UCF’s 3 NSF CAREER Awardees Lead Advancements in Heart Health, Solar Energy and Wireless Communication
UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science assistant professors, Kenle Chen, Zhaomiao (Walter) Guo and Luigi Perotti, have been named 2023 National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award winners. The combined award total is an estimated $1.5 million.
Recipients of this prestigious, early-faculty award exhibit the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education, and lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.
Each UCF awardee is using their expertise to study the core part of a key system — whether it’s Perotti understanding heart mechanics in relation to health and disease, Guo’s research on harnessing solar power through electric vehicles or Chen, who is redefining high-speed connectivity used in communication antennas.
Non-Magnetic Technology for the Future of Communications
Project Title: Non-Reciprocally Coupled Load-Modulation Platform for Next-Generation High-Power Magnetic-Less Fully Directional Radio Front Ends
Our current radio spectrum, or the range of frequencies used for wireless communications, is quickly becoming congested due to rapidly increased user volume from humans and smart devices, as well as from new wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi7, 5G+ and more.
Assistant Professor Kenle Chen, from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is developing a first-of-its-kind technology that could alleviate this congestion and allow for more efficient and reliable communications.
In emerging communication systems, an essential device is a circulator that helps control the flow of signals by routing them between an antenna, transmitter and receiver. It can be found on base stations on Earth and on satellites in space.
Traditional circulators rely on “magnetic material,” in which signals travel in one direction under the influence of a magnetic field.
Recently, microchip-based, non-magnetic circulators have become possible, but their performance is far from their magnetic counterparts. For instance, state-of-the-art non-magnetic circulators can only handle watt-level of transmission power, which is far below the usable range of many realistic systems, Chen says.
Chen’s approach unleashes the high-power operation of a non-magnetic circulator in an indirect way that will enable more than 10 watts of signal transmission and allow bidirectional signal flow at the antenna interface. Making the technology completely magnetic-less renders a more affordable solution for wireless industries, Chen says.
“It’s a way to directionally route the transmission signal and receive signal, so it’s a bidirectional process, using a single unified antenna,” Chen says. “It will meanwhile enhance the efficiency of high-power amplifiers, the most energy-consuming unit on all wireless platforms.”
Additionally, current magnetic circulators are quite expensive, large and heavy in size — leading to high manufacturing and installation costs for the system as well as increased maintenance requirements. Chen’s new technology will shrink the weight and size of the emerging radio system.
The significant advantages of Chen’s disruptive technology have created interest from wireless and semiconductor industries. Chen says that when installing a current antenna array high onto a base station, oftentimes a helicopter or heavy lifting equipment is needed.
“If we can get rid of magnetic circulators, then we can very much minimize the size and weight of this antenna array,” he says. “So, workers can just carry it on their back as they install it — saving the overall cost and improving labor efficiency and safety.”
Chen’s NSF project will establish the theoretical foundation and practical design methodologies for the proposed technology. He will demonstrate the effectiveness of his proposal using prototypes that mimic the advanced antenna array system within an anechoic, or echo-free, chamber at UCF.
Chen will be working with his research group and the UCF INSPIRE Lab. His team will also provide outreach programs to K-12 students with videos and lectures about wireless technology.
Chen earned his doctoral degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University in 2013 and worked in the industry before joining UCF in 2018. He credits the four years he spent in the wireless semiconductor sector for fueling his excitement toward developing new research.
“I can foresee that this research will be wildly exciting and enable knowledge for the future 6G systems featured as joint communication and radar,” Chen says. “Beyond the technological frontiers, it will address the nation’s core interests in spectrum sustainability and ubiquitous coverage of high-speed connectivity and lead to economic benefits in the future.”
Harnessing the Sun’s Energy Through Electric Vehicles
Zhaomiao (Walter) Guo
Project Title: A Decentralized Optimization Framework for Next-Gen Transportation and Power Systems with Large-scale Transportation Electrification
Using the increasing number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads as an advantage, civil, environmental and construction engineering Assistant Professor Walter Guo’s project will couple two important infrastructure systems — transportation and power — to contribute to a more sustainable future.
Guo is currently building a network model that will examine EVs to capture and store solar energy, which can then be transferred into a power system as the EV replenishes its own battery supply — creating a bidirectional flow of power.
Guo, who is also a part of UCF’s Resilient, Intelligent and Sustainable Energy Systems faculty cluster initiative and center, says his ultimate research goal is to introduce more clean energy into the power and transportation systems in a cost-effective way.
While Guo’s model will rely on his computational and engineering expertise, the outcome is largely dependent on the adoption of the system by transportation departments, utility companies and industry partners, including individuals who own EVs.
“EV and solar technologies are going to have a large market penetration in the next 10 or 20 years,” Guo says. “And when we’re able to get these two technologies to work together, it will completely change both systems.” Guo is looking forward to broadly collaborate with the stakeholders, including Florida Department of Transportation, utility companies and the City of Orlando to enable this paradigm shift.
Guo’s study will also incorporate key concepts in game theory to explore how the average EV owner may adopt the model if given rewards, such as monetary incentives.
“It’s a cyclical process,” he says. “By providing incentives to the EV owners, we essentially reduce the ownership costs for them. So eventually, it will promote the adoption of EVs that in turn, will enable the integration of solar or renewable energy in power systems.”
To quantify the value of providing a certain amount of energy back into the power system, Guo will consider various factors like time, vehicle use and cases where the demand for power is high, such as during a power outage due to a natural disaster.
“When the EVs provide support during an outage, they can potentially help recover the power system’s critical loads, allowing the power system startup to be easier,” Guo says.
Since the time he was working as a transportation engineer in 2012 to his postdoctoral assignment in 2018 where he investigated the power transmission and distribution networks for EVs, Guo’s career path has led him straight to this project.
Over the past five years, Guo’s team of collaborators, which includes students, have played a major role in developing the preliminary results needed to receive the NSF CAREER grant.
“The idea of our contribution is to seamlessly integrate the transportation system with the energy system,” he says. “I hope to carry forward this research direction to a broader context that fundamentally improves sustainability and resilience.”
Modeling Heart Mechanics at the Microscale
Title: How Does the Heart Contract? A Microstructure-Based Approach to Understand Cardiac Function and Dysfunction
Mechanical and aerospace engineering Assistant Professor Luigi Perotti’s project will develop a computational model capable of relating observable macroscopic motion in the heart, such as a cardiac contraction, to its causes at the cellular and tissue levels.
By linking cellular and tissue level mechanics to heart function in health and disease, Perotti’s work can inform investigations of how localized and more widespread abnormalities contribute to cardiac dysfunction across scales.
“If we can link the micro and macroscales more accurately, then we can improve diagnosis and treatment because we can have a more precise, causal link between the changes that happened in the heart,” Perotti says.
To build, test and improve their models, Perotti and his team in the Computational Biomechanics Lab, will use existing literature and acquired magnetic resonance imaging data, like those from Cardiac Diffusion Tensor Imaging and Displacement Encoding with Stimulated Echoes Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or DENSE MRI.
The multiscale computational models will be compared with this experimental data to connect deformation at the cellular and microstructural levels to motion measurable at the tissue and ventricle scales.
“We hope that our results based on microstructural models and imaging data can suggest new quantitative biomarkers to quantify cardiac motion,” Perotti says.
The project will also include outreach to students from local schools to inspire their interest in science, engineering and healthcare.
“Students will be able to hold basic heart models in their hands to understand how the myofiber organizes in a helical structure across the wall and understand how this helical structure is important for cardiac contraction,” Perotti says.
For Perotti, his heart has always been intrigued by coding and biology. His research as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, initially focused on analyzing the maturation of spherical viral shells and how to model their change in shape. However, after his mentor invited him to join a cardiac electrophysiology project, Perotti’s interest in the complex studies of the heart with medical experts intensified.
Since joining UCF in 2019, he continues projects with faculty and students, and says he enjoys the collaborative opportunities the university offers.
“From the time I interviewed for this position, I always had the impression that UCF is very energetic and there is a strong push to grow together,” he says.
See the story by Mikita Nayee in UCF Today