Three researchers from GW’s School of Engineering and Applied Science have been awarded National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grants. These prestigious awards, each worth approximately $400,000 over five years, are awarded to junior faculty members who excel at both research and teaching.
The winners are Yongsheng Leng, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Gabriel Parmer, assistant professor of computer science; and Guru Prasadh Venkataramani, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.
SEAS Dean David Dolling said he is extremely proud to have three NSF CAREER award winners within the school.
“This is a ‘first’ for SEAS, and big news,” Dr. Dolling said. “It’s the sort of accomplishment that any engineering school—including the top schools in the country—aims for, and we’re thrilled about it. As word of this filters out beyond GW, it can only help us continue to build the SEAS reputation.”
A fourth GW researcher, Svetlana Roudenko, also received a 2012 CAREER award. Dr. Roudenko is an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics.
The SEAS researchers’ awards come at a time when the school is working hard to raise its research profile and increase student involvement in research. A new building—the Science and Engineering Hall, slated to open in 2015—will help attract top-quality faculty and students to GW, and honors like the CAREER awards help serve the same function, Dr. Dolling said.
Each award winner developed a proposal in which he described a research problem the NSF funding would help support. The proposals also included education and outreach components.
Dr. Leng’s research involves developing a computational framework to investigate structural properties in liquid films, which are a type of material that is very thin—typically only a few nanometers thick.
“This research can be applied to the lubrication in car engine parts,” he said. “Too much friction between moving parts means that the engine runs less efficiently over time, and the car’s gas mileage decreases. Depending on the properties of liquid films, they can be used to lubricate moving parts and increase engine efficiency.”
Dr. Leng hopes to advance a field in which much is still unknown. “The physical behavior of ultrathin film not only depends on its own properties, but also depends on the properties of contacting solids,” he said. “The performance of machines in nanotechnology depends on nano-lubricant behavior, but this problem has not yet been well resolved.”
Both GW undergraduate and graduate students will play important roles in his research. “The students will stick with the project through the grant lifetime and will be heavily involved,” Dr. Leng said. “Two mechanical engineering undergraduate students have already joined the research team.”
For the outreach component of his CAREER grant, he’ll involve School Without Walls students as summer interns. Some interested SWW students may also be able to complete their individual senior projects (required for SWW graduation) as part of his grant.
Dr. Parmer’s research involves investigating how to make computer systems essentially self-repairing—able to recover from faults and resume predictable operation, he said.
His proposal is to develop a new operating system structure for real-time systems—the systems that control our physical world, such as the millions of lines of computer code running a Boeing aircraft’s flight systems.
“We know that we can’t get software to have no faults,” Dr. Parmer said. “Everyone is familiar with applications crashing and ‘blue screens of death.’ But if we can’t get our desktop computers to be entirely reliable, what happens when you get a program fault in an airplane that’s thousands of feet up in the air?”
Since it’s clear that computer systems will have faults, Dr. Parmer wants to make sure they can’t affect an entire system, and that the system will be able to reboot or rebuild the malfunctioning part without disrupting the rest.
He and his students—both undergraduates and graduates—have already been working on portions of the problem, so learning that he had received the CAREER award was a huge relief, he said.
“It’s ambitious and exciting work for my students, and it was a relief to know we’ll have the funding now and can really kick things into gear,” he said. “A CAREER award puts a lot of focus on the researcher, but it’s important to keep perspective that there is a lot of work from a lot of people that went into it.”
Dr. Parmer has already been lecturing about computer programming to high school students at Edison Academy, a part of the Fairfax County Public School system in Alexandria, Va., and under the CAREER grant, he plans to expand his involvement with students there who are interested in advanced computing.
Better computing is also the focus of Dr. Venkataramani’s research. He is interested in improving the efficiency in multi-core processors, which power many types of technology we use daily, including smartphones and tablet computers. As more processors are added, Dr. Venkataramani said, one would expect an equal addition in computing power—a four-core processor should make a program run four times faster than a single-core processor. But in reality, there are many problems in scaling up application performance.
His research proposal involves developing an integrated hardware-software approach to overcoming the bottlenecks in performance that develop when more cores are added to a computing system. And one of Dr Venkataramani’s interests beyond his research topic is building a diverse group of student researchers within his department.
“I came from Georgia Tech, which has a number of female, minority and international students doing cutting-edge research. That’s the kind of research group I’d like to build here at GW,” he explained. “I would also like to include undergraduates, not just grad students.”
For the outreach component of his project, Dr. Venkataramani has plans to reach high school students at School Without Walls and other local schools.
“Computing is not going anywhere, and everyone needs to know what it’s about,” he said. “I had the gift of being exposed to computing in high school, and it’s time to spread the opportunity.”
Gina Lohr, special assistant to GW’s vice president for research, said 12 GW faculty members submitted CAREER grant proposals for 2012, with four proposals being selected for the awards. According to the NSF award website, GW faculty members have won more CAREER awards in the past two years than any of the other colleges and universities in the D.C. metropolitan area, except for the University of Maryland-College Park.