Green Recognizes Faculty with Awards for Innovations in Research and Teaching

June 23, 2021 - Samueli School faculty and staff gathered virtually on June 21, 2021, with Interim Dean Michael Green as he gave an update on school operations, presented the eighth annual faculty awards and welcomed special guest Magnus Egerstedt, incoming dean.

More than 110 people joined the video conference to hear about the state of the school and to congratulate the faculty awardees. Green announced that the university would be gradually transitioning to Phase 4 research reopening beginning June 22 and would return to majority in-person classes in the fall. He added that a campus plan is in place in case of virus outbreaks. He also thanked Brett Sanders for serving as the interim associate dean of undergraduate student affairs this past year, the position Green will resume once Egerstedt becomes dean in mid-July.

“Brett did much more than take on this role,” said Green. “He innovated new programs, and he will be running one of them, the Summer Interdisciplinary Research Pods, in August. He did an excellent job, and I want to thank him for his service.”

Sanders said it had been a pleasure and fun to serve as associate dean, and he thanked everyone for working with him.

Green then presented the eight faculty award winners.  The annual awards acknowledge and honor the valued contributions of faculty. Nominations for each category must meet specific criteria and are submitted through department chairs. Awardees are selected by a voting committee that consists of the dean and associate deans.

After congratulating all the honorees, Green invited Egerstedt to speak. The incoming dean expressed his excitement to join UCI, and he took the opportunity to thank Green for his excellent job and steady hand while serving as interim dean during an unprecedented, difficult year. “I have especially appreciated your generosity toward me, in knowledge and time.”

Others joined in to recognize Green for his calm and consistent leadership, for managing the hard decisions and keeping the school moving in a positive direction despite the many challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Faculty Excellence in Research

Early Career:  Han Li, assistant professor, CBE
Li manages an extremely productive and innovative research program. Her novel technologies and pioneering approaches are enabling fundamental advances in metabolic engineering and synthetic biology and can be applied to achieve sustainable production of chemical, fuels and drugs with a lower carbon footprint. Many of the most important drugs in use today are too complex to be made in a test tube and instead can only be synthesized by biological cells. Li’s research contributes to making the chemical reactions in biological cells more easily understandable, predictable and amenable to engineering. Her research accomplishments have resulted in prestigious awards and recognition, including a recent $1.8 million grant from ARPA-E. A rising star in her field, she has been recognized with an NSF CAREER Award, the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award and the Sloan Research Fellowship.

Mid-Career:  Haithem Taha, associate professor, MAE
Taha works in the areas of unsteady aerodynamics and control theory, emphasizing both fundamental theory and innovations in the design of aircraft and their control systems. During his seven years at UCI, Taha has produced foundational results in three distinct areas: flight and design of flight vehicles, application of differential geometric control theory to unsteady aerodynamics, and bio-inspired flight. His accomplishments highlight his remarkable depth, breadth, scholarship and creativity. Taha has published 33 articles in prestigious journals and has raised approximately $1.8 million in funding as principal investigator from highly competitive agencies including the NSF, Air Force Office of Scientific Research and NASA.

Senior:  Kerry Athanasiou, Distinguished Professor, BME
Athanasiou conducts outstanding research at the interface of engineering, medicine, surgery, veterinary surgery, life sciences and business. He has established one of the most recognized research groups in tissue regeneration in the world. A member of the National Academy of Medicine, Athanasiou has published 355 peer-reviewed articles, 340 conference proceedings and abstracts, five books, and 35 patents and trademarks. His research program is well funded ($32 million in research grants with him as PI), including five NIH R01 grants. His pioneering work addresses critical medical needs. He has demonstrated the fabrication of entire cartilage sections with the self-assembling process, which he designed and whose properties are on par with those of native cartilage. His group was the first to demonstrate complete healing of jaw cartilage in a large animal model and the first to demonstrate cartilage engineering using human embryonic stem cells. Athanasiou has also established a program to understand how single cells behave under direct biomechanical loads. This work, representing the first measurement of gene expression levels in single cells under biomechanical conditions, is exciting as it allows a very basic mechanical level understanding of how osteoarthritis may develop and how tissue regeneration may be initiated.

Innovation in Teaching

Early Career:  Christine King, assistant professor of teaching, BME
King is a tirelessly enthusiastic instructor who has synthesized her pedagogical experiences and academic knowledge into improved course offerings for undergraduates in the area of biomedical design. She has incorporated active and hands-on learning principles in the classroom to improve learning of design-build-test processes and applications. She has successfully integrated these principles at multiple levels of the undergraduate BME curriculum while emphasizing development and evaluation of workforce-ready skills such as teamwork and communication. This past year, King secured funding from VentureWell for a virtual-reality clinical immersion program to provide equitable and scalable learning resources to address the challenges of large class sizes and limited access to healthcare facilities. She collaborated with the Medical Intelligence and Innovation Institute at Children’s Hospital of Orange County to conduct a 12-hour virtual hackathon in which engineering and information and computer science students grouped with healthcare workers to tackle pediatric healthcare topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic. She also spearheaded departmental efforts to integrate undergraduate BME students into the teaching experience as learning assistants, is certified as an AB 540 and Undocumented Student Ally, and serves as the faculty mentor for the Association for Women in STEM.

Mid-Career:  Allon Hochbaum, associate professor, MSE
Hochbaum displays creative innovation in his delivery of courses, outstanding dedication to teaching undergraduate students and exemplary behavior in sharing his knowledge with other faculty. He uses modern technologies to integrate course content and assessments in the virtual classroom and has incorporated flexible methods for students to access material in advance, including 5- to 15-minute lecture module videos, which he creates. He views student-to-student interactions as a critical part of the learning experience. Live interactions in Zoom chat, breakout rooms and the Discord server nurtured an atmosphere of camaraderie among his students during remote learning, especially for freshman in the Introductory Chemistry for Engineering class. His blending of synchronous and asynchronous content, interactions and assessments allows and encourages students to create a personalized learning experience that works best for them. Hochbaum also recognized the disparity in access to some online resources and the need to design an equitable learning environment. He led discussions with faculty and graduate students on how active learning methods can help narrow achievement gaps between students, motivating other faculty to try these new techniques. 

Senior:  J. Michael McCarthy, Distinguished Professor, MAE
McCarthy is a tireless advocate for hands-on learning opportunities, and this past year he has been a leader in following and respecting COVID-19 safety protocols. He was proactive with the use of outdoor spaces in teaching, reducing COVID health risks and maximizing learning opportunities for students. Specifically, he successfully converted numerous outdoor areas around the Engineering Tower for instructional use while working through proper channels. He has been engaged in the campus’s Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation workshops and programs to improve teaching quality through synchronous and asynchronous remote instruction. He also took steps over the past year to ensure that his students were able to fabricate and test prototype designs despite not being able to come to campus. McCarthy went out of his way to learn about the campus's COVID-safety systems and to give his senior design students the best available information to manage risks. In particular, he reached out to campus public health officials and prepared an excellent presentation about risk management for students. Many students benefitted from safe, in-person instruction this year and that would not have been possible without McCarthy’s efforts.

Innovator of the Year:  Ahmed Eltawil, professor, EECS
Eltawil’s approach to research combines rigorous analysis with a strong experimental background that applies insights obtained through simulations and corroborated by experiments. His goal is to find innovative solutions that address the complexities of state-of-the-art research issues, while offering pragmatic approaches that can be easily adopted, leading to significant societal impact. His work on wireless systems in general and full duplex systems in particular goes a long way toward the realization of spectrally efficient, low-power and easily deployable wireless systems.

Eltawil’s was one of the first academic groups in the world to design and build an experimental full duplex platform, and he has four patents that are cited as foundational in the field. His innovations in full duplex systems started with his initial exploratory paper in 2012, leading to the founding of his company, Lextrum in 2015, and transitioning to the acquisition of the company in early 2018. Eltawil worked with the new owners of Lextrum to achieve a successful NASDAQ listing in January 2021. Eltawil’s journey of innovation to commercialization, where research funds are used to create solid science that then creates societal value through company and job creation, is a successful example of entrepreneurship based on “Made at UCI” technology.  

Faculty Service:  Dimitri Papamoschou, professor, MAE
Papamoschou has a long, impressive record of dedicated service to the university, school and mechanical and aerospace engineering department. The list of formal assignments begins in the ‘90s. Some of his current roles include member of the campus’s Budget Working Group on Academic Policies and member of the school’s Executive Committee, Committee on Budget and Planning, and Academic Personnel Advisory Committee. And for the department, he currently sits on the Graduate Admissions Committee.

Some highlights of his past service include when Papamoschou was interim dean of the school of engineering, he drafted and won a proposal from the Samueli Foundation for faculty growth and curriculum reform. He launched a freshman “Introduction to Engineering” course initiative, and he revised the faculty workload policy to provide more flexibility to the chairs in making course assignments. When he undertook the combined chairmanships of the MAE Graduate Studies Committee and the MAE Graduate Admissions Committee, he revamped the admissions and support processes in order to increase the quality of incoming graduate students and enhance the robustness of the support decisions.

Papamoschou has executed each of his formally assigned responsibilities with utmost dedication in a professional and thoughtful manner that has inspired confidence in those working with him. All of UCI have benefitted from Papamoschou’s hard and unassuming work for the improvement of the department, school and campus.

– Lori Brandt