TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – During the past academic year, four professors at The University of Alabama received national recognition early in their careers for leading-edge research that will advance knowledge and enhance the educational experience.
The National Science Foundation selected the four professors for a CAREER Award, one of the nation’s most prestigious recognitions of top-performing young scientists. The grants allow each researcher to train and motivate a new generation of scientists and engineers not only at UA through instruction and hands-on lab work, but also through outreach efforts to schools and the community.
“National recognition for the University’s early-career researchers is an external validation of the quality of our faculty,” said Dr. Russell J. Mumper, vice president for research and economic development. “The research supported by these grants improves the educational experience for our students and brings forward-thinking solutions to some of society’s toughest challenges. The University of Alabama congratulates these faculty members for this prestigious award.”
An NSF CAREER Award will fund projects by Dr. Chris Crawford, assistant professor of computer science; Dr. Adam Hauser, assistant professor of physics and astronomy; Dr. Jason Pienaar, assistant professor of biological sciences; and Dr. Aijun Song, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.
The NSF Faculty Early Career Development, or CAREER, Program is a Foundation-wide activity offering the most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty with the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.
Currently, 36 UA faculty from disciplines across campus received NSF CAREER Awards during their tenure.
Crawford will use his award to understand how high school students in rural Alabama can learn about computer science through interacting with computers using sensors attached to the body, such as those that detect brain activity. Physiological computing systems are at the forefront of human-computer interaction, and the study will provide rural students and their teachers with hands-on learning experiences that investigate how students learn about physiological data processing and computational concepts. It should inform future pathways for teaching, train students for future careers and understand how the experience influences students’ ability to learn the concepts.
Hauser’s award seeks to understand how complex materials with three or more elements can be ordered in a crystal structure with atomic precision. The creation of two-element ordered materials led to many technologies used today, including cell phones and high-efficiency solar panels. However, a blueprint for three-element atomic ordering has proved elusive for decades. These materials are needed in information technology, solar cells, lighting, microwave communications, thermoelectrics and power electronics. Hauser proposes to create a quantitative predictive model for atomic ordering in complex alloys to solve this problem and lead to the next generation of technologies.
With his award, Pienaar will investigate the coevolution of the micro-animals tardigrades with the mosses and lichens they inhabit, specifically their joint adaptations to survive extreme dryness. Through studying the genetic, phenotypic and ecological interaction of tardigrades, sometimes called water bears or moss piglets, with their environments, Pienaar hopes shedding light on the joint mechanisms to survive complete dehydration can be used to understand and manage drought resistance in crops and other organisms as well as to alleviate cellular damage during space travel.
Song’s award will develop advanced subsea wireless sensor networks with a goal to promote ocean science progress and the development of the future ocean economy workforce. Self-driving underwater vehicles are a critical innovation in ocean exploration, but limited underwater wireless communication capabilities hinder their applications in the field. Song envisions a mobile, multi-mode communication network with a fleet of cooperative autonomous surface vehicles and autonomous underwater vehicles. The mobile network will provide much-needed connectivity for self-driving underwater vehicles and help advance the next frontier of ocean sampling and exploration.