3 UC Berkeley engineering professors win Young Investigator Award

Grace Gu/Courtesy
The Office of Naval Research awarded three UC Berkeley professors, Somayeh Sojoudi, Grace Gu and Alvin Cheung, the Young Investigator Award. The award aims to support researchers whose work indicates potential use and benefit for the United States Navy and Marine Corps.

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Three UC Berkeley assistant engineering professors were awarded the Young Investigator Award by the Office of Naval Research, or ONR, for their respective research in programming, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The Young Investigator Award aims to support young researchers whose work demonstrates potential benefit for the United States Navy and Marine Corps, according to an ONR press release. Somayeh Sojoudi, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and electrical engineering and computer sciences, or EECS; Grace Gu, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and Alvin Cheung, an assistant professor of EECS, were three of 38 recipients nationwide.

The recipients will split $20 million in grant funds with individual grants ranging from $510,000 to $750,000.

Gu’s research centered on material design for naval applications with a particular focus on composites. Composites are made from combining separate materials into one using various design combinations. These combinations help achieve certain properties and advantages such as reducing material weight, according to Gu.

Due to various combinations and designs for composites, Gu’s research focused on using machine learning techniques to rationally design impact-resistant composite materials. Gu said the use of machine learning accelerates the design process and that her findings could lead to more fundamental research in the field.

“The research funds will be used to fund graduate student tuition and stipends and also materials and supplies needed for the research,” Gu said.

Sojoudi’s work focused on the design of efficient computational methods for artificial intelligence, as well as nonlinear and nonconvex problems in machine learning. Sojoudi said finding solutions to these problems using standard techniques takes too much time and is not applicable in real-world, complex systems, including safety-critical systems.

She added that cities are increasingly relying on computational tools and sensors to process a lot of data, emphasizing that they need computational tools that are more reliable and are better able to make real-time decisions.

“We are moving towards smart cities with many sensors, a lot of data to process, and many decisions to be made in real time,” Sojoudi said in an email. “The operation of smart cities relies heavily on computational tools, and we need to have computational tools that are reliable and efficient so that they can be used for safety-critical systems, such as transportation and energy systems.”

Cheung’s research team focused on using programming languages to close “security loopholes” in applications and improve the security of existing applications in a fully or semiautomatic fashion. He added that winning the award was an incredible honor and that he owes a debt to the mentors and students he worked with along the way.

“I am grateful and honored to receive the ONR Young Investigator Award,” Gu said. “This award will not only provide funding support for me and my students but also could lead to future breakthroughs in composite design and manufacturing technology, which we are excited about pursuing.”

Contact Matt Brown at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @maattttbrown .