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Zhang receives NSF CAREER Award

1/14/2021 1:17:14 PM

CEE assistant professor Shelly Zhang has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award to explore the use of topology optimization to create and enable next-generation, large-scale civil structures with a variety of tunable multi-functionalities.

Optimal building structure via topology optimization from Zhang’s group.
Optimal building structure via topology optimization from Zhang’s group.

CAREER awards, administered under the Faculty Early Career Development Program, are the NSF’s most prestigious form of support and recognition for junior faculty who “exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

X. Shelly Zhang
X. Shelly Zhang

“The created multi-functionalities include unique structural responses and the ability to intelligently adapt structural properties via external actuation,” Zhang wrote about her CAREER project. “The civil structures enabled in this research will not only be stiff, aesthetic and lightweight (i.e., for minimized carbon footprint), but also can quickly and actively adapt to hazardous conditions to respond to them safely.”

Topology optimization is a theoretically guided approach to automatically generate the optimal shape of a structure for given design criteria. Novel structures, such as beams and columns, can be created with optimized shapes and material constitutions to unlock unconventional responses and adaptability. This research will result in fundamental improvements for risk mitigation and multi-functionality of civil structures. The knowledge created will also allow advancement in other fields, such as aerospace structures, architected materials and robotics. The educational program includes creating immersive education tools, active learning-based outreach to K-12 and underrepresented groups, multidisciplinary course development, and enhancement of academia/industry interactions through collaborations with practitioners.

Zhang joined the CEE faculty in 2018. She is also an alumna of CEE at Illinois, having earned her bachelor’s (2012) and master’s (2014) degrees in the department. Zhang is affiliated with the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Her research interests are in the general areas of topology optimization, stochastic programming, machine learning, multi-scale metamaterials, additive manufacturing and 3D/4D printing. She is directing the MISSION Laboratory (MultI-functional Structures and Systems desIgn OptimizatioN), which focuses on exploring topology optimization, stochastic programming, and additive manufacturing to develop multi-functional, resilient, sustainable, and innovative engineering infrastructure and materials for applications at different scales, from as large as high-rise buildings to as smll as material microstructures.

“The department congratulates professor Shelly Zhang on winning the NSF CAREER Award," said interim department head Albert Valocchi. "We were very fortunate to recruit our alumna to our faculty. Dr. Zhang is a rising star who will lead our renowned structural engineering program into new frontiers through her research on optimal topologic and materials design of smart civil structures. The unique education component of her CAREER project will inspire our undergraduate and graduate students, as well as reaching out to K-12 students and practitioners.”

For more information about Zhang’s research, please visit MISSION Laboratory.

Zhang demonstrating models of optimized structures from research in the class.
Zhang demonstrating models of optimized structures from research in the class.