News

Texas Engineering Welcomes New Faculty, 2016-17

With research interests such as artificial intelligence, early cancer diagnosis, materials science and retrofit methods of aging structures, this year's incoming faculty members exhibit a wide range of engineering expertise. Learn more about them below:

Fabrizio Bisetti

Fabrizio Bisetti

Assistant Professor
Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics

Bisetti’s research interests focus on turbulent mixing and combustion, particulate formation in flames, aerosols, atmospheric plasmas for combustion sensing and control and numerical methods for reactive flows. His research leverages large-scale simulations that help understand complex multi-physics/multi-scale processes in practical fluid flows, mostly in the turbulent regime.

Prior to joining UT Austin, Bisetti was a founding faculty member in mechanical engineering at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), where he joined the Clean Combustion Research Center in July 2009 as an assistant professor. At KAUST, he developed a robust teaching and research program.

Bisetti holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from UT Austin and a laurea from Politecnico di Milano, also in mechanical engineering. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Turbulence Research at Stanford University for two years.

What attracted you to UT Austin?
The great combination of numerous opportunities for research and teaching at a top-tier public school talented and accomplished colleagues with whom I can work, ambitious students and last but not least, a vibrant city to live and raise a family.

What do you enjoy most about engineering or your specific field?
The tremendous insight brought by simulating the flow of fluids on the world's fastest supercomputers. It is exciting to realize that, with every new simulation that we perform, we contribute to building the knowledge required to improve energy-conversion and propulsion technologies.

What are your favorite hobbies?
Swimming and reading are two of my most cherished activities besides spending time with my wife and children.

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hanasusanto

Grani Hanasusanto

Assistant Professor
Department of Mechanical Engineering

Hanasusanto’s research focuses on the design and analysis of tractable solution schemes for decision-making problems under uncertainty, with applications in operations management, energy systems, machine learning and data analytics.

Before joining UT Austin, he was a postdoctoral researcher at the College of Management of Technology at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. He holds a Ph.D. in operations research from Imperial College London and an M.Sc. degree in financial engineering from the National University of Singapore. He has a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronic engineering from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

What attracted you to UT Austin?
UT Austin is one of the world's leading institutions in engineering and science. At UT, there are abundant opportunities for the faculty to collaborate with excellent researchers from diverse fields and to work with outstanding students. Furthermore, the university is in Austin, which is one of the best cities to live in the U.S. 

What do you enjoy most about engineering or your specific field?
I really appreciate the interdisciplinary nature and the wide applicability of my research. Decision-making problems under uncertainty find many applications in engineering, science and economics. However, they can be extremely challenging to solve. In my research, I develop new, efficient solution schemes for these intractable problems by leveraging state-of-the-art techniques from operations research, computer science and statistics.

What are your favorite hobbies? 
I enjoy sports and outdoor activities. I used to play soccer a lot but nowadays I run for exercise. I recently started to take great pleasure in hiking after spending a year in the stunningly beautiful Switzerland.

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haas

Derek Haas

Assistant Professor
Department of Mechanical Engineering

Haas’ research interests focus on radiation detection for nuclear arms control and non-proliferation, including the fundamental physics of radioactive decay processes, fission yields and detection techniques. He is one of five surrogate inspectors from the United States for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, and he is a technical advisor for U.S. nuclear arms control and non-proliferation policy development. He has also contributed to the analysis of the Fukushima nuclear reactor accident and nuclear tests in the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea.

Haas joins the faculty of the Cockrell School after eight years at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, where he worked as a senior research engineer in the National Security Directorate. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics, master’s degree in nuclear and radiation engineering and doctoral degree in nuclear and radiation engineering, all from UT Austin.

What attracted you to UT Austin?
I realized the part of my previous job at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory that I enjoyed most was working with student interns and graduate students on research relevant to national and international security. When the opportunity to return to UT Austin as a professor surfaced I jumped at the chance. What starts here really does change the world, and I look forward to contributing to that culture of success.

What do you enjoy most about engineering or your specific field?
The real-life impacts of engineering drive me. I was a sophomore physics major at UT Austin on 9/11 and that experience pushed me toward a research career focused on making the world a safer place. In the 15 years since then I’ve had the privilege to work with scientists, engineers and diplomats from around the world who make me optimistic about our future.

What are your favorite hobbies?
Cooking and eating good food, boating and spending time in the country enjoying nature.

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jones

Brandon Jones

Assistant Professor
Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics

Jones’ research interests are primarily in space situational awareness, particularly detection, tracking, identification and characterization of orbital debris. His recent work leverages Bayesian multi-target filtering to account for ambiguities in data association for thousands of targets and to enable optimal scheduling of cooperative and non-cooperative sensors.

Before joining UT Austin, Jones was a research assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he also received his doctorate. Prior to starting his graduate studies, he was a contractor at the NASA Johnson Space Center. He received bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physics and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering, all from UT Austin.

What attracted you to UT Austin?
The opportunity to work with great faculty and the resources available at this esteemed university.

What do you enjoy most about engineering or your specific field?
It is a wonderful blend of my favorite research topics: mathematics, numerical analysis, dynamics and estimation. I am constantly learning new things about each of these areas.

What are your favorite hobbies?
Traveling to foreign countries, learning something new about a topic I know very little about and spending time with family and friends.

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keitz

Benjamin Keith Keitz

Assistant Professor
McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering

Keitz’s research focuses on the interface of synthetic chemistry and synthetic biology with the aim of using synthetic constructs to control biological processes involved in neurodegeneration, gene regulation and biological materials synthesis.

Prior to joining the Cockrell School, Keitz was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, San Francisco. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from UT Austin and his Ph.D. in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology, where he received the Herbert Newby McCoy Award for best dissertation thesis. 

What attracted you to UT Austin?
I grew up nearby and I received my undergraduate degree from UT Austin. Both my parents were Longhorns, so I couldn’t say no to a position at UT Austin without causing some serious family drama. Most importantly, this is a fantastic university, especially the Cockrell School, and the students here are truly exceptional. 

What do you enjoy most about engineering or your specific field?
I love the variety of research in chemical engineering and feel it’s well-suited to tackle many of the technical issues our society faces. 

What are your favorite hobbies?
Reading, soccer, sketching and graphic design. 

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leibowicz

Benjamin Leibowicz

Assistant Professor
Department of Mechanical Engineering

Leibowicz’s research interests include energy economics, technological change, integrated assessment modeling, energy and climate policy analysis, industrial organization and game theory.

Before joining UT Austin, Leibowicz was as a research assistant in the Stanford University Energy Modeling Forum, and prior to that he was a research assistant in the Harvard University Center for the Environment. Additionally, Leibowicz was a Peccei Award Fellow for the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria.

He received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard University and his master’s degree and Ph.D. from Stanford University in management science and engineering.

What attracted you to UT Austin?
First and foremost, UT Austin has an excellent academic reputation. This is particularly true of the Cockrell School, which has many departments ranked among the best in the nation and the world. My research mainly focuses on energy, which is a major research area at UT Austin, and it is an industry with a long history of breakthrough innovations coming from the state of Texas. Austin is known as a vibrant and fun city to live in, and the high quality of life makes it an attractive place to be a new faculty member.

What do you enjoy most about engineering or your specific field?
For engineering in general, I enjoy having the opportunity to address some of society's most pressing challenges — in my case, energy and climate issues. I like that engineers are open to a variety of methodologies and approaches, as long as they are appropriate for the problem at hand and yield useful solutions and insights. For my specific field, I enjoy working on interdisciplinary problems that demand interdisciplinary solutions. In a single project, I might employ concepts from disciplines as diverse as operations research, economics, mechanical engineering and climate science. This interdisciplinary breadth forces me to interact with a wide variety of experts and constantly learn new things.

What are your favorite hobbies? 
Some of the activities I enjoy doing in my spare time are traveling, hiking, photography, soccer and trivia.

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nagy

Zoltan Nagy

Assistant Professor
Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering

A roboticist turned building engineer, Nagy’s research interests focus on smart buildings and cities, renewable energy systems, control systems for zero emission building operation, machine learning and artificial intelligence for the built environment, complex fenestration systems and the influence of building occupants on energy performance. He leads the Intelligent Environments Laboratory at UT Austin.

Prior to joining UT Austin, Nagy was a senior researcher in the architecture department at the Swiss Institute of Technology, where he also co-founded the award-winning, high-tech spinoff company Femtotools in 2007. Nagy received a Ph.D. in robotics and an M.Sc. in mechanical engineering with a focus on micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) and robotics, both from the Swiss Institute of Technology.

What attracted you to UT Austin?
UT Austin is one of the best universities for civil engineering with a great working atmosphere and fantastic people. In addition, Austin is one of the best cities in the U.S. How can anyone not be attracted to UT Austin?

What do you enjoy most about engineering or your specific field?
Buildings and infrastructure contribute to one-third of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. And civil and architectural engineers are at the forefront of tackling global climate change, one of the major challenges of our society. It is very exciting to be in this field at this time.

What are your favorite hobbies? 
I enjoy spending time with my family and playing soccer.

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murciadelso

Juan Murcia-Delso

Assistant Professor
Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering

Murcia-Delso’s research interests focus on the behavior of reinforced concrete structures and the development of innovative analysis, design and retrofit methods for enhancing the performance of structures under extreme loading and aging effects. His research involves structural testing and computational modeling.

Murcia-Delso joins the Cockrell School from the company Tecnalia Research & Innovation, where he was a senior researcher. He has professional experience in the analysis and design of reinforced and pre-stressed concrete structures, and he is a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of California.

Murcia-Delso received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the Technical University of Catalonia, Spain; a master’s degree in structural analysis of monuments and historical constructions, a joint degree from the University of Minho, Portugal, and the Technical University of Catalonia; and a Ph.D. in structural engineering from the University of California, San Diego, where he was also a postdoctoral researcher. 

What attracted you to UT Austin?
I was attracted to the reputation and tradition of the civil, architectural and environmental engineering program and the opportunity to work with world-class faculty and students.

What do you enjoy most about engineering or your specific field?
I enjoy working on challenging and intellectually stimulating problems that can have a strong impact in everyday life. 

What are your favorite hobbies? 
Hiking, soccer, reading and swimming with my kids.

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sakiyama

Shelly Sakiyama-Elbert

Professor and Chair
Department of Biomedical Engineering

Sakiyama-Elbert joins UT Austin as a professor and the new chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. She holds the Fletcher Stuckey Pratt Chair in Engineering.

Sakiyama-Elbert’s research focuses on developing biomaterials for drug delivery and cell transplantation for the treatment of peripheral nerve and spinal cord injury. She has written five book chapters and over 80 publications in peer-reviewed journals. She has nine U.S. patents and one additional patent application submitted.

Her research is funded by the National Institutes of Health, and she has received early career awards from the Whitaker Foundation and the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation. Prior to joining the Cockrell School, Sakiyama-Elbert served as co-director of the Center of Regenerative Medicine and a member of the Hope Center for Neurological Disorders and Institute of Materials Science and Engineering at Washington University.

She received her bachelor's degrees in chemical engineering and biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her master's degree and Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the California Institute of Technology. She joined the biomedical engineering faculty at Washington University in 2000 as an assistant professor, and she served as vice dean for research in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Sakiyama-Elbert joined the College of Fellows for the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering in 2011. She was elected a fellow of the Biomedical Engineering Society in 2013, the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2015 and the International College of Fellows in Biomaterials Science and Engineering in 2016.

What attracted you to UT Austin?
I was attracted to the opportunity for the chair position, the outstanding engineering school and the opportunity to build interactions between engineering and the new Dell Medical School.

What do you enjoy most about engineering or your specific field?
I love using engineering approaches to develop new potential therapies for treatment of disease and injury. I also love mentoring students in the lab (both undergraduate and graduate) and watching them develop into independent researchers.

What are your favorite hobbies? 
Reading and knitting. In reality, I spend most of my free time watching my kids play sports and practice music.

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sela

Polina Sela

Assistant Professor
Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering

Sela’s research interests are in the field of intelligent urban water systems involving optimal design and operation, fault diagnostic and prediction, and advanced analytics to make more informed decisions from intelligent sensing and data collection.

Sela joins UT Austin from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she was a postdoctoral research associate affiliated with the Resilient Infrastructure Networks Lab. She develops algorithms based on optimization, graph theory and machine learning methods to support smarter cyber-physical systems.

She received her Ph.D., master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Technion–Israel Institute of Technology.

What attracted you to UT Austin?
UT Austin is renowned for its excellent teaching and research in the civil and environmental programs. The Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering’s vision of smarter cities directly fits into my research interests of providing safe and secure water to our growing, yet aging, cities.

What do you enjoy most about engineering or your specific field?
Integrating traditional civil engineering with technological advancement.

What are your favorite hobbies? 
I enjoy reading, traveling and spending time with my family.

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athomaz

Andrea Thomaz

Associate Professor
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Thomaz’s research focuses on artificial intelligence, robotics and human-robot interaction and aims to computationally model mechanisms of human social learning to build machines that are intuitive for people to teach.

She previously served as an associate professor of interactive computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Thomaz received her bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from UT Austin and her master’s degree and Ph.D. from MIT.

Thomaz has received a National Science Foundation CAREER award and an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator award. She was named to Popular Science magazine’s Brilliant Ten list in 2012 and MIT Tech Review’s Innovators Under 35 list in 2009.

What attracted you to UT Austin?
UT Austin has been very strong in robotics for a number of years. With the introduction of the robotics portfolio program and hiring efforts in robotics across a number of units, UT Austin is on an exciting trajectory that I’m proud to be part of.

What do you enjoy most about engineering or your specific field?
My work is in human-robot interaction, and I think the most exciting part of our research is the experiments and evaluations we conduct with people.  Where theory meets practice, we get to see how real people react to the algorithms and systems we build.

What are your favorite hobbies? 
I play piano, enjoy dance classes, especially modern ballet, and I do many, many art projects with my two kids.

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ethomaz

Edison Thomaz

Research Assistant Professor
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and UT Austin School of Information

Thomaz is a research assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, with an appointment in the UT Austin School of Information.

Thomaz’s research focus is on activiomics, a new discipline that applies computational methods toward sensing, recognizing and modeling the entire span of people's everyday activities and their contexts, from individual gestures to life patterns and routines. His work aims to provide a new technical foundation for applications and discoveries at the frontier of human health and behavior, such as gene-environment interactions, predictive health from behavior markers and personal health informatics. 

Thomaz received his bachelor’s degree in computer science from UT Austin. He received his Ph.D. in human-centered computing from the School of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology and his M.S. in media arts and sciences from the MIT Media Lab. Prior to his academic appointments, Thomaz held industry positions at leading technology companies such as Microsoft and France Telecom.

What attracted you to UT Austin?
It is an incredibly exciting time to be at UT Austin. UT has always been a leader in engineering education, with one of the top research programs in the world. But over the next few years, this leadership will grow even more thanks to visionary initiatives such as the Dell Medical School and the upcoming Engineering Education and Research Center. Having graduated from UT Austin myself many years ago, I could not pass up the opportunity to come back, contribute and be part of this transformation.

What do you enjoy most about engineering or your specific field?
Engineering allows me to combine scientific knowledge, creativity, problem-solving skills and state-of-the-art technologies toward solving problems and building systems that can positively affect the world and people's lives. This is not only incredibly fun but also tremendously gratifying.

What are your favorite hobbies? 
I love living in Austin and enjoying all the city has to offer: food, music and the outdoors. You can always find me and my family by the lake, at Barton Springs or visiting many of the city parks. But every now and then we also get to travel and discover new places, whether around the world or hidden in Central Texas.

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wasserman

Daniel Wasserman

Associate Professor
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Wasserman’s research focuses on the materials science, fundamental physics and applications of infrared light. In particular, Wasserman’s team investigates new materials, structures and devices for the detection, emission and manipulation of infrared light. Current projects include the design, fabrication and characterization of mid-infrared metamaterials, plasmonic structures and phononic systems for enhanced light-matter interaction at long wavelengths, basic materials characterization of infrared detectors, novel nano-structured materials for mid-infrared light emission and new types of infrared detectors utilizing resonant RF circuits.

He holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Princeton University and a bachelor’s degree in engineering/physics and history from Brown University.

Wasserman is also the recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER award and an Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator award.

What attracted you to UT Austin?
In addition to the uniform excellence of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, UT Austin has, in my opinion, one of the, if not the, strongest groups of faculty in optoelectronics. The impressive research, and yet the relative youth, of this group led me to believe that UT Austin could be the world leader in optoelectronics research for some time to come.  

What do you enjoy most about engineering or you specific field?
My research is part physics, part materials science, part optics and part engineering, so my students are immersed in a broad range of STEM fields, while still working toward developing technologies with real-world applications (sensing, night vision, thermal cloaking).  Because our research touches on so many disciplines, I am constantly learning new things and exploring new fields, which is very exciting.

What are your favorite hobbies? 
I enjoy spending time with my family, cooking and being outdoors. I also enjoy the opera, and if I have the time, I will pick up my banjo or mandolin and hack away at some bluegrass I have no business trying to play.

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yankeelov

Thomas Yankeelov

Professor
Department of Biomedical Engineering and UT Austin Dell Medical School

Thomas Yankeelov, a distinguished senior cancer researcher with expertise in computational biology, advanced imaging and mathematical modeling, joined UT Austin as a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Dell Medical School. He holds the W.A. "Tex" Moncrief, Jr., Simulation-Based Engineering and Sciences Professorship II – Computational Oncology, and he leads the Tumor Modeling Group in the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences.

The overall goal of Yankeelov's clinical research is to improve patient care by employing advanced imaging methods for the early identification, assessment and prediction of tumors' response to therapy. He develops tumor forecasting methods by integrating advanced imaging technologies with patient-specific data and builds predictive, multi-scale biophysical models of tumor growth with the purpose of optimizing therapies for the individual cancer patient.

Yankeelov is a fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineers and has served on the editorial boards of scientific publications such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Medical Physics and Breast Cancer Research. He received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Louisville, master’s degrees in applied mathematics and physics from Indiana University and his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Stony Brook University.

What attracted you to UT Austin?
Our team's research focus is at the interface of medical imaging and computational modeling of how tumors develop and respond to therapy. The University of Texas at Austin provides an exceptional place to dramatically advance our efforts in this area. UT Austin’s Institute for Computational and Engineering Sciences is one of the finest centers in the entire country for predictive modeling, with exceptional personnel, resources and infrastructure; thus, it is a phenomenal place to establish a center for computational oncology. Furthermore, the vision of the Dell Medical School is to be directly involved in the community, and we are committed to performing our clinical studies by partnering with private-practice clinicians in the Austin area in an effort to hasten the translation of our efforts to clinical practice.

What do you enjoy most about engineering or you specific field?
It is truly interdisciplinary and requires knowledge of fields as disparate as cancer biology and mathematics. Consequently, we have an extraordinarily diverse team and it is an absolute joy to come to work.

What are your favorite hobbies?
I have an amazing family and absolutely adore being with them; my wife (also a UT Austin faculty member) and I like doing just about anything with our two little children. I especially enjoy coaching their youth sports teams and having Friday movie nights that heavily feature princesses and dinosaurs.

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