News | Powering the New Engineer News from Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering at the University of Florida Fri, 23 Apr 2021 20:46:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 2020-2021 Awards for the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering Fri, 23 Apr 2021 17:58:30 +0000

The Herbert Wertheim College Awards recognize faculty, staff, and students receiving UF and/or college awards in the 2020-2021 academic year and celebrate together the excellence of Gator Engineering and the fundamental values of our college.

Congratulations to the following awardees! 

International Educator of the Year

  • Junior Faculty Award: Pingchien Neo, M.S.
  • Senior Faculty Award: Oana Cazacu, Ph.D.

Doctoral Dissertation Advisor/Mentoring Awards

  • Thomas E. Angelini, Ph.D.
  • James Baciak, Ph.D.
  • Mark E. Orazem, Ph.D.
  • Ghatu Subhash, Ph.D.
  • Yong Yang, Ph.D.

Undergraduate Teacher of the Year

  • Joel B. Harley, Ph.D.

Faculty Advisor/Mentor of the Year

  • Sarah Furtney, Ph.D.

Teacher/Scholar of the Year

  • Mark Tehranipoor, Ph.D.

Pramod P. Khargonekar Award

  • Roozbeh Tabrizian, Ph.D.

Faculty Award for Excellence in Leadership

  • Kyle D. Allen, Ph.D.

Faculty Award for Excellence in Innovation

  • Peter G. Ifju, Ph.D.

Excellence Award for Assistant Professors

  • Edward A. Phelps, Ph.D.
UF Electrical Engineer wins Prestigious DARPA Fellowship Award Wed, 21 Apr 2021 13:28:04 +0000 Dr. Roozbeh Tabrizian has been selected to receive a  highly prestigious Director’s Fellowship from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Dr. Tabrizian is the first faculty member at UF to receive this highly competitive fellowship award. The Director’s Fellowship is awarded to just a handful of exceptionally talented researchers who have previously been awarded the DARPA Young Faculty Award (YFA), a distinction earned by Dr. Tabrizian in 2019.

The DARPA YFA is a highly competitive research program among assistant and associate professors in a wide range of research—from engineering, physics, chemistry to computer science and social science. The target of the YFA program is to identify, engage, and develop rising stars in academia to enable pivotal breakthrough technologies for national security. At the end of the initial two-year program, DARPA YFA awardees with exceptional technical accomplishments and leadership are selected for the highly competitive Director’s Fellowship which provides funding and support for a third year to extend their impactful and risk-taking research explorations.

The fellowship award will fund Dr. Tabrizian’s project, “Ferroelectrically Transduced Ge Nano-Fin Bulk Acoustic Resonators for Chip-Scale Instinctually Adaptive RF Spectral Processing” for an additional year.

We are very honored to be recognized and supported by DARPA for our research efforts. The project that received the Director’s Fellowship Award will have a substantial impact on wireless communication systems and contribute to fundamentally resolving the limitations to spectrum access.

This multidisciplinary project relies on fundamental material science, device physics, and engineering innovations to bend the fundamental limits of linear spectral processors to make them instinctively intelligent!

Such instinctive spectral processors will provide everyone with access to broadband wireless spectrum without being influenced or suppressed by jammers or interference.

–Dr. Roozbeh Tabrizian

Dr. Roozbeh Tabrizian is an assistant professor at the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering (HWCOE) since 2015 and the Alan Hasting Faculty Fellow at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). Tabrizian is the director of the Phononics, Sensors, and Actuators (PSAC) Lab and a member of the Interdisciplinary Microsystems Group (IMG).

Dr. Tabrizian is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2018, the 2021 HWCOE Pramod P. Khargonekar Award for the most outstanding junior faculty member undergoing tenure review, the ECE Professor of the Year Award in 2019, the ECE Teaching Excellence Award in 2018, as well as several best paper awards in top-tier conferences in the fields of solid-state electronic devices, micro-electro-mechanical systems, and transducers.

FICS Researchers Patent “Universal Testing Technique” to Detect Counterfeit Chips Thu, 15 Apr 2021 13:26:23 +0000 This story was originally published on the ECE news website.

Domenic Forte, Ph.D.

Domenic Forte, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering

An article recently published in the Academic Times profiled exciting new technology patented by researchers at the Florida Institute for Cybersecurity (FICS) Research which promises a new way to detect recycled (previously used) and counterfeit electronic parts, especially chips. The technology created by ECE Associate Professor Domenic Forte and ECE Associate Professor Nima Maghari makes supply chains more secure, protects consumer safety and runs at almost zero cost. Compared to current methods of detecting counterfeit hardware (chips, power supplies, electronics components, etc.), the proposed “universal testing technique” can be used on virtually all chips produced by all vendors and can be further improved by applying artificial intelligence algorithms in order to automate detection.

The Background

Nima Maghari, Ph.D., Associate Professor in ECE

Nima Maghari, Ph.D., Associate Professor in ECE

As much of electronics manufacturing is offshore and difficult to supervise or verify, it has become increasingly important in recent years to ascertain whether or not chips deployed in computer hardware (especially in areas of defense and commerce) are manufactured exactly as designed, or whether they are recycled or counterfeit.

Even at the Pentagon — the top military headquarters in the U.S. — about 15% of all purchased parts are counterfeit. And “it’s not just the original manufacturers” that are affected, co-inventor Domenic Forte said — it’s everyone. Though it is difficult to say exactly how much these fake and tampered-with products cost the public, estimates from the Electronic Resellers Association International suggest that “consumer and industrial businesses lose approximately $250 billion each year.” If this number were translated into employment, it would represent over 36,000 lost American jobs.
–The Academic Times

Current detection methods fall into three categories: 1) embedded hardware security primitives/sensors 2) electrical testing of the chip or 3) physical inspection of the chip with scanning electron microscopes. All three methods have their limitations, and while Dr. Forte is an expert in the area of scanning chips (he is director of the FICS Research ScanLab), he wanted to pursue a totally different path.

The New Way

Dr. Forte, Dr. Maghari, and their collaborators, Sreeja Chowdhury and Fatemeh Ganji, had the insight that one extremely common component—low-dropout regulators, or LDOs—could provide a methodology to validate chips. The researchers found that measuring how the LDO regulators respond to variations in the input presented to the chip’s power supply yielded an aging signature which could be analyzed to determine if the chip is a recycled-type counterfeit or not. This completely novel approach is made all the more powerful with the addition of machine learning—a subset of artificial intelligence—to automate the data analysis and better understand the sources contributing to the aging. With UF’s recent partnership with NVIDIA to create academia’s most powerful AI supercomputer, the promise for this technology at UF is easily seen.

Read the full Academic Times Article here.

UF Engineers Garner Extra Funds for Equipment Thu, 08 Apr 2021 12:27:01 +0000 The Army Research Office (ARO), an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory at the Department of Defense (DOD) recently announced that 150 university researchers will receive a total of $50 million in grants awarded under the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP). These grants are being provided to 85 institutions across 33 states in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021.

Through DURIP, ARO supports purchases of major research equipment to augment current research and develop new capabilities. This effort enables universities to perform state-of-the-art research that boosts the United States’ technological edge while ensuring that the future science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce in the U.S. remains second to none.  

The Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering faculty in the Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering have received three of these important equipment grants. Congratulations to Dr. Warren Dixon, Dr. Ghatu Subhash and Dr. Lawrence Ukeiley.

Warren Dixon, Ph.D., Newton C. Ebaugh Professor, Director of the AFOSR Center of Excellence

Dr. Dixon and his team are collaborating with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to develop national defense systems. The multi-million dollar research center focuses on artificial intelligence, control systems, robotics, wireless networking, and defense against cyber effects to allow autonomous vehicles to operate in contested and adversarial environments.

The DURIP funds help provide a collection of advanced unmanned air and ground robotic systems, specialized sensors, and state-of the art artificially intelligent radio systems that can respond to cyber-attacks over wireless and LTE and 5G cell networks. The DURIP funds will be used to construct a netted outdoor enclosure approximately the size of ¾ of a football field in which the robotic systems will safely execute new collaborative behaviors developed by the investigators while defending against cyber-attacks imposed by the investigators and their collaborators within the Center of Excellence.

Ghatu Subhash, Ph.D., Newton C. Ebaugh Professor, Leader of the Laboratory for Dynamic Response of Advanced Materials (LDRAM)

Dr. Subhash and his team are working on projects funded by the Army Research Office (ARO), the Army Research Laboratories (ARL) and the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop and test advanced structural materials for a variety of applications.

LDRAM performs cutting-edge research in solid mechanics, materials science, and biomedical engineering. They employ advanced experimental, analytical, and computational tools to build constitutive models for complex loading conditions. The researchers study a wide range of materials, including advanced structural ceramics, high-strength glasses, composites, bulk metallic glasses, metallic/polymeric foams, gels, biomaterials and multilayered graphene.

Their DURIP funds will be used to acquire a nanomechanical test instrument with an accelerated property mapping feature for quantitative nanomechanical characterization of novel advanced materials for applications in defense (e.g., body armor), nuclear engineering (radiation resistance) and biomedical engineering (tissue surrogates).

Lawrence Ukeiley, Ph.D., Professor, Director of the Unsteady Fluid Dynamics Group

Dr. Ukeiley and his team are researching flow control applications in high speed flows under a grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

The applications for their research are related to flow diagnostics and control on noise generation from jet propulsion systems, supersonic flow over open bays on aircraft and clarification of drag-producing events in turbulent flow over bodies.

The DURIP funds granted to Dr. Ukeiley’s project will be used to purchase a Volumetric Particle Image Velocimetry system, which will be used to measure the instantaneous velocity fields to elucidate aspects of turbulent flows which can be altered for the benefit of engineered systems.

José Fortes wins 2021 SEC Faculty Achievement Award for UF Tue, 06 Apr 2021 17:10:00 +0000 UF Collaborates with Conservation Foundation on Coastal Solutions Tue, 06 Apr 2021 15:41:40 +0000
Local experts to collaborate with University of Florida to protect paradise

PROTECTING PARADISE: So excited to see what comes out of this new program between University of Florida and SCCF 🌊

Posted by Jessica Alpern on Thursday, April 15, 2021

Cutting-edge data collection and analysis combine to sustain Florida’s coastal communities

Florida coastal communities need clean water to preserve residential lifestyles, tourism, fishing, and a host of other activities in the Sunshine State. Recognizing the importance of water quality as a significant component of South Florida’s current and future economy and quality of life for its citizens, the University of Florida’s newly established Center for Coastal Solutions (CCS) and Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) have entered into a strategic collaboration to address coastal water quality hazards in order to strengthen the resiliency and sustainability of this unique coastal area in Florida.

SCCF delivers 50+ years of forward-thinking conservation strategies

Founded in 1967, SCCF's mission is to protect and care for southwest Florida's coastal ecosystems through focusing on water quality research, policy and advocacy, sea turtles and shorebirds, native landscaping, habitat and wildlife management, and environmental education. The foundation’s marine laboratory conducts long-and short-term research in the waters and watersheds of Charlotte Harbor, the Caloosahatchee, and the Gulf of Mexico. The lab is an active member in the National Association of Marine Laboratories, and the Organization of Biological Field Stations. It is also a data provider to the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System.

The lab’s research uses an instrument array composed of eight near real-time sensors deployed throughout the Caloosahatchee Estuary and Pine Island Sound. Known as RECON, which stands for River Estuary Coastal Observing Network, its unique set of sensors captures data with enormous depth that allows scientists and water managers to better study water quality issues and identify solutions. “Nowhere else in the state is such high-resolution, high-quality, real-time data on coastal water quality available,” said Christine Angelini, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the UF Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure & Environment and director of the University of Florida’s Center for Coastal Solutions (UF-CCS). RECON’s data collection capabilities paired with UF data analytics capacity are a perfect fit for a collaboration between SCCF and CCS.

UF CCS brings advanced research and AI analytics to the alliance

CCS is an interdisciplinary center at the UF Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, where its mission is to predict and prevent negative environmental, health and economic impacts to coastal communities through collaboration with local agencies and organizations, using cutting-edge technology to mitigate water quality hazards and enhance coastal resiliency.

With leadership and subject experts from over 14 colleges across the University of Florida, CCS is the latest center of excellence aiming to bolster the preservation and restoration of coastal communities in Florida and beyond. With government, industry and community partners, the CCS is rapidly gaining foothold in helping these agencies and organizations in combating the effects of climate change and human hazards that are advancing at an alarming speed.

Data analytics will help coastal communities withstand environmental and climate hazards

Leading a new multi-sector flagship initiative, the CCS has formed a Comprehensive Coastal Observing Network (CompCON) in close coordination with SCCF to monitor, model, and deliver data products immediately useful for informing decisions related to addressing coastal hazards. The network also works with other local stakeholders, including Lee County, the City of Cape Coral, the Coastal Heartland National Estuary Partnership (supported by the Environmental Protection Agency), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and others. CompCON meets quarterly as a team and biweekly in seven focused working groups, involving over 40 members from multiple sectors comprised of businesses, conservation organizations and universities. These working groups are actively identifying critical research needs and sharing data, analytical techniques, modeling capabilities and policy platforms. 

This summer, SCCF’s RECON will serve as the base for this UF-CCS pilot project that will put the Southwest Florida regional estuary in the forefront of international research into advanced monitoring of the health of coastal waters, lands, and air. “Our team of more than 25 faculty looked into estuaries across the state of Florida to serve as test beds to pilot our Comprehensive Coastal Observing Network (CompCON) and very soon honed into the Caloosahatchee River-Charlotte Harbor Estuary system because of the unique technical capabilities offered by RECON,” said Angelini. During this pilot phase, CompCON and RECON will be specifically focused on water quality challenges that are impacting the economy and coastal environment in Charlotte Harbor in southwest Florida.

Over the next few years, CompCON will be refined and expanded in scale to produce cost-effective, technologically advanced approaches for: (1) real-time, AI-assisted, high resolution monitoring of coastal waters, lands, air and people; (2) forecasting near-term and multi-decade changes to the coastal zone in this region, and (3) enabling decision-makers to explore various management scenarios.

Proactive hazard forecasting, which will appear similar to today’s weather forecasts available on smartphones, will be powered by UF’s AI supercomputer, the fastest in higher education thanks to the university’s $70-million partnership with NVIDIA, along with comprehensive expertise in applied AI, computer science and environmental engineering.

“Ultimately, CompCON seeks to envision, build and continually advance the coastal monitoring and modeling systems of the future, technologies that will deliver information to decision makers, stakeholders and the public at the scales, in the formats, and with the level of certainty required to achieve proactive solutions to addressing water quality and other hazards at the coast,” Angelini said.

"Collaborating with UF-CSS is a great opportunity for us to increase the awareness and value of RECON and the water quality research our Marine Lab is doing," said SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera. "And, our entire region's coastal ecosystems will benefit from our pilot participation in CompCON by advancing ways in which science can inform critical policy, which in turn will boost our tourism-based economy and the quality of life of residents and visitors alike."

A unique coastal ecosystem shapes Florida’s environment and economy

The coastal ecosystem is of critical importance to the State of Florida.

  • More than three-quarters (76.5%) of Florida’s 21.6 million citizens live in coastal counties.
  • Florida’s coral reefs provide millions of dollars in protection to buildings and the local economy every year—almost $600 million to the peninsula and over $75 million to the Florida Keys every year.
  • The 2.2 million acres of seagrass beds surrounding the Florida coast provide homes for 40,000 fish per acre. Seagrasses also trap sediments, stabilize the seafloor, improve water clarity and store carbon.
  • Mangroves are unique trees, able to extract the fresh water they need from saltwater. Florida’s mangroves create entire coastal ecosystems, trapping sediment, cycling organic material and storing carbon.

The economic health of the state depends on a robust ecosystem.

  • Florida’s tourists love visiting the state’s beaches and waterways, where 131.4 million travelers spent $96.5 billion and supported more than 1.6 million local jobs in the state in 2019.
  • Florida is the third most populous state in the U.S., due in large part to the coastal environment that attracts more than 900 new home buyers each day.
  • Coastal Florida employs 6.2 million people annually, earning a total of $302.8 billion. This equates to almost $760 billion in gross domestic product.
  • More than 200,000 Floridians make their living from fishing, which provides more than $8 billion in annual state income.

Today, the water and the overall coastal ecosystem in Florida is threatened by a wide variety of anthropogenic activities.

  • Agriculture, residential landscape runoff and septic tanks all contribute nutrient pollutants that make their way into Florida’s waterways and estuaries, contributing to blue, green and brown algal blooms that are hazardous to marine life and the coastal ecosystem as a whole.
  • Carbon pollution contributes to ocean acidification, resulting in decimation of coral reefs and sea grasses that are so important to Florida’s fishing industry.
  • Of Florida’s 825 miles of beaches, 485 miles are experiencing active erosion, endangering residences for Floridians and tourists alike.
  • Manatees have inhabited Florida coastlines for 50 million years, but they, along with sea turtles and dolphins, are in danger from red tide intrusions from the sea.

Water quality forecasting, provided by the work being done in the CompCON program, as well as the RECON technology is a key to helping communities , legislators and policy makers plan for the resilient and sustainable future of Florida’s coastal ecosystems.

Engineering Graduate Programs Ranked Top 20 Three Years in a Row Tue, 30 Mar 2021 17:02:03 +0000 The Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering is ranked among the Top 25 public graduate engineering schools in the U.S. and the No. 1 engineering school in the State of Florida, according to the 2022 U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools ranking. 

“Our continued momentum across the college is fueled by our faculty and their commitment to ground-breaking research, even during the most challenging times,” said Cammy R. Abernathy, Ph.D., dean of the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. 

Despite a challenging year due to the global pandemic, the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering continues to innovate, reaching $113 million in research awards, 148 invention disclosures and 241 patent applications in 2020. 

Among the rankings, 12 engineering programs in the College were ranked in the Top 20 among public universities for the third year in a row. 

Ranking highlights include: 

  • The Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering’s graduate program has risen five points nationally, to be ranked the No. 3 program in the U.S. 
  • The Department of Computer & Information Science & Engineering’s computer engineering graduate program, rose four spots to No. 12 among public universities.  
  • Within the Engineering School for Sustainable Infrastructure & Environment (ESSIE), the civil engineering graduate program rose two points to No. 17 among public universities. 

The Herbert Wertheim of College of Engineering continues to play a critical role in positioning UF and the State of Florida as a leader in preparing society for equitable AI and digital literacy. The College is increasingly making AI the centerpiece of its research and education efforts, including collecting and monitoring massive quantities of multi-modal data, processing and converting that data to actionable information, and physically acting on that information to impact our quality of life. 

For more information on the University of Florida rankings, visit 

Exposing the Shortcuts: Improving Fairness of Artificial Intelligence in the Connected World Tue, 09 Mar 2021 16:20:21 +0000 At the Warren B. Nelms Institute for the Connected World, located in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering on the University of Florida campus, My T. Thai, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Computer & Information Science & Engineering and associate director of the Institute, is developing software technologies that can explain how bias can creep into artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms. Her work is helping users who work with AI technology to extract analyses and predictions that are accurate and as close to reality as possible, as opposed to nominal, or worse, prejudiced and unfair. 

Bias creep occurs when data and its patterns are misread and analyses become tainted. Increasingly, industries and policy-makers rely on AI to tackle voluminous and rapid data processing. If the AI learns and informs from a pattern that is incorrectly interpreted, the result could lead to serious errors in decision-making and response-formulation.

Language bias can be an especially significant factor in incorrect data interpretation, especially in venues such as career fairs for college students. For example, at a recent UF Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering career fair, a recruiter advised students to look at the job description carefully and ensure that their CV had certain keywords in it. “It would be a shame if the AI rejects you before you even get the chance to talk to someone,” the recruiter said. The language bias in the machine learning program may have trained the AI to take a shortcut and reject a CV that does not contain specific words, even though the student might be eminently qualified for the job.

Dr. Thai, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and working with industry partner Amazon, is currently developing software technologies to help identify and explain where and how bias enters AI algorithms. “Using AI models as ‘black boxes’, without knowing why the model made a particular decision about the data, degrades the trustworthiness of the system,” Dr. Thai said. If the AI begins to use shortcuts, such as discounting any data that is not provided in a specific format designated by the machine learning tools used to train it, bias can begin to creep into the AI technology.

“We can use the models we are developing to explain ‘shortcuts learning’ in the machine learning tools used to train the AI,” Dr. Thai said. “Not only will this type of explainable machine learning help AI users improve the fairness of their systems and technologies, it will provide them with a tool for demonstrating transparency in their operations. Without the ability to explain bias in the data or the machine learning tools, there is no transparency, which will limit the usefulness of the results.”

Distributions of aggregate-listed-count

Distributions of aggregated-listed-count on ‘Normal’ users, detected some ‘Inappropriate’ users (true-positive) and missed other ‘Inappropriate’ users (false-negative). The high similarity between distributions of aggregated-listed-count on negative samples and false-negative samples in the GNN suggests that the AI model exploited this shortcut to generate predictions on users.

Shortcuts learning was initially identified using images and text data, but now Dr. Thai and her students have exposed a new type of shortcuts learning in Graph Neural Networks (GNNs), a novel deep learning technique based on graph data. Using her recently developed explainable machine learning model, Probabilistic Graphical Model Explanations (PGM-Explainer), on a GNN that had been trained to classify ‘inappropriate’ users who endorse hate speech on Twitter, Dr. Thai and her group learned that the AI model relied on the shortcut “aggregated-listed-count” to generate a prediction. A high value for aggregated-listed-count indicated that the user had many important neighbors belonging to a high number of Twitter lists. Yet, this characteristic does not hold a causal effect on deciding whether the user is ‘inappropriate’ or not. It is merely a shortcut exploited by the AI model to correlate and erroneously classify some ‘inappropriate’ users as ‘normal’. The PGM-Explainer shows the shortcut was learned by the model and, therefore, the results are not reliable.

When Dr. Thai completes her current work, the explainable machine learning code will be available for licensing by companies and organizations. Working with the code to assess AI biases will require employees with basic training in AI. This need complements the AI workforce development vision highlighted in the UF AI University initiative. In making artificial intelligence the centerpiece of a major, long-term initiative that combines world-class research infrastructure, cutting-edge research, and a transformational approach to curriculum, the goal is to equip every UF student with a basic competency in AI regardless of their field of study. Furthering lifelong learning opportunities for every citizen of Florida is also a goal under this initiative, so that Florida will become the AI technology talent pipeline for the State and the country.

“The work Dr. Thai is doing will help advance the effectiveness of AI and IoT in all fields of academe, commerce and industry,” said Swarup Bhunia, Ph.D., Semmoto Endowed Professor and Director of the Warren B. Nelms Institute for the Connected World. “This is exactly what the Nelms Institute was established for: to lead research and education in all aspects of the intelligent connection of things, processes and data that address major world challenges. And right now, the world deserves a better AI technology that ensures fairness.”

Early Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Found with Eye Exam Mon, 08 Mar 2021 13:02:28 +0000 Ruogu Fang, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering, was recently interviewed by the Washington Post about her research into using retinal imaging to predict Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

Warren Dixon Assumes Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering Chair Thu, 11 Feb 2021 19:26:20 +0000 Warren E. Dixon, Ph.D.

Warren E. Dixon, Ph.D., Newton C. Ebaugh Professor in the UF Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering (MAE) and director of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) Center of Excellence in Assured Autonomy in Contested Environments

Warren E. Dixon, Ph.D., Newton C. Ebaugh Professor in the UF Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering (MAE) and director of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) Center of Excellence in Assured Autonomy in Contested Environments, has been named the new chair of MAE in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering.

An expert in nonlinear controls and robotics with a prolific portfolio of proven research projects funded by federal agencies, Dr. Dixon brings a richness of experience and professional acumen to the guidance of faculty and students. He has been active in robotics and automated systems his entire career, with broad application domains in personalized rehabilitation robotics; artificial intelligence; and automated air, land, and marine robotic systems. During his 15-year tenure at UF, he has mentored over 35 doctoral students in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering.

“It is exciting to lead a department where world class researchers are leveraging their diverse expertise to solve significant societal challenges,” Dr. Dixon said. Dr. Dixon looks forward to facilitating the direction of work currently underway in the department:

  • MAE is aiming for the stars through advances in combustion and propulsion to facilitate access to and operation in space, through advances in spacecraft design to advance large scale science missions and through thermal management science that can lead to exploration of new frontiers.
  • Successful efforts in the development of robotic systems are enabling breakthroughs in advanced manufacturing, human machine interactions, automated transportation through driverless cars and urban air mobility, environmental management in remote and dynamic environments, and technologies to address enduring national security/defense challenges.
  • Researchers in MAE are leading efforts to understand the mechanics of biological systems, leading to breakthroughs in cancer and soft matter engineering, regenerative medicine, and improvements in the use of blood products during the treatment of trauma.
  • MAE is also continuing to expand energy management and clean energy production and storage to help the nation grow a green economy and curb carbon emissions.
  • The department is seeking new faculty with expertise in robotics and artificial intelligence who can collaboratively address the health and management of coastal regions.

Under Dr. Dixon’s leadership, the MAE department is putting in place a strategy for undergraduate coursework that aligns with UF’s AI University initiative. “Our students have traditional strengths in fundamental understanding of modeling and predicting the behaviors of physical and energetic systems. We are working to empower them to also understand how data science and artificial intelligence can augment traditional methods as a means to explore increasingly complex systems,” Dixon said.

Students are involved in all aspects of MAE research, and student design-and-build teams have taken part in national and international competitions. Examples include:

  • Gator Theme Park Engineering and Design (TPED) Club members won 1st Place Overall, Best Rollercoaster, and Best Mechanical Design at the 2018 Ryerson Invitational Thrill Design Competition presented by Universal Creative; and two Gator TPED teams won 1st Place and 3rd Place respectively in the 2018 Cornell Design Competition.
  • The University of Florida student team captured the top spot in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Student Design competition in 2019.
  • American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics student members from UF compete in several design competitions, including Design/Build/Fly and the NASA-sponsored Hybrid Rocket programs.
  • Generational Relief in Prosthetics (GRiP) members design and manufacture 3D-printed assistive devices, adaptive controllers and toys, and many other projects to aid children with upper limb differences. They also conduct research in a variety of areas and strive to educate the community on STEM through outreach activities.

Dr. Dixon envisions the future of the department not just in terms of overall growth, but also through inventive synergies with new technologies and innovations. “Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering are disciplines focused on the conservation of and conversion of energy and forces and their effects on motion. At UF, we seek new frontiers in these disciplines. We aspire to improve our understanding of the universe from the atomistic scale interactions of materials to physics at a planetary scale. As we explore increasingly complex systems, we are expanding our expertise in the fusion of dynamics and information through pioneering efforts in robotics, cyber-physical systems, and artificial intelligence,” he said. 

In addition to his MAE position, Dr. Dixon also holds an Affiliate appointment in the Department of Electrical Engineering. He has served as the Director of Operations and an elected member of the Board of Governors for the IEEE Control Systems Society. He was recently awarded the IEEE Control Systems Society Distinguished Member Award for his technical contributions and service to the community. He was also awarded the Air Force Commander’s Public Service Award for his contributions to the U.S. Air Force Science Advisory Board.

Dr. Dixon received his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from Clemson University. Before joining the University of Florida, he worked in the robotics group at the prestigious Oak Ridge National Laboratory as a Eugene Wigner Fellow. He has authored or co-authored approximately 500 peer-reviewed articles, including four research monographs, which have been cited over 13,500 times (h-index 59). His work has been recognized by a number of early and mid-career, best paper, and student mentoring awards, and he is an ASME and IEEE Fellow for his contributions to control methods developed for uncertain nonlinear systems. His research has been continuously funded by the National Science Foundation since his early CAREER Award, with the majority of his funding coming from the Department of Defense. He is currently the lead investigator at the AFOSR Center of Excellence on Assured Autonomy in Contested Environments.