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Nine engineers receive coveted NSF CAREER awards

By CORY NEALON

Published May 22, 2019

“We are tremendously proud of these CAREER Award recipients. These highly successful, early-career faculty are having profound impacts on their fields of research, and these awards will further propel that work forward.”
Liesl Folks, dean
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Nine UB engineers have received National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER awards, one of the nation’s most prestigious honors for early-career faculty.

The grants, which total $4,579,007, will support research in artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, autonomous robots, 3D printing, computer science, wireless communication networks, optoelectronics and photonics, materials science and other fields.

“We are tremendously proud of these CAREER Award recipients. These highly successful, early-career faculty are having profound impacts on their fields of research, and these awards will further propel that work forward. The scope of the proposed research among these award winners, and the impact it will have upon society, is astounding. Equally importantly, the STEM outreach efforts they have planned within these projects will have long-lasting benefits in Western New York,” says Liesl Folks, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The funding will also enable the recipients to grow their respective research labs, bringing some of the world’s most sought-after graduate students to the Buffalo Niagara region.

Additionally, the grants will support UB’s efforts to create educational and outreach programs for public school teachers, public school students and nonprofit organizations, including those that serve underrepresented groups in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields in Buffalo Niagara.

“These awards illustrate the breadth of research underway at the University at Buffalo, specifically within the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. They’re also indicative of the university’s growing research enterprise, which is attracting some of the brightest faculty in the world to Buffalo Niagara to address our most challenging societal problems,” says Venu Govindaraju, vice president for research and economic development.

UB's new CAREER awardees are:

headshot of Karthik Dantu.

Karthik Dantu
Faculty position:
assistant professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Year joined UB: 2013
Award amount: $549,369

Smartphones can already “see” the world around them — Pokemon Go brought this concept, as well as augmented reality, to the masses in 2016. But this capability saps battery power and strains the operating systems of wireless devices.

Dantu will use the award to investigate how to shift the computing power needed for such vision-sensing applications from devices to the cloud. The work, which includes educational outreach, could have applications in wearable technology, such as smart glasses; medical imaging; autonomous vehicles; and other fields.

headshot of Marco Gaboardi.

Marco Gaboardi
Faculty position:
assistant professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Year joined UB: 2016
Award amount: $496,573

Safeguarding digital data is a paramount concern for nearly every business, as well as private citizens. Yet data breaches and the release of sensitive information are commonplace.

Gaboardi will use the award to help improve cybersecurity. He plans to develop new verification techniques for tools that preserve privacy, especially during the collection, analysis and storing of large sets of personal data. The project, which will train students in cybersecurity, will also involve investigating new ways to improve policy and standards for securing digital data.

headshot of Josep Jornet.

Josep Jornet
Faculty position:
associate professor, Department of Electrical Engineering
Year joined UB: 2013
Award amount: $546,182

Jornet will use the grant to develop networking protocols for wireless communications at terahertz-band frequencies. Theoretically, these frequencies can support 1,000 times faster connections than current state-of-the-art wireless devices. The protocols will be tested in a one-of-a-kind testbed developed at UB. Terahertz-based communication networks are expected to play a key role in 6G cellular systems, and wearable and implantable devices, Jornet says.

In addition to partnering with local and regional public schools, Jornet will use the award to help establish an international visiting scholar program at UB aimed at attracting students from the United States, Europe and Asia to Buffalo.

headshot of Shi Li.

Shi Li
Faculty position:
assistant professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Year joined UB: 2015
Award amount: $500,034

Li will use the award to further his work in theoretical computer science, specifically algorithm design. Algorithms are math-based rules that govern how computer systems behave. This behavior includes scheduling, which is the idea that operating systems guide the computer on how to best use its resources. Li’s work aims to improve scheduling algorithms and ultimately make computers smarter.

This project will provide research and educational opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students, including four PhD students that Li is advising and one additional student he plans to recruit. It also will foster interdisciplinary collaborations at UB and other institutions.

headshot of Peter Q. Liu.

Peter Q. Liu
Faculty position:
assistant professor, Department of Electrical Engineering
Year joined UB: 2017
Award amount: $500,661

Liu will use the award to develop new sensing and imaging techniques that could drive the development of new technologies in health care, environmental protection, homeland security, renewable energy and more. Specifically, he will investigate the advantages of combining the emerging field of graphene plasmonics and the relatively mature platform of semiconductor heterostructures. The goal is to develop new types of compact, cost-effective and versatile devices that emit light in the terahertz to mid-infrared spectral regions.

Liu will also lead and participate in outreach programs, including interactive scientific demos, in public schools to help stimulate students’ interest in science and engineering.

headshot of Nils Napp.

Nils Napp
Faculty position:
assistant professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Year joined UB: 2014
Award amount: $498,619

Modern robots excel in factories and other highly controlled, manmade spaces. But they struggle with the randomness of nature. Napp is designing algorithms to help these machines overcome unpredictable environments, such as uneven terrain and other obstacles. The idea is to make robots, even autonomous robots, easy to program so roboticists can quickly adapt them to solve new problems as they arise.

The project could be applied to commercial construction robots, search-and-rescue operations, planetary exploration and other areas.

headshot of Mostafa Nouh.

Mostafa Nouh
Faculty position:
assistant professor, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Year joined UB: 2015
Award amount: $500,000

Nouh will use the award to model and synthesize a new class of materials, referred to as metamaterials, which manipulate mechanical and acoustic waves (in other words, sound) in unique and unprecedented ways. These metamaterials could be useful in a broad range of applications, ranging from wind turbines and engine mounts to medical imaging and aerospace structures.

Nouh plans to raise awareness of the importance of sound and vibrations by partnering with the Boys & Girls Club of Buffalo, which serves more than 3,900 youth ages 5-18 regardless of race, religion or culture. He will also continue to provide research experiences for undergraduates through UB’s Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation and New York State’s Collegiate Science & Technology Program.

headshot of Chi Zhou.

Chi Zhou
Faculty position:
assistant professor, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
Year joined UB: 2013
Award amount: $500,000

The award will support Zhou’s work advancing the knowledge and understanding of 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. He will investigate how to use frozen water in the 3D-printing process to create novel materials that could lead to improvements in energy production, health care, environmental protection, the aerospace and automotive industries, and other fields.

The award will help Zhou lead 3D-printing outreach programs that inspire high school students, including groups underrepresented in STEM fields. It will also help him attract undergraduate students and graduate students to his lab at UB.

headshot of Jaroslaw Zola.

Jaroslaw Zola
Faculty position:
assistant professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Year joined UB: 2014
Award amount: $487,569

Zola will use the award to create software systems and algorithms that will make high-performance computing more accessible in artificial intelligence research, with applications in biomedicine and health care. He will test the work at UB’s Center for Computational Research, where computers will analyze vast amounts of electronic health records. The goal is to spot dangerous and costly medical conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, more quickly.

Zola will use the award to train medical professionals about the use of supercomputing facilities, as well as conduct outreach activities to middle and high school students underrepresented in STEM fields.