Four FAU Researchers Receive Prestigious NSF CAREER Awards

Florida Atlantic University, National Science Foundation, Early CAREER Award, College of Engineering and Computer Science, Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, Grants, Research

(Photo by Alex Dolce)

By gisele galoustian | 8/6/2020

Four researchers from Florida Atlantic University have received the coveted National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career (CAREER) award. The CAREER program offers the NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.

FAU’s “fantastic four” researchers are Waseem Asghar, Ph.D., associate professor; Behnaz Ghoraani, Ph.D., associate professor and faculty fellow at FAU’s Institute for Sensing and Embedded Network Systems Engineering (I-SENSE);  Feng-Hao Liu, Ph.D., assistant professor, all within the Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in FAU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science; and Marianne E. Porter, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science.

“Through its investments in science and engineering research and education, the National Science Foundation is strengthening our nation’s capability to address a broad array of challenges in our efforts for a safer, healthier, more secure and prosperous life,” said Stella Batalama, Ph.D., dean of FAU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science. “Our three researchers in the college are helping to address some of our most pressing societal issues such as point-of-care detection of infectious diseases, early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and cybersecurity. We are extremely proud of their contributions and for receiving one of the most prestigious awards for a junior scientist in academia.”

Asghar received $500,000 over five years to develop a point-of-care platform to detect infectious diseases. Current technologies for testing viral infections often require multiple labor-intensive steps and require costly and bulky equipment, which are not suitable for rapid disease testing at point-of-care settings. The goal of the project is to produce a low-cost, disposable device that integrates fully automated assay with smart-phone-based readout for reporting and surveillance of current and emerging infectious diseases. Asghar’s innovative approaches to enabling analysis of complex samples include blood, saliva and urine with minimal sample preparation and resources. The project also integrates multidisciplinary research with educational activities to engage high school teachers and students at different levels and to help prepare a skilled workforce and broaden participation in the STEM fields.

Ghoraani received $524,191 over five years to develop a cognitive screening tool for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease using wearables and a smartphone that can detect at-risk individuals and monitor the disease progression rate in any clinical setting without the need for specialists or specialized medical equipment. The cognitive screening tool can be used at home or in any clinic, with no extensive infrastructure. In addition, the project’s advanced data analytics approaches can be applied to other engineering fields such as speech recognition and neuroengineering, clinical diseases such as motor neuron disease, or rehabilitation modalities such as stroke recovery. The project will include an integrated education and outreach program to foster interdisciplinary research training opportunities. The program will focus on neurodegenerative diseases, intended to increase the participation of females and underrepresented groups in STEM disciplines. Research training opportunities will also target middle and high school students and healthcare applications will be integrated in the FAU engineering curriculum.

Liu received $500,000 over five years to develop mathematical tools and new ways of coding to prevent information leakage and secure portable devices such as smart phones and iPads, under physical attacks. The project will focus on developing new mathematical theories to improve cryptography with tools to secure data in both outsourced and portable environments, in addition to post-quantum security. Outcomes from this research would yield multiple efficient post-quantum crypto systems and provide secure methods for more advanced applications. Techniques developed through this research are expected to bring critical insights for building practical solutions for enabling safe outsourcing cyberspace and security against physical attacks. The project also has significant potential for broader impacts for FAU students and beyond. Liu plans to develop several research-intensive courses for students at the graduate and undergraduate level to make the research more accessible. There also are plans to partner with middle and high school students and help with outreach to underrepresented groups.

Porter received $625,943 over five years for research to better understand how marine animals tune, or dynamically adjust their movements using their skin and skeletons. Her research investigates the contributions of the shark cartilaginous vertebral column, skin and animal movements that tune the body during swimming. Shark vertebrae work as springs, which store and return energy based on the species specific arrangement of mineral in the cartilage. Shark skin contains mineralized teeth, which make it feel like sandpaper and are hypothesized to resist stretching. During swimming, species will move their bodies differently; both the movements of body and the tail can vary. By studying these three levels of organization individually, the influence of hard and soft tissues on overall body performance can be modeled and understood in many species with varying swimming speeds. Research results can provide information about swimming and inspiration for both stiff and stretchy synthetic materials. Porter’s lab draws diverse graduate, undergraduate, and dual-enrolled high school researchers from a student population where 26 percent of STEM majors are Hispanic. As a Hispanic Serving Institution, FAU is considered one of the most diverse student populations in the United States. Porter teaches an animal locomotion course where students develop active learning focused content that is shared in open access education journals and then disseminated locally at nature centers and museums. This work facilitates collaboration with researchers studying machine learning and ocean and mechanical engineering. 

“As one of only a few female tenure track shark researchers around, Dr. Porter is a trailblazer in her field,” said Teresa Wilcox, Ph.D., interim dean of FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. “Her research is focused on comparative biomechanics and functional morphology, which is helping to answer questions about skeletal system impacts on physiology, behavior, ecology and evolution. Receiving this prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER award is testament to her talents, expertise and contributions in her field.”