Five UConn Engineering Professors Received NSF CAREER Awards in 2018

By: Eli Freund, Editorial Communications Manager, UConn School of Engineering 

In 2018, five UConn Engineering faculty were awarded Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) grants from the National Science Foundation. The CAREER program awards these funds to exceptional junior faculty who exhibit outstanding skills in research and education, and show the potential to be academic leaders and role models. The number of CAREER awards has nearly doubled from 2017, when the school had three faculty members receive these highly prestigious awards.

This year, the five faculty members represent four different departments, and have projects ranging from 3-D printing to air pollution. The awardees for 2018 are as follows:

(Christopher Larosa/UConn Photo)


Dr. Ali Bazzi, UTC Assistant Professor of Engineering Innovation in electrical and computer engineering received $500,000 over five years for his project, “Hierarchical Control of High-Performance Motor Drives.” Bazzi’s research will be focused on multi-electrical motor drives. Multiple drives or multi-drives open a new dimension of research into optimizing their combined performance metrics through energy savings, cost savings, increased reliability, and enhanced performance. This project will establish foundations for control, fault diagnosis, fault mitigation, and coordination between multi-drives. It will mainly utilize supervisory and switching control concepts at the local and global drive levels. Through this research, a hierarchy of controls will be established. 


(UConn School of Engineering)


Dr. Xu Chen, assistant professor of mechanical engineering was awarded $500,0000 over five years for his project, “Adding to the Future: Thermal Modeling, Sparse Sensing, and Integrated Controls for Precise and Reliable Powder Bed Fusion.” Chen’s research will generate new knowledge critical for enabling high-throughput, quality-assured new Powder Bed Fusion processes to ignite the next industrial revolution. Powder bed fusion (PBF), in which new material is added by applying and selectively melting a powdered feedstock, is a popular form of additive manufacturing (also known as 3-D printing) for metallic and high-performance polymeric materials. Building on fundamental innovations to model and control the thermal mechanical process, the research will illuminate ways to mitigate quality variations on the fly, and provide new feedback-centric control paradigms to engineer the layered deposition of thermal energy, which is imperative for quality and reproducibility.  

In addition to the research aspect, Chen will build new PBF hardware platforms and open hands-on 3-D printing courses to students and teachers. The impacts of this project will also be disseminated to collaborating universities, expanding the knowledge base in PFB and AM across the country.

(Christopher Larosa/UConn Photo)


Dr. Mohammad Khan, assistant professor of computer science and engineering received $559,786 over five years for his project, “The Role of Emotion and Social Motives in Communicating Risk: Implications for User Behavior in the Cyber Security Context.” Khan will center his research on risk-mitigation of cyberattacks by designing effective risk communication strategies. Khan notes that many cyberattacks are preventable if end users take precautionary measures, such as keeping systems updated, but they often fail to do so. His proposal builds upon theories of risk communication and self-determination to design new approaches to cybersecurity risk communication and training. The goals are to enable users to assess risks, costs, and benefits consistently and correctly, and to promote task-focused coping responses. By enabling non-expert users to make informed security decisions through raising cybersecurity risk awareness and self-efficacy development, this project directly addresses an increasingly serious threat to economic growth and national security. This project also creates cybersecurity research and training opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students, and members from underrepresented population groups through outreach initiatives.

(Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)


Dr. Julian Norato, assistant professor of mechanical engineering was awarded $500,000 over five years for his project, “Geometric Rules and Cost in Topology Optimization for Efficient Design of Manufacturable and Economically-Viable Structures.” This project will advance fundamental research and formulate a design framework to systematically incorporate geometric design rules and manufacturing cost considerations into the computational design of structures.  In particular, the techniques advanced in this project belong to a group of techniques called topology optimization, in which a computer program finds the optimal shape of a structural component or an architected material.  This research will enable the conceptual design and optimization of lightweight, high-performance, and economically-viable structures with applications across a wide range of engineering industries. The new design capabilities will have the potential to significantly reduce manufacturing and R&D costs and increase the economic competitiveness of American manufacturers. Norato was also a recipient of the 2017 ONR Young Investigator Award.

(Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)


Dr. Kristina Wagstrom, Eversource Energy Assistant Professor for Environmental Engineering Education in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department, received $500,000 over five years for her project, “Engaging Communities to Bridge the Local to Regional Gap in Air Pollution Exposure Assessment.” Wagstrom’s research will empower local communities to combat local near-road air quality issues. According to Wagstrom’s abstract, over 19% of the United States population lives near major roads. This can negatively impact health and lead to lower life expectancy. More specifically, her project will equip communities with crucial information on local air pollution and advocate for solutions. Wagstrom will achieve those goals by combining air quality measurements, modeling, and community engagement. If successful, the results of this research will transform air pollution exposure assessment modeling and highlight the potential for productive collaborations between researchers and community members to solve air quality problems. Student involvement will lead to an increase in participation of underrepresented groups in engineering and also her work with local communities will significantly impact understanding in environmental science and air pollution, which will lead to greater pollution policies and improved urban planning.

For more information on NSF CAREER awards, please visit:

Published: May 17, 2018