UA Professors Get CAREER Boost

Two engineering professors at The University of Alabama received national recognition for leading-edge research that will advance knowledge and enhance the educational experience.

The National Science Foundation selected the two professors for a CAREER Award, one of the nation’s most prestigious honors for top-performing young scientists, during the recently completed academic year. Each grant will provide about $550,000 for research, education and outreach efforts.

The awards 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.

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.

Across campus, 35 active UA faculty received NSF CAREER Awards during their tenure.

“An NSF CAREER Award is a mark of excellence for the transformative discovery and innovation led by our faculty who tackles tomorrow’s challenges to discover new knowledge,” said Dr. Allen Parrish, interim vice president for research and economic development. “This knowledge provides the basis for teaching our students and preparing them for the careers of the future.”

Raising Awareness of Rising Seas

Hamed Moftakhari in his office
Dr. Hamed Moftakhari

With his CAREER Award, Dr. Hamed Moftakhari, assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering, and the students in his lab will set up a computer modeling system that helps monitor minor floods, or nuisance floods, along the country’s coastline to raise awareness of the impacts of rising sea level.

Nuisance floods can occur when high tides bring a few inches of flood water to urban coastal streets sufficient to interrupt traffic and businesses. There is not a lot of data on their impacts and potential mitigation. The UA work plans to develop a framework tracking the accumulated costs of these floods, data that can support decisions on development near the coasts.

“Sea level rise is happening gradually over time,” he said. “It’s really hard to communicate to people that it’s going to come to their backyard sooner or later. The benefit of monitoring these frequent nuisance floods is that it is going to be a very good reminder for the community that sea level is rising.”

Put This on the Radar

A woman sits for a portrait in a lab filled electronic equipment.
Dr. Sevgi Gurbuz

For Dr. Sevgi Zubeyde Gurbuz, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, her CAREER Award will enable further exploration of next-generation AI-enhanced radars.

Dr. Gurbuz’s research involves developing new machine learning and signal processing techniques for controlling the transmissions of and processing the returns from low-cost, low-power, small radar transceivers. The techniques developed will pave the way for devices and smart environments to better respond to human movements in applications of human-computer interaction, such as sign language recognition, health monitoring and autonomous vehicles.

This project will explore transforming fixed radars into intelligent systems that can autonomously ramp up sensing capabilities and draw in other sensors to improve understanding of what humans are doing, and hence the ability of technology to respond to human needs.

“It’s about how can we use radar to sense human behavior, and then designing systems that improve quality of life as a result,” she said. “Radar has the opportunity to bridge the gap with some of the weaknesses that existing sensors have in terms of ambient sensing.”