Egerstedt Presents 2022 Faculty Awards for Teaching, Research, Innovation and Service

Pictured top row, from left, are Tim Downing, Iryna Zenyuk, Xiaoqing Pan and Joel Lanning; and bottom row, from left, are Jim Brody, Peter Burke, Abe Lee and Michelle Digman

June 16, 2022 - Samueli School of Engineering staff and faculty gathered Monday, June 13, for an end-of-the-year and faculty awards celebration with Dean Magnus Egerstedt at the Donald Bren Hall and Patio.

The in-person event marked a whole year of deanship for Egerstedt. “It’s been a remarkable year,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the broader UCI engineering community. At last week’s hooding ceremony, I felt truly part of the faculty. I’ve taught my first class and received my first grant as a UCI faculty member. And I experienced the energy and joy in the air as a record-smashing number of engineering students graduated June 12. It was so meaningful to shake hands and celebrate with our students.

“But today,” he added, “we are here to celebrate faculty.”

Egerstedt noted that being a Samueli School faculty member was a multidimensional gig, in that members teach, conduct research, do outreach, engage with the community, collaborate with industry and talk to the media. “There are as many models of how to spend time as a faculty member as there are numbers of faculty. It’s dynamic and it’s all good. The point is, we appreciate you.” 

This is the ninth year for the faculty awards, which 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.

Before announcing this year’s awardees, Egerstedt asked last year’s honorees to come up for a picture and to be recognized and receive their plaques. Last year’s event had been virtual, and the plaques had been hanging in McDonnell Douglas Auditorium all year. They were taken down to give to the recipients and make room for the new awardees (below).

Egerstedt also recognized two outgoing department chairs: Sunny Jiang, professor of civil and environmental engineering, who completed her five-year term; and Athina Markopoulou, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, who was stepping down after three years as chair to assume the role of associate dean for graduate and professional studies. He thanked Fadi Kurdahi, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and the outgoing associate dean for graduate and professional studies, for his five years of service. And finally, Egerstedt applauded Lorrie Aguirre, for her two years of service as interim assistant dean and chief of staff for the school of engineering.

Here are the 2022 Faculty Award honorees.

Excellence in Research

Early Career: Tim Downing, assistant professor, BME

Tim Downing has developed a thriving, productive and impactful research program focused on understanding the role of extracellular signals on epigenetics and the relationship between epigenetic mechanisms and cellular function. His integrative and highly interdisciplinary approach has resulted in innovations in genomics technology development, mechanobiology and biomaterial design, and epigenetics profiling in disease and regeneration. His research has already led to a key understanding of epigenetic mechanisms and an arsenal of cutting-edge tools for measuring epigenetic states. Downing has published 11 papers and 1 book chapter in leading journals, as well as an invited commentary at Nature Methods. His work has been cited about 800 times, and he is on an upward trajectory – nine of these works were published since 2020.

Mid-Career: Iryna Zenyuk, associate professor, CBE

Iryna Zenyuk’s research efforts address the global challenge of carbon pollution. Her expertise lies in the development and analysis of fuel cells for electrochemical energy conversion, electrolyzers for hydrogen generation, and batteries for energy storage. Her published work spans fundamental topics such as the development of a mechanistic understanding of the critical oxygen reduction reaction in operating fuel cells, to using state-of-the-art imaging techniques to visualize and identify the key mechanistic factors that drive catalyst and material degradation in fuel cells, electrolyzers and batteries during operation, to using electrolyzers to devise less energy-intensive and more sustainable methods for producing concrete, which is responsible for 8% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Zenyuk has pioneered experimental approaches, and her investigations provide new insights for making unprecedented improvements in electrochemical device design and performance. She is commercializing some of the technologies developed in her group and has already submitted two patent applications.

Senior: Xiaoqing Pan, professor and Henry Samueli Endowed Chair in Engineering, MSE

Xiaoqing Pan is internationally known for his pioneering work in the development of transmission electron microscopy methods for probing the structure and dynamic behaviors at material interfaces and in engineered nanostructures with atomic resolution. His interest focuses on the understanding of the atomic-scale structure-property relationships of multifunctional materials, including oxide heterostructures, ferroelectrics/multiferroics, catalysts and 2D functional materials. Pan has published over 400 peer-reviewed scientific papers in scholarly high impact journals, and his publications have been cited more than 34,235 times. Pan is one of the most cited researchers in the world, and his work has led to the discovery of new properties and novel functionalities in many technologically important materials.

Innovation in Teaching

Early Career: Joel Lanning, assistant professor of teaching, CEE

Joel Lanning has quickly established himself as a leader in civil engineering education within the department and school. He has transformed the structural engineering electives and senior capstone design course. Lanning’s innovative, creative teaching approach makes for an engaging learning experience, and he repeatedly earns some of the highest teaching scores and most uplifting student evaluations in CEE. In the classroom, he uses multiple means of communication simultaneously, while including a light board, mini demos and in-person group activities. He has developed highly effective web-based teaching tools, such as the structural steel dimensioning tool, which provides students with an intuitive interactive experience that facilitates much faster comprehension. In fact, the American Institute of Steel Construction has advocated that this tool be incorporated as an instructional aid in every structural steel design class in the country. He also created a new ABET assessment documentation platform for the department that automates collection of student outcome assessment data, course materials, instructor feedback and other information used in ABET accreditation and for the department to monitor and improve the curriculum.

Mid-Career: Jim Brody, associate professor, BME

Jim Brody has developed an engineering course that is truly for the masses. Engineering Innovations in Treating Diabetes is the first (and only) UCI General Education engineering course designed specifically for nonengineering students. The popular online course has gone from an initial enrollment of 196, to 570, to its most recent winter quarter enrollment of 2,285 students – the largest ever at the engineering school. Brody, whose own research focuses on cancer, intentionally selected diabetes as a topic to study because it allows him to integrate engineering design principles, multidisciplinary science discoveries, data analysis and diversity/inclusion into a story of biomedical discovery. To deliver a meaningful course to such a large class size, Brody has embraced online tools and many aspects of active learning, including peer instruction and using Perusall, a social learning platform, to facilitate student discussions. He teaches students how to computationally solve constrained optimization problems in a manner that is accessible to nonengineers, and he integrated the new UCI Virtual Computer lab to allow students to use Excel through their web browser. Students uniformly lauded all aspects of the course, especially the discussion format and community he was able to create despite the large class size.

Senior: Peter Burke, professor, EECS

Throughout his teaching career, Peter Burke has enriched the learning experience of students through creative experiments that pique their curiosity and help them appreciate course material. He has founded multiple clubs to engage students in scientific endeavors – including the first drone club on campus, where the students build and fly drones on Saturday afternoons at the ARC, and a HAM radio club that he also instituted as a chapter of the American Radio Relay League. Burke also helped students repair the antenna on the roof of the MSTB building, which they then tested by calling Japan. He recently led a senior design team, whose project was on web-based drone control, to a successful IEEE journal publication, the only such success in the EECS department. Perhaps the most important evidence of Burke’s exceptional teaching performance is the quality of student evaluations, which are not merely positive but glowing. Some examples: “crystal clear explanations and slides,” “gives great analogies,” “I will never forget how Madonna relates to quantum mechanics or how electrons relate to drunken people” or, “I had never felt confident in the subject till this class. He explained away all my previous confusion on the subject so elegantly in the first 30 [minutes] of the first lecture that I almost cried.”

Innovator of the Year: Abe Lee, Chancellor’s Professor, BME

Abe Lee’s research and entrepreneurial activities are a combination of technical creativity, precision engineering and biological utility. Among the original pioneers in the field of droplet microfluidics, Lee consistently finds innovative technical solutions for difficult, high-impact biomedical problems. One compelling example is Aracari Biosciences, a startup company Abe co-founded with Chris Hughes and Steve George. They identified a major problem in drug discovery: the lack of appropriate pre-clinical testing models to quickly evaluate the efficacy of candidate drugs and biologics. Lee integrated his lab-on-a-chip expertise as a key component of Aracari’s “body-on-a-chip” technology. The company has created patented devices that mimic the heart, liver, pancreas and brain and offer rapid, efficient pre-clinical screening of new drugs, which is expected to substantially reduce drug development costs. With the Center for Advanced Design and Manufacturing of Integrated Microfluidics, Lee has helped establish a strong industrial innovation ecosystem that facilitates the transition of industry-sponsored research to commercial ventures. Now in its eighth year of operation, the center is the only one of its kind devoted to the study of microfluidics. He is a co-inventor on more than 60 issued patents (plus six provisional patents), the most of any BME faculty. He also has co-authored eight book chapters, 115 peer-reviewed articles and 118 peer-reviewed conference proceedings papers.

Faculty Service: Michelle Digman, associate professor, BME

Michelle Digman is a tireless champion of best practices related to diversity, equity and inclusion, and is an exemplar of servant-leadership. As an equity co-adviser for the Samueli School, Digman has led several significant efforts to promote best practices in DEI, including faculty searches, departmental and school culture, and graduate student recruitment and retention. She has organized quarterly meetings with faculty and the dean’s office to discuss equity issues her colleagues are experiencing and develop actionable plans to address the issues. The meetings play an essential role in the well-being of faculty members. Outside of her equity adviser responsibilities, she served on a diversity task force charged with making recommendations for increasing DEI in the interdisciplinary Mathematical, Computational and Systems Biology graduate program student recruitment, retention and professional development, as well as program administration and governance. She made recommendations to enhance DEI in the current environment and retain and promote the success of underrepresented students. Digman now chairs the program’s DEI Committee and offers a brand-new workshop, “Equity and Inclusion in Mentoring,” to the MCSB graduate program and the BME department.

– Lori Brandt