Four engineering faculty members receive NSF Early Career awards totaling more than $2 million

Four more Auburn Engineering faculty have been selected for the prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program.

Majid Beidaghi, assistant professor of materials engineering, was awarded $544,586 to conduct fundamental research on advanced battery chemistries and components that have the potential for greater energy density and cycling performance.

In addition to enabling the design of an entirely new family of cathode materials for aluminium-ion batteries, the project also includes outreach and educational activities designed to support Alabama middle and high school students participating in STEM-related competitions. Educational modules focused on defining and performing science fair projects will be developed and disseminated to local schools through teacher training workshops. In addition, the educational plan utilizes “science and engineering as art” projects to foster creativity in science communication and dissemination of scientific concepts and discoveries among undergraduate and graduate students.

Debswapna Bhattacharya, assistant professor of computer science and software engineering, will use a $557,340 award to develop novel computational and data-driven methods to substantially improve protein structure refinement, bringing protein models closer to biologically relevant experimental accuracy. He will also develop and publicly disseminate an open-access bioinformatics research infrastructure that will advance basic biological research.

This interdisciplinary project has a deep commitment to enriching biomolecular simulation and refinement, benefiting researchers and students in multiple communities at the interface of computing and biology. The project facilitates simulation-based learning through the development of PolyFold, a visual simulator for interactive protein structure manipulation and refinement, with an inclusive commitment to engage general public in science and technology.

Pengyu Chen, assistant professor in materials engineering, will use a $500,000 award to develop a nanomaterial imaging system that can measure and track in real-time chemical signals secreted by immune cells. This novel research into how immune cells “talk” to each other will advance immune disease screening and diagnosis technologies.

New education experiences developed as part of this award will train K-12, undergraduate and graduate students about bioengineering and nanotechnology. Learning activities and public events will be performed to increase the public interests in material science and biotechnology.

David Roeuche, assistant professor in civil engineering, will use his $573,297 award to investigate new methodologies that harness post-windstorm reconnaissance data in order to promote the resilience of buildings and communities and reduce future losses and other impacts. Current capabilities for analyzing this data are ill-suited for efficient discovery and application. Roeuche’s project will develop a robust, theory-guided, statistical inference framework for learning from post-windstorm data that will transform the scale to understand and predict windstorm damage, specifically for low-rise buildings.

An interactive outreach platform will be developed to translate the project’s research findings to the general public and increase awareness of the critical factors affecting windstorm performance.

“We’re proud of these four immensely talented researchers and faculty members,” said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of engineering. “We are thrilled that the NSF recognizes the same promise that we see in them.”

Auburn Engineering faculty have now won five CAREER awards in just the past 10 months. Lauren Beckingham, assistant professor of civil engineering, received the National Science Foundation Faculty Early CAREER Development award in August for her work in environmental engineering.