University of Utah Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering assistant professors Heayoung Yoon and Cunxi Yu have received five-year, National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Awards for their work.

“The NSF CAREER award is a highly competitive award for young faculties. It is a great honor to receive this award and more importantly is a great encouragement for my future research and teaching,” Yu said.

The CAREER Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in both research and education. Awarded faculty lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.

Over the next five years, Yu will use the $478,526 awarded to work towards employing reinforcement learning and neural networks to enable self-learning high-performance algorithms and heuristics over graphs for his project, “CAREER: OneSense: One-Rule-for-All Combinatorial Boolean Synthesis via Reinforcement Learning.”

With this new research, networks can outperform existing hand-crafted approaches without human supervision and domain knowledge. This will can be generalized to autonomously learn and discover novel graph-based combinatorial optimization heuristics at a wide range of application domains without any guidance.

This project will produce open-source software and conference tutorials to facilitate technology transfers and fruitful industry-academia interactions in a multidisciplinary community.

“The proposed research focuses on generic optimization techniques that could generate broader social impacts to an average person’s life such as scheduling and computing. Specifically, I will focus on leveraging the proposed techniques into minimal carbon footprint computing,” Yu said.

With this project, Yu will train the next generation of scientists. Given the underrepresentation of women in engineering and theoretical computer science, Yu is making a distinct effort to bring on female undergraduate students and gradient researchers. He is also bringing early knowledge of Computer Engineering to low-income k-12 schools.

Yoon’s project, “Optoelectronic Local Probes Measuring Microstructural Degradation and Recovery Under Accelerated Environmental Stressors,” aims to establish an innovative measurement platform that can directly observe the carrier dynamics of microstructured optoelectronic devices.

Defects in semiconductors play a critical role in the performance and stability of modern electronics. The ability to interrogate defects is vital to producing reliable high-performance electronics that underlay the modern economy.

“Existing methods often measure properties without sufficient resolution to resolve defects on the length scales that they occur,” Yoon said. “Thus, existing methods provide limited information about the unique local properties.”

Yoon will use the $586,656 awarder to focus on solar cells based on metal halide perovskites. These devices have remarkable performance, but poor stability, posing a basic challenge for real-world applications. Defect chemistry, ion migration, and microstructural characteristics have all been considered as culprits for poor stability, but the underlying physical mechanisms are not fully understood.

The PI’s research team will use local optical and electrical probes under controlled environmental conditions to study the microstructure of perovskites and elucidate reasons for performance degradation. This fundamental understanding will help to guide the rational design and synthesis of perovskites for robust and reliable solar cells.

The PI’s research vision is integrated with an educational plan that aims to generate curiosity and excitement for solar energy and electron microscopy for a broad range of students, with a particular focus on young women students in Utah.

The PI will involve undergraduate and graduate students in research and promote the participation of students from underrepresented groups in STEM. An interactive website with streaming videos and educational resources will assist in disseminating the research findings to the general public in the US and abroad.

Learn more about Yoon’s NanoEngineering Research Group here.