In year of challenges, College of Engineering experienced growth, successes in 2021

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On June 28, 2021, the College of Engineering held a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the beginning of construction on Kiewit Hall.
On June 28, 2021, the College of Engineering held a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the beginning of construction on Kiewit Hall.

The College of Engineering experienced a year of major milestones and growth in 2021, even as the college and the University of Nebraska system continued to deal with the changing demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ground was broken for Kiewit Hall and final touches are being made to the Engineering Research Center, which replaces the "Link" between Nebraska Hall and the soon-to-be-renovated Scott Engineering Center.

Additionally, 2021 yielded numerous successes for the Nebraska Engineering community, including breakthroughs in research in myriad fields and national and international achievements and honors for faculty, students and staff.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a number of challenges to the College of Engineering's research enterprise. Despite the difficulties in hiring graduate students and staff or purchasing equipment, research expenditures has remained steady while research proposals submitted were up compared to those in calendar year 2020.

Here is a look at some of the big 2021 stories from the College of Engineering:


School of Computing student and teacher talking

A groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the beginning of construction for the privately funded $115 million Kiewit Hall was held June 28.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln transformed the Department of Computer Science and Engineering into the School of Computing, now fully housed within the College of Engineering. Marilyn Wolf, Elmer E. Koch Professor of Engineering, is the founding director.

Lily Wang, the former associate dean for faculty and inclusion in the college and a nationally recognized leader in acoustics research, is forging ahead in another new role as director of The Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction

Nine new faculty members were added for the 2021-22 academic year, increasing total faculty hires to 54 over the past five years. 

Kiewit Corp. made another significant investment toward the college's efforts to educate the next generation of engineering, construction and computing industry leaders by funding the innovative Kiewit Scholars Program (KSP). Ten first-year students were announced as the first KSP cohort

The newly established Peter Kiewit Foundation Engineering Academy will provide new possibilities for the next generation of professionals in engineering, computing and construction. 

A team of transportation research organizations, including UNL, the College of Engineering, and the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility was awarded a $571M federal Railroad Administration contract for research, testing, engineering and training services. 

Aemal Khattak (Civil and Environmental Engineering), a national leader in highway-rail crossing safety, was chosen as the next director of the Mid-America Transportation Center (MATC)

To meet workforce demands and public concern for environmental quality, a new environmental engineering undergraduate degree program will begin in Fall 2022. 

The Department of Mechanical & Materials Engineering (MME), created 10 years ago through the merger of two units, recently celebrated that anniversary and a decade in which it has continued to thrive and grow. 


tracking COVID-19 through wastewater samples

Fadi Alsaleem (Durham School) and researchers from three University of Nebraska institutions finished among the top 10 teams in a global competition to develop an artificial intelligence-driven model to advise policymakers on ways to handle the pandemic. 

Xu Li (Civil and Environmental Engineering) and a team of researchers (photo above) are exploring the feasibility of tracking coronavirus trends and identifying hotspots at the scale of ZIP codes. 

Five people from the college were among 11 awarded the State of Nebraska's highest honor for their roles in a collaboration to produce hand sanitizer during the early stages of the pandemic. 

Funded by a three-year NSF grant, engineering faculty Grace Panther (Civil and Environmental Engineering) and Heidi Diefes-Dux (Biological Systems Engineering) are studying the extent that engineering instructors have retained and extended teaching practices and strategies adopted during the pandemic. 


researchers monitoring bridge safety

By applying electrical charges to cell surfaces, Jae Sung Park and Ruiguo Yang (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) are working to improve drug delivery systems that could help fight cancer, heart disease and other neurodegenerative diseases

With a $2.3 million Nebraska EPSCoR EQUATE grant, Abdelghani Laraoui (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) leads a team that includes Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty Christos Argyropoulos, Wei Bao, Eva Schubert and Mathias Schubert addressing current limitations impeding quantum technology

A three-year, $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy helps Jongwan Eun and Seunghee Kim (Civil and Environmental Engineering) look millennia into the future as they develop a new barrier material that would make the deep geologic disposal and storage of spent nuclear fuel much safer

With key research from Rajib Saha (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering), a State of Nebraska project shows conventional vehicles can use higher ethanol blend E-30 with no negative impact on vehicle performance. 

Nicole Iverson (Biological Systems Engineering) is developing nanoscopic sensors aimed at detecting earlier hints of disease at the cellular level

A team of UNL and UNO researchers (photo above), including Daniel Linzell and Chungwook Sim (Civil and Environmental Engineering), are working on a $5 million Department of Defense grant to improve bridge safety through monitoring

With a $452,783 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Santosh Pitla (Biological Systems Engineering) is working on improving Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs), or robots, that can refill seeds, chemicals and fertilizers automatically without the need to leave the field

Hamzeh Haghshenas Fatmehsar (Civil and Environmental Engineering) and colleagues are studying the efficacy of using corn and soybean oil to recycle asphalt

Ravi Saraf (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering) is one step closer to developing a new transistor chip that harnesses the biological responses of living organisms to drive current through the device. 

Through an NSF grant, Eric Markvicka (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) is developing new processes for manufacturing rubber to improve the capabilities of controlling its electrical, thermal and mechanical properties. 

Lisong Xu and Hamid Bagheri (School of Computing) are using a $750,000 NSF grant to develop a tool that will address one of the most significant drivers of network congestion: buggy congestion control algorithms, whose misfires can lead to the all-too-familiar internet freeze or interrupted video streaming during peak usage times. 

Wei Qiao and Mark Bauer (Electrical and Computer Engineering) are supporting a new $25 million contract between the University of Nebraska's National Strategic Research Institute and the National Nuclear Security Administration. 

Midwest Roadside Safety Facility researchers conducted a rare-but-successful crash test Dec. 8 to assess a newly designed and significantly shorter concrete barrier's performance when it is contacted at 50 mph by an 80,000-pound tractor-tanker truck. 

Taking lessons learned from animals who work in groups in the sky, on the ground and underwater, Piyush Grover and Jae Sung Park (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) are creating algorithms that can help individual agents in emerging technologies work together to improve our lives. 


Justin Bradley (left) and Siemak Nejati

Two faculty - Justin Bradley (School of Computing) and Siemak Nejati (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering) – received NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program awards: Bradley (at left in photo above) is developing ways to give drones and other robots the ability to sense and adapt to changing environments. Nejati (at right in photo above) is building on his previous research on molecular structures. 

Carrick Detweiler (School of Computing) was elected a senior member of the National Academy of Inventors

Shudipto Dishari (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering) is the first College of Engineering faculty member to be selected for the 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award

Angela Pannier was named the inaugural Swarts Family Chair in Biological Systems Engineering

Director Marilyn Wolf (School of Computing) was chosen to receive the 2022 IEEE Leon K. Kirchmayer Graduate Teaching Award.  She was also named General Chair of the International Conference on Information Processing in Sensor Networks (IPSN)

Santosh Pitla (Biological Systems Engineering) received the 2021 A.W. Farrall Young Educator Award from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. 


Ben Johnson and Zane Zents of Grain Weevil

May graduates Ben Johnson and Zane Zents (Electrical and Computer Engineering, photo above) were awarded the 2021 "Eat it!" Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for their invention – the Grain Weevil, a grain bin safety and management robot that keeps farmers safe and grain stored efficiently. 

Doctoral student Logan Pettit (Mechanical Engineering) received the NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunities (NSTGRO) Fellowship. Pettit is only the second UNL student ever to earn the fellowship. 

Doctoral student Kossi Loic Avegnon (Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics) was selected for the Black Trailblazers in Engineering (BTE) Fellowship from Purdue University. 

A team of Architectural Engineering students took the top prize again at the 2021 American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE) Architectural Engineering Institute (AEI) International Student Design Competition. 

Grad student Grayson Minnick (Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics) and Nebraska Engineering alumni Ryan Regan and Maureen Winter were awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. 

Aaron Young (Architectural Engineering) was awarded the $10,000 Willis H. Carrier Scholarship by ASHRAE. 

Doctoral student Samuel Underwood (Architectural Engineering, with an emphasis in Acoustics) received two prestigious fellowships from the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) to support his graduate studies. 

Ph.D. candidate and graduate research assistant Dianna Morris (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering) was awarded a three-year, $177,000 USDA Pre-Doctoral Fellowship. 


ECEC program trains Senegalese faculty

A virtual training program conducted by Engineering and Computing Education Core (ECEC) staff (photo above) taught several Senegalese faculty best practices for STEM teaching through the University Partnerships Initiative Senegal program. 

Jen Skidmore, director of student development, was recognized as a recipient of the 2020 Chancellor's Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community

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