Three faculty receive Young Investigator awards from Air Force

Three faculty members in the School of Engineering & Applied Science have received three-year grants from the competitive Young Investigator Research Program (YIP) through the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

ShiNung Ching, Brendan Juba and Fuzhong Zhang all assistant professors, were among 57 scientists selected to share $16.6 million in grants from more than 200 proposals.

The YIP is open to scientists and engineers at U.S. research institutions who received doctorate or equivalent degrees in the last five years and who show exceptional ability and promise for conducting basic research. The program is designed to foster creative basic research in science and engineering, enhance early career development of outstanding young investigators and increase opportunities for the young investigators to recognize the Air Force mission and the related challenges in science and engineering.

Grants were awarded for research in major areas of interest to the Air Force, including: dynamical systems and control, quantum and non-equilibrium processes, information, decision and complex networks, complex materials and devices, and energy, power and propulsion.

Ching, in electrical & systems engineering, will receive $377,640 to study the dynamics of neural coding, or how brain networks turn raw sensory inputs into information we can use to see, hear and feel things in our environment. His work will introduce new systems-theoretic analyses to study the connection the biophysics of the brain's neurons and two network properties: their expressiveness and their sensitivity. The results could ultimately be used to create dynamic networks that can process time-varying inputs.

Juba, in computer science & engineering, will receive $359,140 to study the design of machine-learning algorithms to identify events of interest in a probability distribution. He plans to design an algorithm that will be able to determine a simple relationship that occurs frequently among the attributes in a large amount of data. He then will provide mathematical analysis of the algorithm, proving that the algorithm finds the condition under which there is a good fit.

Zhang, in energy, environmental & chemical engineering, will receive $375,721 for research that will use protein engineering concepts and synthetic biological tools to establish a bacteria-based material factory to produce protein polymers with defined sequences and ultra-high molecular weights. This proposed bacterial factory would be used to create natural, nature-inspired or new computationally designed protein polymers, which would move the field beyond its current limit. In addition, it would facilitate research in the material science community and bring transformative changes to state-of-the-art material manufacturing, leading to new materials that could be used in Air Force applications.

Jr-Shin Li, the Das Family Career Development Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical & Systems Engineering, received the award in 2010.

The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 91 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, more than 900 graduate students and more than 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.