Three College of Engineering Faculty Members Receive Prestigious NSF CAREER Awards
Three outstanding young College of Engineering faculty from three different departments have obtained career-boosting grants from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. The three award-winning researchers are Siyuan Rao of the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME), Wen Chen of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE), and Fatima Anwar of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE).
Rao’s CAREER research, supported by the NSF for $549,740, is titled “Multifunctional Soft Neural Probes for Elucidating Spinal Cord Injury Pathophysiology.”
Rao explains that spinal cord injury is one of the leading causes of paralysis in the U.S., affecting more than 1.4-million people. Most of the current neurotechnology for the spinal cord system relies on directly injecting electricity into the tissues.
“However,” as Rao explains, “current existing electrical stimulation approaches are inadequate to find out which type of cells contributes to injury recovery because electricity affects all the neurons in certain areas without selection. Using the knowledge of materials engineering and neuroscience, [I hypothesize] that the development of a new multifunctional soft neural probe technology can advance a holistic understanding of neural pathophysiology in spinal cord injury.”
Rao says that her long-term CAREER goal is to engineer platform methodologies to investigate the nervous system and ultimately develop therapeutics for nervous system dysfunction. In addition to this CAREER Award, Rao recently received a grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to study magnetic neural modulation, a next-generation technique for investigating neurological and psychiatric disorders.
Rao plans to promote the knowledge of spinal cord injury disability by integrating her research program with educational components through various collaborations, including the UMass Amherst Disability Service Office and President’s Office Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility Team. Rao acknowledges the support of Faculty Research Grant 2022, which directly catalyzes this project, and the mentorship from Senior Associate Dean and Professor Russell Tessier (leader of the College of Engineering CAREER workshop) and Mary Green (broader impacts specialist from the Office of Research Development).
Chen’s CAREER research, funded for a total of $549,950, is entitled “Understanding Microstructure Evolution and Deformation Mechanism of Strong Yet Ductile Nanolamellar High-Entropy Alloys Produced by Additive Manufacturing.”
Additive manufacturing, also called 3D printing, is a new paradigm for producing components with a broad range of technological applications, including the automotive, aerospace, and biomedical industries. However, as Chen observes, “high-strength nanostructured metals, produced by 3D printing, often suffer from limited ductility, which is an ability to be stretched without breaking.”
According to Chen, “High-entropy alloys are a new class of materials that contain high concentrations of five or more different elements in near equal atomic proportions…This [CAREER] award supports fundamental investigations into additive manufacturing of nanostructured, high-entropy alloys towards strength-ductility synergy beyond current benchmarks. The knowledge being established in this project will guide the development of strong yet tough metal alloys for various applications such as advanced energy systems, transportation, and defense.”
Anwar’s project, funded for a total of $650,639, is entitled “Secure Timing Architecture for Untrusted Edge Systems.”
As Anwar explains, a reliable measure of time has always been critical for the security of national and industrial infrastructure, such as smart grids and industrial control systems. “With the emergence of human-in-the-loop systems, such as virtual reality, autonomous vehicles, mobile health, and smart financial systems, the integrity of timing is more important than ever for user security and safety.”
According to Anwar, “The proposed work is the first effort to provide an end-to-end, secure time architecture for edge systems with diverse clocks, for timestamping and time transfer. This project is also the first to study active and passive sensing mechanisms for secure time coordination.”
Anwar adds that her NSF research “also investigates challenges to secure time-sensitive networking in 5G networks, distinguished by support for emerging time-critical applications at large scales. This project will advance the state-of-the-art in secure timing with new clock sources, time transfer channels, and network protocols.”
Anwar concludes that her secure timing architecture will “create a foundation for designing safe, secure, and efficient systems.” (February 2023)