Four Columbia Engineering Professors Win NSF CAREER Awards

Columbia Engineering professors were awarded four of the National Science Foundation’s prestigious CAREER Awards this year. Together, their work illustrates the breadth of the School’s research and innovation: Shiho Kawashima is developing techniques for 3D printing with concrete; Matthias Preindl is redesigning power converter systems to lower their cost in electric vehicles and improve reliability; Javad Ghaderi is optimizing the performance of large-scale networks; and Van-Anh Truong is personalizing e-commerce and e-services for a better user experience. The awards – each of these is for five years and $500,000 – support early-career faculty who most effectively integrate research and education.

Shiho Kawashima
Shiho Kawashima
—Photo by Eileen Barroso

"We're very proud of the incredible talent in our junior faculty,” Dean Mary C. Boyce said. “This is the third straight year that Columbia Engineering professors have been recognized with four NSF CAREER grants, an accomplishment that speaks highly of our faculty’s innovation, their dedication to training the next generation of engineers, and their drive for solutions to today’s global challenges.”

Kawashima, an assistant professor of civil engineering and engineering mechanics, won a CAREER award to support her work developing concrete systems for use in 3D printing, a technology that could revolutionize the construction and repair of infrastructure. Her research specializes in the processing and rheology, or flow properties, of concrete and cement. “If we can 3D-print rather than do conventional static formwork casting, we can lower material and labor costs, reduce material waste, cut construction time, and minimize human error,” Kawashima said. (Read more about Kawashima’s project).

Matthias Preindl
Matthias Preindl
—Photo by Timothy Lee Photographers

Preindl, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, is taking the concept of virtualization from computer science and applying it to power converters. Today’s electric vehicles and home renewable energy systems require several types of converters, each taking up space and raising the cost. Preindl is designing systems that, instead of relying on single-function converters, use a series of interchangeable converter modules with a virtual software layer that controls the converter functions. The result will create redundancy for better reliability – if one converter fails, another can pick up its functions. The virtual converter system will also require fewer electronics, lowering overall costs, and its ability to reassign converter modules to different uses should speed up onboard charging for electric vehicles. Students in Preindl's lab at Columbia Engineering will be testing the system on two projects: an electric drivetrain prototype for the Formula SAE electric vehicle competition, and an off-grid solar-powered irrigation plant in Senegal. (Read more about Preindl’s project.)

Javad Ghaderi
Javad Ghaderi
—Photo by Jeffrey Schifman

Ghaderi, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, will be using his CAREER grant to develop a new algorithmic framework for optimizing the performance of large-scale networks, including wireless network systems and data centers. He is examining ways to exploit the networks' stochasticity (randomness) and large-scale nature to design simple adaptive algorithms that could help improve emerging applications in areas such as disaster recovery, healthcare, and data processing, as well as the use of wireless networks in our daily lives. The research has shown that, somewhat counter-intuitively, system stochasticity coupled with large scale might help in designing algorithms that can approach optimal solutions as networks grow. “As wireless network systems and data centers continue to scale up, optimization problems have become even more complex. This is especially true now in the age of the Internet of Things and big data, where we are witnessing the expansion of networks at large scale which require highly scalable and efficient resource allocation algorithms,” Ghaderi said. (Read more about Ghaderi’s project.)

Van Anh Truong
Van-Anh Truong
—Photo by Eileen Barroso

Truong, an assistant professor in industrial engineering and operations research, will be using her CAREER grant to create a framework and methodology for investigating and solving a large class of real-time optimization problems involving personalization in e-commerce and e-service. Online consumers are notoriously impatient—they want personalized choices instantaneously, whether it be a product to buy, a movie to watch, or an appointment to schedule. Truong is developing fast and robust algorithms for solving these management problems, building on industry collaborations in several domains, including Columbia University Medical Center, Amazon, and Alibaba Group. (Read more about Truong’s project.)

In 2016, recipients of NSF CAREER Awards included Assistant Professor of Computer Science Allison Bishop; Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Matei Ciocarlie; Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering Pierre Gentine; and Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering Nima Mesgarani. In 2015, Assistant Professor of Computer Science Changxi Zheng; Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Kristin Myers; Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering Mingoo Seok; and Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering Christine Hendon all received NSF CAREER Awards.

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