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Two professors receive prestigious NSF award

Sophia Wang works with a robotic arm in her lab.

Sophia Wang works with a robotic arm in her lab.

Two faculty members have received a total of $1 million in funding as part of the National Science Foundation’s highest honor for junior faculty members.

Jacob Sorber and Yue “Sophie” Wang were among the honorees in this year’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. Each has been awarded $500,000 for research.

Sorber’s research enables low-cost, low-power sensors to gather data for long periods of time. The sensors would be powered by energy from environmental sources, such as the sun, with no need for batteries or manual recharging.

He said the sensors have the potential to transform science and society. They could, for example, be used to monitor human health, growing conditions in greenhouses or the behavior patterns of animal populations in the wild.

Wang is focusing on two distinctly human attributes — trust and regret — to develop new “control algorithms” and decision-making strategies that would help humans and robots work together to be more productive. She sees big opportunities for humans and robots to collaborate in manufacturing.

Wang also sees high potential for “human-supervised mobile sensor networks.” Robots could begin doing low-level simple and repetitive tasks while humans could be involved in high-level complex tasks, she said. While research is central to the award, winners also must be excellent teachers and have proven themselves exemplary in integrating research and education. Selection is highly competitive.

Sorber is an assistant professor in the School of Computing, and Wang is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

Valerie N. Pezzullo M ’14

Graduating and Giving Back

Valerie Pezzullo had two things to celebrate this spring: She received her master’s degree in mechanical engineering and took first place in MTConnect Challenge 2, a contest to develop innovative and unique software applications for manufacturing.

Pezzullo’s software application detects vibrations in metal-cutting machines so that corrections can be made before parts are damaged. The application is expected to help manufacturers that rely on computer-controlled machines to make highly precise parts for a variety of industries, ranging from automotive to aerospace.

It could have an especially large impact on manufacturers that use high-value materials. Regenerative vibration, or “chatter,” can ruin parts that cost as much as $20,000 each in raw materials alone. By the time the vibrations are audible, it’s too late because the part already may be damaged.

“As a student, it was exciting to go through the design and see it through to the final product,” said Pezzullo, who is from Selden, a hamlet on New York’s Long Island. “The app is very practical and useful for industry.”

Pezzullo’s application was part of her thesis and an offshoot of previous research done by her adviser, Laine Mears, associate professor of automotive engineering.

“It will have a big impact on manufacturing, especially in the Upstate, because manufacturing is such a large part of the economy,” he said. “This is a great example of automatically generating information and using it to improve manufacturing quality and productivity.”

And the $100,000 prize? Pezzullo has said she will pay off her student loans and establish a scholarship for female students studying engineering.

Pezzullo did her research at the Clemson University-International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) and worked on machines provided by Okuma America Corp., a Charlotte subsidiary of Okuma Corporate. The contest was sponsored by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM), the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), Defense-wide Manufacturing Science and Technology (DMS&T), AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology and the U.S. Army Benét Labs.