Over the years, Virginia Tech faculty members' success rate in combining cutting-edge research with innovative approaches to education has resulted in a significant number of National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) awards -- at a rate consistently above the national average.
With CAREER, NSF rewards outstanding young teacher-scholars who combine ''the excitement of research with inspired teaching and enthusiastic learning.''
Masoud Agah, assistant professor of the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is developing a small gas chromatography (GC) platform that can analyze volatile compounds within seconds. Emergency workers, for example, could carry Agah's GC instrument, currently at the size of a credit card, into areas devastated by floods to test water for toxic chemicals. To fulfill the educational component of every CAREER award project, Agah said he would develop a new university laboratory course on microelectromechanical systems. He also is working with Virginia Tech's National Society of Black Engineers and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' Teacher in Service Program to establish the High-School Microsystems Engineering Program.
Ali R. Butt, assistant professor of computer science in the College of Engineering, will use his CAREER grant to address the performance gap between computing power and storage technology, especially for high-performance computing environments. The data storage framework he's designing could bridge the gap between modern computing power and storage. He says he plans to engage graduate students in designing, developing, and deploying tools and systems for improving the input/output effectiveness of high-performance computing.
Nakhiah Goulbourne, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is developing a new type of heart stent sensor. Current stent implants have a failure rate as high as 20 to 30 percent. Diagnostic tools that can dynamically monitor the mechanical state of a stented artery are lacking. Goulbourne's models and experiments aim to describe what happens to a human artery equipped with a stent that has a unique type of polymer strain-sensing device.
Leigh McCue, assistant professor of aerospace and ocean engineering, is developing tools to help ship designers better understand vessel motions to prevent capsizing and other dangers resulting from instabilities. McCue says one of her goals is to develop on-board, real-time motion prediction tools that could alert ship captains to imminent dangers to their craft. McCue's research will be complemented by outreach efforts to recruit future engineers. She will work in partnership with Virginia Tech's Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED) to incorporate SeaPerch activities in CEED's summer camps and other recruitment initiatives. SeaPerch is a hands-on program that teaches pre-college students about underwater robotics and vehicles.
Leyla Nazhandali, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, received the award for her work to overcome power challenges in embedded system design. An embedded system contains a microprocessor without a computer interface. Examples include a car, an airplane, a cell phone, and a credit card. Nazhandali is exploring the use of subthreshold-voltage technology to reduce the power consumption of the microprocessor and to protect it from hacker attacks.
Improving the security of cognitive radio (CR) technology represents the goal of work done by Jung-Min Park, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. CR technology provides two-way communications in a wide range of applications, including tactical military forces and emergency responders. Park is conducting an in-depth investigation of critical security issues in CR systems and networks to help service providers and manufacturers develop more secure technology, and help regulators improve standards. Park will develop both undergraduate and graduate courses in cognitive radio systems at Virginia Tech.
Mark Paul, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, said he wants to understand the dynamics of large, chaotic systems, such as weather and climate. Paul will use Virginia Tech's System X supercomputer to conduct large-scale numerical simulations of the chaotic fluid motion that occurs when a shallow layer is heated uniformly from below. The fundamental insights gained through this research could lead to improvements in developing climate models, as well as a better understanding of such matters as energy production and consumption.
Boris Vinatzer, assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is investigating the pathogen that causes bacterial speck disease of tomatoes. He is developing a new undergraduate course in microbial genomics. His project aims to identify the molecular evolutionary mechanisms that allow pathogens to specialize to distinct plant species and to become more aggressive.
CAREER recognizes outstanding young teacher/scholars who can combine the excitement of research with inspired teaching and learning. In sum, Virginia Tech has a track record that proves its faculty can offer students a truly distinctive educational experience, with exciting pathways to learning, both in the classroom and the laboratory.
Virginia Tech currently has 60 active CAREER recipients.
Over the years, Sanjay Raman, Tom Martin, and Sandeep Shukla of electrical and computer engineering and Michael Garvin of civil and environmental engineering, have won the additional high honor of a Presidential Early Career Achievement in Science and Engineering, which only goes to the top 20 of the 350 or so CAREER's awarded each year. Maura Borrego, an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering's Department of Engineering Education, was recognized in 2008. The president and NSF director attend the White House ceremony.
Look through previous Spotlight stories