October 6, 2022

UB engineering researchers receive NSF CAREER awards totaling $2.3 million

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Their projects will tackle pressing societal concerns ranging from racial inequality in the U.S. to PFAS pollution, the need for better semiconductors, and energy conservation

Release Date: September 7, 2022

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Four University at Buffalo researchers have received the National Science Foundation CAREER award, one of the nation’s most prestigious honors for early-career scientists and engineers.

CAREER grants provide investigators with funding to conduct research and develop educational programming for K-12 students, university students and members of the public.

UB’s four CAREER award grantees will receive a total of over $2.3 million for projects that address pressing societal problems.

The researchers will use their expertise to tackle questions concerning racial inequality in the U.S., chemical pollution, the energy consumption that drives climate change, and the need for more efficient semiconductors. And they’ll partner with colleagues at UB and in the community to develop programs that encourage the next generation of engineers and scientists to continue working on these issues.

“We are proud of the contributions that our early-career faculty are making in tackling some of the most important challenges facing society today,” says Venu Govindaraju, PhD, UB vice president for research and economic development. “Through research, education and community engagement, they are developing solutions, engaging in important conversations on pressing issues, and inspiring the next generation of scientific leaders.”

UB’s 2022 awardees are:

Nirupam Aich, PhD

Nirupam Aich.

Assistant Professor of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Award amount: $500,000

Aich is developing a filtration system for treating water contaminated by per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These toxic chemicals, popularly known as “forever chemicals,” are ubiquitous in consumer and industrial products, and are very hard to break down. “We did some recent studies with a catalytic nanomaterial and realized that we could break the carbon-fluorine chain of the PFAS. We will 3D print new filters using these carbon-metal nanomaterials, where the carbon will absorb the contaminants on its surface, and the metal nanoparticles will degrade them,” he says. With partners including the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership (ISEP) and Sunha Kim, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology and Department of Learning and Instruction in the Graduate School of Education, Aich will, respectively, develop and evaluate outreach initiatives that include helping middle and high school teachers create lesson plans on environmental pollution and engineering solutions. Learn more about Aich’s CAREER award project.

Danial Faghihi, PhD

Danial Faghihi.

Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Award amount: $595,593

Faghihi is designing superinsulation materials systems for use in buildings via data-driven predictive computational tools. The goal is to lower the structures’ energy consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “Transforming conventional building insulation using innovative and eco-friendly materials systems is now critically needed to dramatically reduce the negative environmental impacts of buildings,” he says. With partners including the Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) program and Sunha Kim, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology and Department of Learning and Instruction in the Graduate School of Education, Faghihi will also establish and evaluate a variety of computational engineering education and outreach activities. These include efforts that focus on providing training opportunities for high school and undergraduate students, and improving gender diversity in the computing workforce. Learn more about Faghihi’s CAREER award project.

Kenneth Joseph, PhD

Kenneth Joseph.

Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Award amount: $574,710

Joseph’s project focuses on leveraging large-scale data from social media, combined with data from surveys, to understand attitudes toward racial inequality in the U.S. “My work will integrate qualitative methods, survey data, machine learning and computer simulations to help us better understand ideologies of race in the United States and how they function to maintain and/or challenge racial inequality,” he says. The CAREER funding will also support Joseph’s work with Letitia Thomas, PhD, assistant dean for diversity in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, to develop computational tools that use administrative data to improve the inclusiveness of the computer science and engineering undergraduate major. He will also develop a course for sophomores, titled “Race, Class, Gender and Technology,” that uses the Impossible Project approach to teaching developed by Dalia Antonia Caraballo Muller, PhD, associate professor of history, to help students understand the role of computing in society. Learn more about Joseph’s CAREER award project.

Baishakhi Mazumder, PhD

Baishakhi Mazumder.

Assistant Professor of Materials Design and Innovation

College of Arts and Sciences and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Award amount: $642,450

Mazumder’s project aims to improve electrical conductivity in ultrawide bandgap semiconductors. “My work seeks to understand what really happens at the scale of charge carriers and microstructures within these material systems, including the dopant-defect interaction and how these atomic scale features affect the electrical functionalities,” she says. The research could improve the efficiency of consumer electronics and appliances, electric vehicles, and more. Through courses, workshops and symposia highlighting how advanced materials can help solve societal problems, Mazumder will seek to inspire students, especially women and underrepresented minorities, to pursue careers in materials science and engineering. Learn more about Mazumder’s CAREER award project.

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