UConn Engineering Welcomes Twelve New Faculty, Increases Focus on Faculty Diversity

The twelve new faculty members hail from top institutions like Brown University, MIT, and Stanford. Top Row (from left to right): Yuanyuan Zhu (MSE), Yupeng Chen (BME), Qian Yang (CSE), Stefan Schaffoner (MSE), Volkan Ortalan (MSE), Syam Nukavarapu (BME); Bottom Row (from left to right): Liang Zhang (CBE), Jasna Jankovic (MSE), Lesley Frame (MSE), Anna Tarakanova (ME), Ahmad Jbara (CSE), Derek Aguiar (CSE).

 

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

The UConn School of Engineering is proud to announce the hiring of twelve high-caliber faculty members since the spring 2018 semester.

The new faculty members come from a variety of different backgrounds, including recent Ph.D. graduates and postdocs from institutions like Brown University, MIT, and Stanford, and veteran faculty from the UConn Health Center and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, one of the top engineering schools in the world.

This year’s faculty hires, as well as hires from the last few years, reflect the  School of Engineering’s emphasis on increasing faculty diversity. Since Fall 2017, 47 percent of the school’s new hires have been female, and nearly 20 percent of the school’s tenure/tenure-track faculty and 38 percent of the assistant professor-in-residence faculty are female, both above the national average.  

Additionally, in the last few years, the school has hired several top-notch underrepresented minority faculty, and in the summer of 2018 the school appointed its first ever female department head, Dr. Maria Chrysochoou, to lead the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department.

The new faculty members are as follows:

Name: Dr. Derek Aguiar

Title: Assistant Professor

Department: Computer Science and Engineering

Bio: Dr. Aguiar joined the UConn Computer Science and Engineering Department in 2018. He graduated from the University of Rhode Island with B.S. degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science. He received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Brown University, advised by Professor Sorin Istrail, and completed his postdoctoral work at Princeton University with Professor Barbara Engelhardt. His research aims to develop probabilistic machine learning models, combinatorial algorithms, and scalable inference methods to better understand high-dimensional data, particularly genomics and genetics data applied to complex disease.

 

Name: Dr. Yupeng Chen

Title: Associate Professor

Department: Biomedical Engineering

Bio: Dr. Chen is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Connecticut. He received his B.S. from Fudan University in China and pursued his M.S. in biomedical engineering and Ph.D. in nanomaterials and nanomedicine at Brown University. Dr. Chen has a long-term interest in translating advances from nanotechnology into clinical applications. In particular, he focuses on engineering self-assembled Janus-base nanotubes into various non-covalent architectures for drug delivery and tissue engineering. Several US and international patents on his work have been successfully licensed to NanoDe Therapeutics, Inc. Dr. Chen also serves as the Principal Investigator of several competitive research grants from NIH and NSF and has received more than three-million-dollars in funding so far in his career. Dr. Chen has won several prestigious awards, including the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from NSF in 2017 and the New Investigator Recognition Award from the Orthopaedic Research Society in 2013 (he was the top-one awardee selected from 545 applicants all over the world).

 

Name: Dr. Lesley Frame

Title: Assistant Professor

Department: Materials Science and Engineering

Bio: Dr. Frame earned her S.B. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Department of Materials Science Engineering. Frame then completed her M.S. and Ph.D. in MSE at the University of Arizona. After receiving her Ph.D., she remained at the University of Arizona as a postdoctoral researcher with The Arizona Research Institute for Solar Energy, and in this position, she worked on the novel design and construction of a solar-thermal desalination unit for use by the Navajo Nation to generate potable water for livestock. In 2011, Frame conducted research at Cardiff University and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory as a Fulbright Scholar, where she focused on mechanisms of residual stress relaxation in plastically deformed copper alloys using accelerated corrosion testing, traditional metallography, x-ray diffraction, and neutron diffraction methods.

 

Name: Dr. Jasna Jankovic

Title: Assistant Professor

Department: Materials Science and Engineering

Bio: Dr. Jankovic has been serving as an assistant professor since January 2018. She has been teaching students and working on research within her areas of expertise, which include fuel cell materials fabrication and characterization, advanced microscopy techniques, ceramic materials processing, polymer coatings, fuel refining, and catalyst deactivation. She completed her doctoral research at the University of British Columbia, where she worked on proton conductive ceramic materials for an intermediate temperature proton exchange fuel cell. Her work provided an understanding of the conductivity mechanisms in these novel materials and opened the door for further development in the future.

More recently, first as a post-doctoral fellow and then as a senior research scientist at Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation, she acquired profound experience in materials for clean energy applications and skills of advanced materials characterization including tomographic TEM. 

 

Name: Dr. Ahmad Jbara

Title: Assistant Professor-in-Residence

Department: Computer Science and Engineering

Bio: Dr. Jbara received his Ph.D. in Computer Science in July 2016 from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. He was a researcher at the Enterprise Systems Modeling Laboratory for two years, and was an adjunct lecturer of software engineering at the Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management, Technion, Israel Institute of Technology. He was also a faculty member at the Computer Science School of the Netanya Academic College, Israel. His research interests are in the fields of program comprehension, code complexity metrics, code visualization, and conceptual modeling using Object-Process Methodology (OPM). During the course of his Ph.D. studies he coined the term “code regularity” and modeled its effect on comprehension. Insights from his Master’s thesis were adopted into an early version of Internet Explorer.

 

Name: Dr. Syam Nukavarapu

Title: Associate Professor

Department: Biomedical Engineering

Bio: Dr. Nukavarapu’s research interests include orthopaedic biomaterials and tissue engineering, with emphasis on developing and evaluating scaffold structures that mimic the extracellular matrix environment to promote bone, cartilage, and bone-cartilage interface regeneration. He completed his Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), India, in Materials Science, and received post-doctoral training at Lehigh University, PA, and University of Virginia. Dr. Nukavarapu’s group is moving from UCONN Health where he is an Associate Professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery with joint appointments in the departments of Biomedical Engineering and Materials Science & Engineering. He has authored over fifty original articles, book chapters, and invited opinion article/reviews. He has edited two books in biomaterials and tissue engineering and has two issued patents. Dr. Nukavarapu has been the elected chair of Tissue Engineering Special Interest Group at the Society for Biomaterials (SFB).

 

Name: Dr. Volkan Ortalan

Title: Associate Professor

Department: Materials Science and Engineering

Bio: Dr. Volkan earned his Ph.D. in 2010 from the University of California, Davis, with a thesis in atomic-scale characterization of nanostructures in heterogeneous catalysts. He had previously earned two Bachelors of Science from the Middle East Technical University in Turkey; one in mechanical engineering, and one in metallurgical and materials engineering. Ortalan has been a postdoctoral scholar at Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology at California Institute of Technology working with Nobel Laureate Ahmed Zewail and a visiting scientist at the National Center of Electron Microscopy at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and at the Advanced Microscopy Laboratory at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  

Following his postdoctoral studies at Caltech, he joined Intel Corporation as a lithography technology development engineer. After his industrial career at Intel, he joined Purdue University and established an impressive research and teaching portfolio as an assistant professor of materials engineering.

 

Name: Dr. Stefan Schaffoner

Title: Assistant Professor

Department: Materials Science and Engineering

Bio: Dr. Schafföner earned his doctorate in 2015 from TU Bergakademie Freiberg, a premier STEM university in Germany. His thesis focused on calcium zirconate as a refractory material for titanium and titanium alloy melts. While at this institution, he ultimately led a research team of one postdoctoral and two Ph.D. students studying high-temperature ceramics, along with five related projects, funded from several German and European agencies. He later continued his research and teaching at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, funded by a research fellowship from the German Research Foundation (DFG). 

While at UConn, Schaffoner intends to research automotive, aerospace, energy and biomedical applications of high-temperature alloys, ceramics and compounds, as well as to develop processing and recycling techniques for these materials.

 

Name: Dr. Anna Tarakanova

Title: Assistant Professor

Department: Mechanical Engineering

Bio:  Dr. Anna Tarakanova joined the University of Connecticut in 2018 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Her research focuses on advancing molecular and multiscale modeling methods to study the structure, function, and mechanics of biological and bioinspired materials, driving the development of new functional materials for medical and engineering applications. Additionally, she investigates new characterization approaches for highly disordered molecules and their associated functions and implications for health and disease. Her work aims to expose disease mechanisms from a fundamental scale into structural and functional hierarchies associated with complex biological systems. She received her B.S. in Applied and Engineering Physics from Cornell University (2011), and her M.S. and Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2015 and 2017, respectively), followed by a one-year appointment as a postdoctoral scholar, also at MIT. 

 

Name:  Dr. Qian Yang

Title: Assistant Professor

Department: Computer Science and Engineering

Bio: Dr. Yang completed her Ph.D. from the Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering at Stanford University, and holds a B.A. in applied mathematics/computer science from Harvard College. Before joining UConn, she was a postdoctoral scholar in the Materials Computation and Theory group at Stanford University. Her research interests lie at the intersection of machine learning, computational science, and the physical sciences, in particular materials science and chemistry.

 

Name: Dr. Liang Zhang

Title: Assistant Professor

Department: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Bio: Dr. Zhang is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UConn. He earned his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. After that, he worked at Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania for his postdoctoral training. Dr. Zhang’s research focuses on atomistic simulation and understanding of important chemical reactions for energy and environmental applications. His research focuses on in-silico discovery and engineering of materials for a sustainable future.

 

Name: Dr. Yuanyuan Zhu

Title: Assistant Professor

Department: Materials Science and Engineering

Bio: Dr. Zhu earned her Bachelor’s in metallic materials engineering from the College of Materials Science and Engineering in Sichuan University, in Chengdu, China in 2006. Her Master’s degree in the Solid Atomic Imaging Division from the Institute of Metal Research Chinese Academy of Sciences was focused on STEM characterization of pyrolytic carbon. Her Ph.D. from Texas University A&M was centered around atomic-scale characterizations of functional heterogeneous thin films.  

Zhu understands first-hand what it’s like to apply research to a commercial market. She previously worked as a postdoctoral research associate and later as staff scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, both in the Physical & Computational Sciences Directorate and the Reactor Materials and Mechanical Design group in the Energy and Environment Division. 

Published: September 17, 2018