware that would make those solutions possible. In particular, her group will develop new types of tunable RF front-ends and antenna interfaces that can support multiple modes of operation, are resistant to interference and dynamically access the spectrum.

Assistant Professor Wil Srubar, CEAE

Project title: Biological Production of Carbonates for Sustainable Cementitious Materials

Srubar plans to use his award to create new biological building materials with environmental benefits. His lab has seen success with using bacteria to make living concrete bricks that can heal themselves when cracked. Now, he wants to look at new ways to make traditional concrete store more carbon dioxide. Concrete is the second-most consumed materials on Earth after water. Its manufacture, use, and disposal account for about 6 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. But limestone, a common aggregate used to make concrete, is also largely composed of sequestered carbon dioxide. Srubar thinks they can make concrete sequester even more CO2 by making limestone-like aggregates using waste CO2 and biological processes that helped create the limestone in the first place.

Assistant Professor Chenhao Tan, CS

Project title: Harnessing Explanations to Bridge Humans and AI

With artificial intelligence playing an increasingly prominent role in decision making for everything from healthcare to criminal justice, many people want explanations of why these systems make the choices they do.

But first we need to know more about why humans make the choices they do. Tan's project will start with a dataset of natural language explanations, where humans note the persuasive elements of an argument. Next, he and his team will formulate a word-level prediction task to study how humans selectively construct explanations and create additional annotations from psychology to understand what makes effective explanations. Tan will then build algorithms that learn from these explanations and develop best practices for soliciting human explanations with a machine in the loop, where AI systems are used to enhance the ability of humans in providing effective explanations.