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Three engineers receive $1.5 million combined in NSF CAREER awards

The grants support research and education in wireless networks, saltwater desalination and the Internet of Things

Release Date: April 18, 2017

“These highly competitive awards are evidence of the outstanding and groundbreaking research and educational work that our early-career faculty members are engaged in.”
Liesl Folks, dean
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Three University at Buffalo engineers recently received prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER awards.

The grants, which together exceed $1.5 million, are an indication that UB is attracting some of the world’s brightest young researchers to the Buffalo Niagara region.

The awards will support research and educational outreach that: improves wireless networking in extreme environments (needed for pollution monitoring, homeland security and more); reduces pollution from seawater desalination plants; and creates more secure internet connections for cars, households and other objects being brought online.

Grant recipients are from three departments – computer science and engineering; civil, structural and environmental engineering; and electrical engineering – in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

“These highly competitive awards are evidence of the outstanding and groundbreaking research and educational work that our early-career faculty members are engaged in. Each faculty member is working to solve problems that will have widespread and lasting societal benefits,” said Liesl Folks, PhD, MBA, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The CAREER award, NSF’s most significant for early-career academic researchers, provides the recipients with the means to grow their research programs.

“At UB, we emphasize innovative and impactful research, education and engagement. These prestigious awards spotlight how our early-career investigators are conducting exciting and meaningful research that addresses some of society’s most challenging problems,” said Venu Govindaraju, PhD, vice president for research and economic development at UB. 

UB's new CAREER awardees are:

Ning Dai
Faculty position:
PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering
Year joined UB:
2014
Award amount:
$503,517

One of the most promising ways to meet the growing global demand for drinking water is seawater desalination using reverse osmosis, a process in which membranes remove salt and other materials from seawater. Desalination plants use disinfectants to keep the membranes clean, but disinfectants can, in turn, react with organic materials in seawater to form harmful byproducts. During algal blooms, high concentrations of algae can form even more byproducts. Dai will use the award to investigate how organic materials from algae form byproducts and she will develop strategies to prevent byproduct formation, ultimately creating more sustainable desalination and cleaner water.

Lu Su
Faculty position:
PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Year joined UB:
2014
Award amount:
$508,860

Driverless cars. Smart thermostats. Robot vacuums. All are examples of the Internet of Things, the process of connecting the physical world to computer-based systems. The idea is to reduce human intervention while improving efficiency and accuracy. While promising, many of these systems are susceptible to hacking and other failures. Su will use the award to build a robust, reliable and secure computing framework for smart devices to operate on. The work will lead to greater security and economic efficiencies.

Zhi Sun
Faculty position:
PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering
Year joined UB:
2012
Award amount:
$500,000

Wireless networks span the globe but they are largely absent underground, underwater and in tunnels and other confined spaces. Sun is working to change that. He will use the grant to develop a computing system — Metamaterial-inspired Networking (MetaNet) — that makes it possible for portable devices to work in these extreme environments. The system may eventually be used for pollution monitoring, security, defense and other applications.

Media Contact Information

Cory Nealon
Director of News Content
Engineering, Computer Science
Tel: 716-645-4614
cmnealon@buffalo.edu
Twitter: @UBengineering