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We’re expanding our faculty expertise in energy storage, semiconductors, autonomous systems and data science … and we’re planning to grow for greater impact.

Fang Liu arrived on the UW-Madison campus in fall 2022, bringing with her a bold research agenda.

The chemical engineer-turned-materials scientist (pictured above) wants to develop more energy-dense rechargeable batteries that could power heavy trucks and even airplanes—the kind of technology that could make a significant dent in greenhouse gas emissions. She’s also hoping to work toward long-duration batteries for grid-scale storage, expanding the reach of renewable energy.

“This is becoming more and more important as time moves on,” she says. “How can we power the whole city or whole country with battery capacity? How can we store the energy from wind and solar sources to provide the energy that we need in daily life?”

To chase those lofty aims, she’ll build upon the college’s longstanding tradition of excellence in fundamental materials research, while collaborating with a growing number of colleagues using data science to accelerate progress.

Liu typifies the kind of ambitious researcher the college looks for when hiring new faculty members: inquisitive thinkers who are willing to work across the boundaries of traditional engineering disciplines.

She’s also tackling a looming global challenge, and that’s no coincidence: The college is investing in strategic research clusters like energy storage and batteries, addressing key technical hurdles that will help further realize the potential of renewable energy systems against the backdrop of climate change.

Another group of recent faculty hires is pursuing emerging solutions in semiconductor development—engineering the future of electronics in the midst of a growing global need. The college has also added expertise in autonomous systems and robotics to accelerate progress in areas that include connected and automated vehicles, transportation safety and next-generation manufacturing.

And across all those specific research focus areas and its academic departments, the college is prioritizing collaborative engineers who harness the latest data science methods to discover new materials, improve healthcare treatments and much, much more.

“Solving some of the world’s grand challenges is going to require engineers who can work across traditional academic boundaries,” says Ian Robertson, Grainger Dean of the College of Engineering. “We’re adding faculty members who fit that mold and excel in both basic and applied science that can contribute to those solutions.”

Professor Christian Franck and Assistant Scientist Jing Zhang examine an image of brain cells
Professor Christian Franck and Assistant Scientist Jing Zhang examine an image of brain cells in Franck’s lab. Credit: Joel Hallberg.

In all, the college has added 19 new faculty members across seven departments during the 2022-23 academic year. Over Robertson’s nine-year tenure, nearly 120 researchers have joined the college’s faculty. Sixty-five of those hires have come in the last five years, even amid pandemic disruptions.

Several new faculty hires in 2022-23 have brought established research labs from other institutions to the UW-Madison campus.

Ying Li, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, came from the University of Connecticut after earning an NSF CAREER Award related to his work using computational modeling to better understand and design advanced polymers. He’s already building collaborations with the college’s Polymer Engineering Center, which created the world’s first plastics engineering course in 1946.

Xiaopeng Li, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, joined from the University of South Florida, where he started U.S. Department of Energy- and National Science Foundation-backed projects developing connected and automated vehicle technologies.

Hantang Qin, an assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering, brought an active collaboration with NASA to optimize 3D printing for in-space manufacturing of electronic components from Iowa State University.

They join the likes of previous mechanical engineering faculty hires Christian Franck, who came from Brown University in 2018, and Katherine Fu, who moved north from Georgia Tech in 2021. Like Ying Li and Xiaopeng Li, Franck and Fu had earned tenure before choosing to relocate to UW-Madison.

“I’m so excited about all that is happening at the university,” says Fu, an associate professor who uses cognitive science to improve engineering design. “The makerspace, collaborations across campus and with local industry partners, and being able to meet and work with students who are passionate about engineering design—to name a few.”

Franck, the Bjorn Borgen Professor, leads a large-scale research effort across academia, industry and government to study traumatic brain injury down to the molecular level.

“UW-Madison has world-class expertise in a wide range of disciplines, including neuroscience, neurophysiology and biomedical engineering, as well as a top medical school, so I feel the ground is very fertile,” says Franck, whose interdisciplinary research program has racked up multimillion-dollar grants from the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

That’s just one tangible signal of the college’s success in faculty recruitment among many.

Over the past five years, UW-Madison engineers have also claimed 29 National Science Foundation CAREER Awards to support their early-career research. Others have received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award, the U.S. Department of Energy Early Career Award and the Beckman Foundation’s Young Investigator Award.

The college’s annual research expenditures have grown to roughly $100 million, driven in part by the energy of the more than 60 assistant professors on the faculty.

To better support those ambitious researchers, the college has plans to construct a massive new building, adding state-of-the-art research labs. The proposed new multidisciplinary facility would also allow the college to significantly expand its enrollment at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

“The new facility will stimulate collaboration, spark research discoveries and serve as the focal point of our engineering campus,” Robertson says. “Most importantly, it will allow our college to educate many more engineering leaders to provide technology solutions to the world’s challenges.”

Hires for our 2022-23 academic year:

  • Rose Cersonsky, assistant professor, chemical and biological engineering
  • Sikai Chen, assistant professor, civil and environmental engineering
  • Jeremy Coulson, assistant professor, electrical and computer engineering
  • Juliana Pacheco Duarte, assistant professor, engineering physics
  • Robert Jacobberger, assistant professor, electrical and computer engineering
  • Eric Kazyak, assistant professor, mechanical engineering
  • Xiaopeng Li, associate professor, civil and environmental engineering
  • Ying Li, associate professor, mechanical engineering
  • Fang Liu, assistant professor, materials science and engineering
  • Whitney Loo, assistant professor, chemical and biological engineering
  • Allison Mahvi, assistant professor, mechanical engineering
  • Luca Mastropasqua, assistant professor, mechanical engineering
  • Anthony McDonald, assistant professor, industrial and systems engineering
  • Pedro Morgado, assistant professor, electrical and computer engineering
  • Hyunseok Oh, assistant professor, materials science and engineering
  • Hantang Qin, assistant professor, industrial and systems engineering
  • Eric Tervo, assistant professor, electrical and computer engineering
  • Jinlong Wu, assistant professor, mechanical engineering
  • Xiaobin Xiong, assistant professor, mechanical engineering

Featured image caption: In her research, Assistant Professor Fang Liu is looking at new materials to develop more energy dense rechargeable batteries. Credit: Joel Hallberg.