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The U.S. National Science Foundation has named eight UCF professors 2022 NSF CAREER award recipients.

All of the recipients are engineers by training who are working on interdisciplinary projects that aim to improve health or to develop new technology that promises to improve our lives. The awardees represent the most promising junior researchers in the nation with the potential to lead in their respective fields, according to criteria outlined by NSF. This brings UCF’s total NSF CAREER winners to date to 85.

UCF has seen a rise in winners for the past few years. In 2019, the Office of Research launched a program to help junior faculty prepare their applications. The results — a record 12 winners in 2020. There were five winners in 2021, above the norm for UCF in the past decade. This year’s results continue the positive upward trend.

The winners all share three common traits. They are experts in their respective areas. They are curious about the world, and they believe their students are invaluable to their success.

They are:

  • Fei Liu, associate professor of computer science
  • Tengfei Jiang, assistant professor of material science and engineering
  • YeonWoong Jung, assistant professor of material science and engineering with an appointment to the Nanoscience Technology Center
  • Brian Kim, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering
  • Kawai Kwok, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering
  • Mehdi Razavi, assistant professor of medicine, materials science and engineering, and a member of the Biionix Cluster
  • Sharma Thankachan, assistant professor of computer science
  • Thomas Wahl, assistant professor of civil engineering and member of UCF Coastal
Thomas Wahl in front of a lake
Thomas Wahl

Helping Protect Coastlines

Thomas Wahl
College of Engineering and Computer Science
Sustainable Coastal Cluster
UCF Coastal
Grant: $550,000

When sssistant professor Wahl was studying civil engineering in college, he had no idea he could apply his knowledge to help protect the world’s coastlines.

“I didn’t even know that coastal engineering was an actual field of study,” Wahl says.

It was his Ph.D. advisor who turned him onto the field, and he’s never looked back.

“My research is at the interface of coastal engineering and physical oceanography,” he says. “Much of our work is applied and we collaborate closely with stakeholders from federal or state agencies helping them to improve the ways that coastal risk assessments are performed or how coastal structures are designed, especially in the face of climate change.”

He’s a national expert, contributing to reports presented to the United Nations and speaking to businesses and government agencies throughout Florida. He has completed several studies that have gained national and international attention for their findings about storm surge and sea level rise. Nowadays, his biggest motivation is more personal.

“Having two young children really changed my perspective on the work that I do on understanding and mitigating the impacts of climate change to our coastlines and society,” he says. “I want them to be able to enjoy the beautiful beaches and costal communities around the globe the same way I have.”

The CAREER award will not only allow Wahl to continue his research, but it also gives him an opportunity to broaden his impact in the community, which starts with his students.

“Without the students and postdocs in my group, there would not be much research,” he says.

Those students also will be involved in two new initiatives that will be funded with the CAREER award.

“We will be initiating a collaboration with the Orlando Science Center to develop new content for the Science on a Sphereexhibition, and we will also actively participate in an international program which brings students from developing countries to Florida every year to receive special training on water related issues.”

Wahl joined UCF in 2017. He has written more than 40 articles since arriving at UCF and his work is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, NASA, the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Transportation, among others.

The International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Ocean recognized Wahl with the Early Career Scientist Medal in 2021, the same year UCF selected him for the Reach for the Stars award. He has also penned several book chapters and presentations for national and international conferences. As an expert in his field, he sits on various journal review boards. And he mentors four postdoctoral scholars, five graduate students, and one undergraduate.

“They are the pillars of my research and advising them and seeing them succeed is the most rewarding aspect of my job,” he says.