First phase of ‘Engineering North Carolina’s Future’ faculty additions amplify Charlotte’s research, teaching efforts

Categories: Research Tags: Academic Affairs, Research

The “Engineering North Carolina’s Future” initiative, backed by transformative investments by the N.C. General Assembly, has ignited a surge of teaching and research excellence in engineering, computer science and data science at UNC Charlotte. The University has strategically expanded its teaching and research capabilities with an initial recruitment of eight new faculty members, focused on four core themes: energy systems, transportation and advanced mobility, advanced manufacturing, and smart and sustainable cities.

This influx of world-class researchers and educators in recent months represents the first phase of UNC Charlotte’s plan to recruit roughly 20 new faculty members thanks to the state’s investment. In addition, the University will use funds to renovate and equip leading-edge research facilities as part of its plan to grow STEM-focused enrollment by approximately 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students over the next several years.

This strategy showcases UNC Charlotte’s commitment to transformational collaboration across disciplines, as the cluster hire approach of simultaneously recruiting multiple scholars from various fields who share overlapping interests is a proven technique used by top universities to quickly and effectively amplify their research and teaching impact.

UNC Charlotte’s College of Computing and Informatics graduates more computer science students than any university in North Carolina and ranks No. 7 in the nation for the number of computer science graduates produced annually, with a combined enrollment of nearly 4,800 undergraduate and graduate students. The University’s William States Lee College of Engineering has an average enrollment of over 3,500 students across all its programs and awards roughly 800 degrees each year, contributing to its alumni base of over 16,000 Niners across the globe.

“As a driving force for economic development for the region and state, UNC Charlotte is committed to expanding our research enterprise in computer science, engineering and data science through interdisciplinary inquiry, research and creative discovery,” said Jennifer Troyer, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “We are excited to welcome these new faculty to the University and know their work will be critically important to achieving the interdisciplinary goals of the Engineering North Carolina’s Future initiative.”

The recent cluster hire has brought three faculty members to the William States Lee College of Engineering (Assistant Professors Shawn Chen and Mahmoud Dinar and Associate Professor Qiang Zhu in mechanical engineering) and five to the College of Computing and Informatics (Professor Marco Viera and Assistant Professors Hongfei Xue and Li Yang in computer science, and Assistant Professors Tao Wang and Jian Xiang in software and information systems).

New William States Lee College of Engineering faculty:

Chen’s work sits at the intersection of mechanics and materials science. By researching and visualizing atom-level microstructures of materials, she seeks to predict and improve the way materials behave to create more reliable, higher quality products, such as stronger next-generation solid state batteries. Previously, Chen was a member of the faculty at Louisiana Tech University.

Dinar conducts research around using different computational frameworks and AI to understand and aid engineering design and manufacturing. Supporting the development of “cyber manufacturing” as a service, some of his projects include capturing designers’ spoken thoughts when solving problems to help discover creative strategies, and using machine learning to gain a deeper knowledge of manufacturing process capabilities. Dinar was most recently on the faculty of California State University, Sacramento.

Zhu’s engineering research focuses on developing new computational methods and machine learning techniques to discover organic materials. These techniques can help determine how atoms are arranged in different organic materials with important implications for common materials, including ceramics which are used in clean energy generation. Zhu joins UNC Charlotte from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

New College of Computing and Informatics faculty:

Viera is a computer scientist who researches the reliability and security of computer systems. As part of the Charlotte CCI team, he plans to extend his work with an eye toward artificial intelligence systems, particularly in addressing their trustworthiness. Before his move to UNC Charlotte, Viera was a professor at the University of Coimbra in Portugal.

Xue’s work focuses on wireless sensing methods using artificial intelligence and machine learning to help computer systems and devices better understand and react to human movement. Going forward, he intends to expand into the realms of smart transportation, manufacturing and health. Xue earned a Ph.D. in computer science from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Yang’s research expertise is in the field of edge computing, using machine learning with a focus on efficient, continual and collaborative learning between networked devices. He is looking forward to further studying how “edge devices” such as A.I.-enabled vehicles and Internet of Things-sensors in the manufacturing industry can link up to learn new tasks. Before joining UNC Charlotte, Yang earned a Ph.D. from Arizona State University’s School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering.

Wang’s interests lie in network security and defending cyber-physical networks composed of “smart” objects with internet-enabled connectivity. Previously a member of the faculty at New Mexico State University, his research will help design defense methods to protect emerging wireless technologies such as 5G and Internet of Things networks from attackers.

Meanwhile, Xiang’s goal for his software and information system research is to advance the formal methods for functional correctness and security of computer systems, especially cyber-physical systems. Prior to his arrival at UNC Charlotte, Xiang was a postdoctoral research associate at Harvard University, where he worked after completing a Ph.D. at the University of Virginia.

“We are grateful for the General Assembly’s investment in our University,” Troyer said. “This is just the beginning of the impact these funds will have on our campus, region and state.”