Research Award winners (from left) Shyam Aravamudhan, Solomon Bililign, Ajit Kelkar, Ram Mohan, Ellie Fini, and Dhananjay Kumar

2012 N.C. A&T Research Excellence Awards

Pictured above: 2012 Research Excellence Award winners (from left) Drs. Shyam Aravamudhan, Solomon Bililign, Ajit Kelkar, Ram Mohan, Ellie Fini, and Dhananjay Kumar.

Five outstanding faculty researchers and an interdisciplinary team have honored with Research Excellence Awards at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

This year marked the establishment of two new awards – the Interdisciplinary Team Award and the Intellectual Property Award.

These two categories reflect trends that are dramatically changing the work of university researchers, said Dr. Celestine Ntuen, interim vice chancellor for research and economic development.

“Interdisciplinary work is critical to success in today’s world of emerging and converging technologies,” he said. “And intellectual property is now one of the most important elements of a university’s research enterprise. It’s a key to our ability to have a positive, meaningful impact on the economic development of our community and our state.”

This year's winners

  • Senior Researcher of the Year (tie): Dr. Dhananjay Kumar, Department of Mechanical Engineering; and Dr. Ram Mohan, Department of Nanoengineering.
  • Outstanding Junior Researcher: Dr. Ellie Fini, Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering.
  • Rookie of the Year: Dr. Shyam Aravamudhan, Department of Nanoengineering.
  • Intellectual Property Award: Dr. Ajit Kelkar, Department of Nanoengineering.
  • Interdisciplinary Team Award: NOAA Interdisciplinary Scientific Environmental Technology Cooperative Science Center, Dr. Solomon Bililign, director.

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Senior Researchers of the Year

The Senior Researcher of the Year award recognizes outstanding research and/or creative activity by tenured faculty members who have been at the university at least three years. The award has been presented for the past 12 years, and in six of those years, there have been ties, with two senior researchers being honored each time.

Dr. Kumar is an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. His research interests include thin films and pulsed laser applications. He came to North Carolina A&T in 2000 as a senior scientist in the Center for Advanced Materials and Smart Structures. He also served a joint faculty member with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

He has exhibited outstanding research productivity. He has published more than 150 peer-reviewed articles, which have been cited more than 1,400 times.

Dr. Kumar has served as principal investigator on four NSF grants totaling more than $2 million, among other successful research proposals. He also has developed two significant research facilities at the university – the Pulsed Laser Deposition facility and the Physical Property Measurement System facility.

Dr. Kumar supports student research at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. He has served as advisor or committee member for nine graduate students and his research funding has supported more than 15 graduate and 10 undergraduate students.

Dr. Mohan came to A&T in 2003, also as a senior research scientist in the Center for Advanced Materials and Smart Structures. Since 2005, he has served as a faculty member in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, the Computational Science and Engineering program and now in the Department of Nanoengineering at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering.

He has played a leading role in the development of our graduate programs in computational science and engineering and nanoengineering. His research focuses on various aspects of computational modeling and analysis to probe and understand the mechanics and processing interaction of materials and engineered systems.

Dr. Mohan has served as principal investigator for 12 funded proposals valued at more than $4 million. He also has served as co-PI, senior researcher and contributor on several other funded projects. Among the projects on which he has served as co-PI were three that resulted in the acquisition of major pieces of electronic equipment to advance the university’s research infrastructure.

He also has been a very active advisor to students. He has served as advisor or co-advisor to 10 master’s and doctoral students and currently serves on advisory committees for 29 more.

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Outstanding Junior Researcher

The Outstanding Junior Researcher award honors tenure-track faculty members in at least their third year of service at A&T and who are currently involved in research and show promise of making a significant contribution to their field.

This year’s Outstanding Junior Researcher is Dr. Ellie Fini of the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering.

Dr. Fini was last year’s Rookie of the Year. She recently received a National Science Foundation Career Award for young researchers and is the lead investigator on five NSF projects. Last year, she finished an NSF-funded project on bio-adhesive material characterization. In her short time at A&T she has established the Sustainable Infrastructure Material Laboratory, a state of the art characterization and testing facility.

She is currently working on multi-scale modeling and characterization of bio-binder from swine manure for use in asphalt pavements and is studying the performance of hot mixed asphalt containing a high percentage of recycled asphalt.

Dr. Fini also has been working with colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to make sure her students are prepared to gain admission to elite graduate schools. Last fall, she took 13 A&T students to MIT, where they participated in a one-day graduate school workshop and information session.

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Rookie of the Year

The Rookie of the Year award recognizes the work of a tenure-track faculty in his or her second year of service at N.C. A&T.

Dr. Aravamudhan’s chief research objective is to understand the function of the complex biological system and the interaction of macromolecules, organelles, cells, organs and tissues within them.

He has received funding from the Semiconductor Research Corporation for a project to understand the physiochemical properties of engineered nanomaterials and the biological system by creating novel assessment techniques.

He also is developing a biomedical system called the “Smart Skin Interface” for early detection, diagnostic and therapeutic applications and micro- and nanotechnology-based ocean sensors to understand, predict and respond to the oceans’ biogeochemical and physical phenomena and their interactions with the earth and the atmosphere.

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Intellectual Property Award

The Intellectual Property Award recognizes researchers’ work to disseminate, commercialize or publish intellectual property created in the course of their research or creative activity. Nominees must be tenured or tenure-track researchers at N.C. A&T. Consideration is given to invention disclosures filed during the year, patents or copyrights granted, and technology licenses signed or other intellectual-property-related accomplishments that occurred during calendar year 2011.

Dr. Ajit Kelkar is chairman of the Department of Nanoengineering at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering. He established Advaero Technologies, the university’s first spin-off company, in 2008 to commercialize a composite manufacturing technique he developed with a graduate student. Advaero is now an established company located at the Gateway University Research Park south campus.

In 2011, Dr. Kelkar filed a patent application for electrospinning of tetraethyl orthosilicate nanofibers, a technology that has been licensed to Advaero and is drawing international interest. He also recently filed an invention disclosure for the manufacture of very high strength carbon nanofiber yarns using electrospinning. A leading international company is in negotiations to acquire the rights to this technology.

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Interdisciplinary Team Award

The Interdisciplinary Team Award was created to recognize research projects that break down the traditional boundaries of academic disciplines. Nominated teams must include at least two tenured or tenure-track researchers from different academic departments who each make significant contributions to the project.

The NOAA ISET Center is an exemplary project in which North Carolina A&T leads a consortium of eight universities working with the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.

At A&T alone, the team includes faculty members from Chemistry, Computer Science, two departments in the College of Engineering, and from Energy and the Environment, Mathematics, and Physics.

The research and technology themes of the ISET Center include:

  • Atmospheric science, sensor science and sensor technology,
  • Numerical and physical research and analysis of hurricanes, and
  • Information technology tools for data fusion, data mining, and geospatial modeling and analysis.

Its six-year history of success is helping to create a future for NOAA in which decisions and actions are informed by coordinated, comprehensive, and sustained Earth observations and information.

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About the awards

The winners were selected by the Research Excellence Awards Committee, a group of five faculty members appointed by Chancellor Harold L. Martin, Sr. This year’s committee consisted of Dr. Shanthi Iyer, chair, Department of Nanoengineering; Dr. Anthony Graham, Department of Curriculum and Instruction; Dr. Kofi Obeng, Department of Economics; Dr. Guoqing Tang, Department of Mathematics; and Dr. Millie Worku, Department of Animal Science.

The nominees for the Research Excellence Awards are the winners of the research awards in the colleges and schools.

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This year’s nominees

Senior Researcher of the Year:

  • Dr. Luba Kurkalova, School of Business and Economics
  • Dr. Stephanie Lusk, School of Education
  • Dr. Musibau Shofoluwe, School of Technology

Outstanding Junior Researcher:

  • Dr. Lemuria Carter, School of Business and Finance
  • Dr. Yevgeniy Rastigeyev, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Dr. Shengmin Sang, School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences
  • Dr. Qing-An Zeng, School of Technology

Rookie of the Year:

  • Dr. Narayan Bhattarai, College of Engineering
  • Dr. Kathryn Kisska-Schultze, School of Business and Economics

Intellectual Property Award:

  • Dr. Kelly Graves, School of Education
  • Dr. Mitchell Henke, School of Technology

Interdisciplinary Team Award:

  • The NSF Engineering Research Center for Revolutionizing Metallic Biomaterials, Dr. Jagannathan Sankar, director
  • The Economic Geography of Water and Agricultural Resources, Dr. Mark Burkey, director.

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