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National Science Foundation grants six engineers CAREER awards totaling more than $2.4 million

Four additional University of Texas at Austin engineering professors were awarded 2004 National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards, among the most prestigious grants given to young faculty.

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AUSTIN, Texas—Four additional University of Texas at Austin engineering professors were awarded 2004 National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards, among the most prestigious grants given to young faculty.

Their awards, averaging more than $400,000 each, create a total of six University of Texas at Austin engineering faculty CAREER awardees for 2004.

The four award winners were Dr. Venkat Ganesan, assistant professor of chemical engineering; Dr. Loukas Kallivokas, assistant professor of civil engineering; Dr. Sanjay Shakkottai, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Dr. Travis Waller, assistant professor of civil engineering.

Previously, NSF announced 2004 CAREER awards to Dr. Lynn Loo, assistant professor of chemical engineering, to research new materials that can be used in the next generation of microelectronic applications, and Dr. Rick Neptune, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, for improving walking abilities of amputees.

Ganesan received about $400,000 to improve understanding of advanced polymers subjected to movement. Because many industrial applications require plastics to perform as moving parts, which often changes their structures and/or properties and renders them ineffective, Ganesan’s work will seek to avoid these problems. Ganesan will also help develop strategies to use the movement to intentionally manipulate the polymers’ structure and properties.

“This research is a marriage between thermodynamics and fluid dynamics, topics that have very rarely intersected in their three centuries of existence, thereby making it an extremely challenging issue,” says Ganesan.

Advanced polymers play an important role in the construction of many everyday devices, including microelectronics, CDs, DVDs and batteries.

Kallivokas and his research group will use his grant of about $440,000 to develop the capability to “see” into the earth’s upper soil layers. They want to image, or profile, the soil in terms of its properties (stiffness, density and damping), to know how the soil will respond to stress waves, such as earthquake tremors.

“Much of the welfare of humans and their daily activities depend on the quality of information we have for the top surface soil layers,” he says. Knowing soil properties “with some confidence and at some depth” allows engineers to design better buildings that reside on the soil. This information would allow engineers to simulate computationally how an earthquake would affect a structure and design stronger structures.

To perform the research, Kallivokas and his group will use mobile shakers (machines that simulate mini-earthquakes) then scan the soil and collect information on its reaction to the resulting stress waves. Afterwards they will use mathematical and computational modeling tools to determine the properties of the soil.

Shakkottai received about $400,000 to begin the early steps for creating large networks of sensors that transmit information wirelessly.

“From tasks like tracking chemical pollutants through a riverbed to creating individualized climates within buildings, sensor network technology will transform the way we interact and understand the physical world,” says Shakkottai.

Shakkottai’s work will make possible the next generation of sensor devices that gather information. Instead of collecting information one sensor at a time, Shakkottai and his group will observe fluctuations in a continuous medium of sensor nodes to glean information.

“Such networks will support communications over thousands of sensor nodes—communications of a scale not seen in today’s networks,” he says.

Combining these large networks will first require the creation of a framework for sensor network algorithms (step-by-step procedures) and architecture.

Shakkottai hopes his networks make possible conveniences like personalized climates inside buildings that “follow” individuals throughout their travels around the building. He also foresees networks of sensors placed in soil to communicate levels of pollution, runoff, etc.

Waller received a grant of about $400,000 to research complex transportation systems, such as roadways, railways or airline systems that can be modeled as networks. His models will allow travelers in the network to receive information about costs or travel times throughout the system as they travel, so they can continually reevaluate their travel decisions.

Very few mathematical models exist for systems like these because of their complexity. Each user’s decisions affect other users. For example, if one traveler decides on one path, it will increase the travel time on that path for other users. The interdependence of travelers’ decisions, the inherent uncertainty of some factors in the network (such as the exact number of travelers) and changing system dynamics all contribute to the network’s complexity.

“As the fundamental behavior of travelers changes regarding information availability, we may find we should design our transportation systems differently,” says Waller.

For more information contact: Becky Rische, College of Engineering, 512-471-7272.