Four UCI Engineering Faculty Earn NSF Early Career Awards

From left, Chandramowlishwaran, Won, Davis and Lemnitzer were identified as early career faculty who have the potential to be academic role modelsApril 18, 2018 - Four UC Irvine engineers have earned National Science Foundation Early Career Awards. Among the NSF’s most prestigious, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards support 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. Begun in 1995, the program provides promising junior faculty the opportunity to pursue outstanding research, excellence in teaching, and the integration of education and research.

This year’s winners are Aparna Chandramowlishwaran, Kristen Davis, Anne Lemnitzer and Yoonjin Won.

Chandramowlishwaran, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, won a $500,000 award to advance her development of a software program that can help solve large-scale turbulent flow simulation problems in computational fluid dynamics (CFD).

CFD is a branch of fluid mechanics that uses computers to crunch numbers and analyze data structures in order to simulate the interaction – and thus the behavior – of liquids and gases as they flow over surfaces.

Chandramowlishwaran’s system, called HiPer, will perform physics-based simulations as well as CFD turbulent flow simulations on massively parallel machines, a feat currently infeasible due to cost and time constraints. Through advances in numerical schemes, efficient parallel algorithms and new implementation strategies, this research can bring the power of massively parallel computing to CFD, thereby dramatically reducing cost and time needed to solve complex problems.

One of the most immediate beneficiaries of this technology could be aircraft design, according to Chandramowlishwaran. She says that CFD currently cannot accurately predict turbulent-separated flows, for example, but that HiPer will enable a more accurate prediction of these flows, as well as enable new simulations for other difficult-to-solve aircraft geometries.

“I'm extremely honored to receive this prestigious award and super excited to embark on one of my passionate research projects,” Chandramowlishwaran said. “I'm a big proponent of interdisciplinary research, and I strongly believe this high-risk, high-reward research direction that lies at the intersection of domain sciences and parallel computing has the potential to have a transformative impact if successful.”

Davis, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and Earth system science, will receive $686,385 for her project to study waves within the ocean, or “internal waves,” from breaking to dissipation, along the inner continental shelf. The inner shelf is like a swash zone for nonlinear internal waves (NLIWs), and their intermittency and small scales make them hard to observe.

Davis’ project will include an intensive field campaign and numerical modeling. She will use a new measurement platform – a fiber optic distributed temperature sensing (DTS) system – to make the field measurements, along with more traditional point measurements for hydrographic and turbulence variables. Results from a pilot study in the South China Sea showed that DTS measurements can provide a unique perspective on NLIWs -- allowing for detection of internal wave characteristics (form and path), variable propagation speed, reflection, wave-wave interactions and "internal tidepools" (cool water left behind after the wave has run back down the slope). The proposed DTS measurements are capable of capturing a cross-shelf view of many waves and will be useful for understanding variability in internal wave "weather" on the shelf.

Davis hopes that her work will yield insights into the animals and plants living on the ocean floor, the cross-shelf exchange of nutrients and pollutants, turbulent mixing, larval connectivity, coastal hypoxia and ocean acidification. “I am honored to have received the NSF CAREER award and am truly excited to have the opportunity to carry out this work,” said Davis, “as I believe that it will have far-reaching consequences for understanding the physical and chemical environments that shape nearshore marine ecosystems.”

Lemnitzer, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, will receive $500,000 for her work in structural and geotechnical earthquake engineering. Lemnitzer’s research consists of large-scale experimental studies and numerical modeling of deep-foundation systems. She will address the shortcomings associated with current analysis and design recommendations and work toward establishing a next-generation framework, which will offer more accurate and frugal design solutions that avoid overdesign. This would mean less material, prompting the introduction and implementation of novel instrumentation technologies and sustainable materials – such as green concrete – that could reduce the carbon footprint.

Lemnitzer hopes her findings will accelerate the transition to high-performance materials with permanently integrated integrity-assessment capabilities. She plans to accomplish this by providing a validated design platform that would accurately characterize foundation response behavior, potentially saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Her research program will benefit the engineering profession by implementing a new understanding of the software tools available for individual component- and system analysis of a broad spectrum of infrastructure including deep foundations.

She is especially excited to integrate new educational and outreach activities during the five-year span of the CAREER award. “This research provides the opportunity to create a new course for the CEE graduate program and will stimulate an interdisciplinary curiosity and growth through diverse curricular efforts and industry involvement in geostructural undergraduate and graduate classroom training,” Lemnitzer said. “We also plan to establish a series of professional career development activities to increase the retention of diverse students in geostructural engineering in academia and industry. The latter part of the educational plan will specifically target female engineers.”

Won, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will receive $500,000 from the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems for her investigation of thin-film evaporation using crystalline metallic porous structures called “inverse opals.” Won, who studies novel thermal metamaterials, says that recent studies have shown that nanostructured surfaces can improve phase-change heat-transfer performance, but understanding the role of these nanostructures is difficult due to their random and inhomogeneous characteristics.

By using these inverse opals, which are extremely regular structures, she hopes to be able to better understand structure-related evaporation performance. “Highly conductive metallic inverse opals are relatively new to the heat transfer community, demonstrating potential in thermofluidic applications, but little is understood about the effect of their concave structures on evaporation. Therefore, my research will focus on the new discoveries among morphological parameters of regular pores, transport properties and evaporation performance,” she added.

This work could result in innovative materials to address thermal challenges in modern electronics and water-energy applications.

When asked her reaction to receiving this prestigious NSF recognition, Won said, “I felt like my heart was beating faster and harder,” adding, "I'm extremely honored to receive this prestigious CAREER award and appreciate the opportunity to explore one of my passionate research projects.”


-- Lori Brandt and Anna Lynn Spitzer

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