ASU receives 16 NSF CAREER awards

Researchers at Arizona State University have earned 16 National Science Foundation early faculty career awards, dating back to late 2020. The awards total $9 million in funding for ASU researchers, in grants that will be used over five years. The work covers subjects that explore a wide variety of science and technology from the very big (Western water systems) to the very small (molecules and mosquitoes).  

The NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program identifies the nation’s most promising young faculty members and provides them with funding to pursue outstanding research, excellence in teaching and the integration of education and research. Often, these awards spur the creativity of the faculty member and helps set them on an innovative career path.

This year’s awards show the scope of research being undertaken at ASU and the level of creativity exhibited by each recipient.

“On behalf of the academic enterprise, I congratulate our scholars who are receiving this prestigious and well-earned early career distinction from the National Science Foundation,” said Nancy Gonzales, university provost pro tempore,. 

“Faculty excellence is evident across the university and throughout a range of diverse academic disciplines represented by these honorees — including the study of genomics, natural conversation, wireless communication and space exploration,” she added. “I am also proud that more than half of this year’s CAREER Award recipients are women, as we aim to be a community of scholars that is representative of the overall population we serve.”

Here is a look at the current ASU NSF CAREER award recipients:

Ahmed Alkhateeb, assistant professor, School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering 

This project will employ machine learning to enable scaling the number of antennas at next-generation wireless communications systems, which is essential for supporting high data rates. The project will also leverage other sensory information, such as GPS positions and camera images, to improve the performance of wireless communications networks.

Katrina Bossert, assistant professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration

Bossert’s work will focus on the dynamics near the edge of space where spacecraft enter and exit a planetary orbit. A primary driver of dynamics and variability in this region are gravity waves, also called buoyancy waves. These waves are similar to those which are observed in the ocean, and can perturb densities, winds and temperatures throughout the atmosphere and into the thermosphere where satellites orbit. This work will use ground-based instrumentation and place an imager at the Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska to study the breakdown of these waves.

Antia Botana, assistant professor, Department of Physics

This project will use advanced computational and theoretical methods to investigate nickel oxides, which are promising materials for superconductivity. The goal of the project is to discover a new family of nickel-based superconductors while providing insights into the origin of high-temperature superconductivity. Superconductivity is a property exhibited by some materials whereby they lose all resistance when brought to a specific temperature.

Gautam Dasarathy, assistant professor, School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering

Wireless sensor networks, power grids and neurons in the brain are examples of complex interacting systems. Dasarathy’s research program will develop new theory, algorithms and applications for discovering and exploiting structure in such large complex systems. In particular, this project will close the loop on traditional “open-loop” machine learning paradigms and design algorithms that are tightly integrated with how data is acquired.

Margaret Garcia, assistant professor, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment

This grant will model a large component of the Western regional water system to assess the tradeoffs between local and systemic resilience, facilitating planning. In recognition of the multifaceted nature of infrastructure challenges facing the next generation of engineers, this project will also develop educational modules and techniques that are applicable within and outside the classroom.

Silvie Huijben, assistant professor, Center for Evolution and Medicine

Resistance against herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, antimicrobials, antivirals and anticancer drugs is a major, ongoing global challenge. The aim of this project is to better understand insecticide resistance evolution by exposing mosquitoes to different insecticide combinations and concentrations in the laboratory and employing mathematical models. This project will further develop research and inquiry-based experiences for undergraduate and K–12 students around insecticide resistance evolution.

Nicolo Michelusi, assistant professor, School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are envisioned as key components of 5G wireless technology and beyond. Because of their low cost, improved line-of-sight over terrestrial base stations and controllable mobility, they will enable low-cost wireless broadband access. This project develops a novel decision-making framework to address the critical need for adaptation in UAV-assisted wireless networks. 

Giulia Pedrielli, assistant professor, School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering

Recent events have shown how critically important it is to reduce the time from design to manufacturing and distribution of new pharmaceutical products. This has put the biomanufacturing industry under great pressure. Traditional large batch-production is impractical because of low flexibility in the quantity and type of drug being manufactured, long setup times between production runs and the inability to distribute manufacturing capacity across locations and product types. While technology has evolved in providing faster distributed manufacturing, this award focuses on the new design and control methods that are needed to efficiently operate single-use manufacturing as the fundamental enabler of renewed production flexibility in terms of variety and volume.

Susanne Pfeifer, assistant professor, School of Life Sciences, the Center for Evolution and Medicine, and the Center for Mechanisms of Evolution

For nearly a century, we have known that rates and patterns of mutation and recombination vary markedly across the tree of life; yet, despite their importance, we still know surprisingly little about the underlying causes. By performing a series of comparative genomic analyses, this research aims to identify genomic features and quantify evolutionary processes that are driving these changes across the primate clade, that is, primates’ oldest common ancestor and all of its descendants. 

Jorge Sefair, assistant professor, School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering

This award aims to improve decision-making processes related to strategic conservation planning. The proposed theory, models and algorithms will help identify portfolios of land or marine areas to conserve (i.e., purchase, restore or protect) that satisfy spatial, financial, ecological and biological requirements. Discoveries derived from this project will contribute not only to the operations research field, but also to the domains of landscape and conservation ecology. These new models and algorithms will allow the solution of a variety of real, large-scale corridor and reserve design problems in reasonable time.

Lindsay Smith, assistant professor, School for the Future of Innovation in Society

Smith’s award will examine the emergence and consolidation of four technologies that straddle state-based and grassroots responses to migration: GPS and ICT technologies, forensic DNA, isotope analysis and biometrics. The study of these technologies will provide new insights about migrations as spaces of innovation and experimentation on the part of migrants, and the rise of hybrid technologies, which fuse human rights and security goals.

Siddharth Srivastava, assistant professor, School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering

This project focuses on developing artificial intelligence (AI) systems that safely assist humans in “open-world” settings, where AI may have very limited prior information about its surroundings. This project will help increase the scope and applicability of AI systems by developing the formal principles, analysis methods and well-founded implementations for computing safe and reliable AI behavior in realistic nonstationary, open-world settings.

Jennifer Vanos, assistant professor, School of Sustainability, College of Global Futures 

This project will identify and test solutions that address key weaknesses in our scientific understanding, translation and knowledge of current and future impacts of extreme heat on human health, devising novel methods to better explore the range of human factors affecting heat stress and strain. This project will leverage a new thermal heat chamber in the Global Futures Laboratory to advance learning effectiveness at the intersection of climate and health.

Yang Weng, assistant professor, School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering

As the electric distribution grid becomes smarter, new services have become available, such as community renewable hubs and home energy management with electric vehicles. However, these new services pose significant challenges to grid reliability. The goal of this award is to develop the theoretical foundation of building a rigorous power flow equation in the distribution grid.

Yu Yao, assistant professor, School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering

Existing infrared polarimetric spectroscopic imaging systems often suffer from bulky size, long image-collection time, low spatial resolution and limited wavelength range. This project aims to design and implement ultra-compact infrared polarimetric spectroscopic imaging systems with broadband wavelength coverage and fast imaging collection speed. Such systems can become powerful tools for imaging spectroscopy, material analysis, medical research and diagnosis.

Yu Zhang, assistant professor, School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering

Zhang’s project will introduce a transformative paradigm, referred to as “reflective robotics,” for human planning and learning of robotic teammates. Despite significant research into the development of autonomous robotic agents, humans are ambivalent toward their robots. This study will address the fundamental cause of this ambivalence.

Robin Tricoles
rtricole@asu.edu