Featured Faculty Research

At the heart of what makes Herff a standout engineering program are faculty members that are dedicated to their research and to the success of the students they mentor. At Herff, students learn by doing. Every day, students find themselves working right alongside faculty—engaged in meaningful and practical experiences—and drawing immense inspiration from the passionate work and powerful research taking place at Herff.

Electrical Engineering & Computer Engineering

Imaging the depths of the micro-nano world

Dr. Chrysanthe Preza is the principal investigator of the Computational Imaging Research Laboratory (CIRL), whose transformative ideas in imaging science are benefiting the world of imaging science. Dr. Preza secured a $750,000 instrument development grant from the National Science Foundation and teamed up with Dr. Sharon King, a research associate at CIRL, to develop a new system by modifying the traditional microscope to generate more information than ever before. They are developing computational techniques that work in combination with the newly engineered microscope system to produce significantly improved microscope images.

For centuries, the microscope has been a vital instrument, but it only allowed scientists to see a limited amount of information. Drs. Preza and King and the students involved in research under their supervision, are radically changing the way we image the micro-nano scale of the world. The leading-edge instruments and software they are developing, will allow scientists to observe and study phenomena not previously visible or accessible to instruments. By using high-performance computing with optical microscopy they are producing 3D images of living samples that are thicker than the current state-of-the-art samples, such as tissue, and capturing dynamic cellular processes in high resolution.

The life-changing benefits from their work are limitless and increasingly critical because many biological and biomedical applications require the ability to visualize living specimens at higher resolution and in new ways that provide important information not available in the past. But for these faculty members, the real reward is in mentoring graduate and undergraduate research assistants and inspiring another generation of thinkers to seek knowledge that creates possibilities with no limits.

The impact of a power player

Every day, most Americans take their power usage for granted. Truth is, it takes some serious brains to keep grids running properly. What a jolt it would be to society if blackouts, or even brownouts, became a normal occurrence. Dr. Hasan Ali is a true power player in this industry that means so much to our daily lifestyle. As an assistant professor in the electrical and computer engineering department, Dr. Ali heads up the Electric Power and Energy Systems (EPES) Research Laboratory which is focused on the smart grid and renewable energy systems. Linking together stability, reliability, sustainability, security and quality, his team is discovering new ways to run a smooth electric power grid while avoiding instability and deterioration of power. Current research is aimed at exploring new methods based on intelligent controllers to augment stability and power quality of smart grids and micro-grid systems. His research students are studying various modeling and simulations of micro-grid systems, including wind turbine generators, photovoltaic systems, fuel cell systems, and various energy storage systems. The impressive work of Dr. Ali is helping to improve power network stability and quality, and maintaining desired consumer levels for power, voltage and frequency.

Mechanical Engineering

Fueling NASA's way to the Moon, Mars and beyond

You could say that Dr. Jeff Marchetta's research ambitions are out of this world. Or at least they will take mankind there. His NASA-sponsored research project at Herff is developing and testing new technologies to manage and store liquid fuels in low-gravity environments, so that humans will one day be able to travel to and establish colonies on the Moon, Mars and beyond. The study of low gravity fluid physics is crucial to the next generation of manned space missions. Dr. Marchetta is making a major contribution to the space community by researching the behavior of extremely low temperature, or cryogenic, liquids such as liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen in outer space and how to handle them. Liquid hydrogen is a propellant for rockets, so Dr. Marchetta is collaborating with Dr. Firouseh Sabri, associate professor in the UofM department of physics, to develop polymer-based liquid cryogenic containers that could be used for long-term missions to distant destinations in outer space. Together with scientists and engineers from the Marshall Space Flight Center, the Kennedy Space Center, and NASA Glenn Space Center, Drs. Marchetta and Sabri are testing prototypes of models of containers designed right here on the University of Memphis campus.

A thought-leader in biofuels

Dr. Srikant Gir likes to talk about biofuels. Why? Because he is an agent for change that sees a not-too-far-off future in which our nation's dependence on fossil fuels will be reduced at least somewhat, by biofuels. After securing a $500,000 grant from the Department of Energy (DOE), Dr. Gir and a team of collaborators were able to continue work on developing a micro-biofuel refinery, that takes waste products like vegetable oil from fryers, animal fat, and energy crops like camelina oil, and process it into biodiesel. Dr. Gir knows that the Memphis region is rich in biomass (energy crops) and his vision is to set up several small regional refineries located where the waste is generated, or on the farms where the energy crops are grown and convert into fuel for the local economy. More than just creating renewable fuel, Dr. Gir will open a workforce training center in partnership with regional community colleges—the first one of its kind in the mid-south —to train people seeking stable jobs for employment in the process industry.

Engineering Technology

Hands-on times 650,000

At Herff, giving students hands-on experiences is a point of pride. Dr. Kevin Berisso in our engineering technology department has taken that to a whole new level, landing a significant donation of more than 650,000 Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags from retail tech giant Checkpoint Systems. This gift enables students to realistically experience and experiment with Ultra High Frequency (UHF) RFID technology, and conduct large scale exercises involving thousands of simultaneous tag reads to look for ways to improve retail supply chain visibility. Dr. Berisso is the director of the AutoID Lab and his expertise is in helping industries choose the best technology for their specific business needs. Rather than focusing on one technology, students and faculty in the lab collaborate with other UofM departments to provide critical answers and insightful research to companies with complex business problems involving automatic identification technologies, including bar codes, RFID, magnetic stripe and biometrics.

In addition to his work in the area of automatic identification, Dr. Berisso is also involved with automation and robotics. In the department's continued efforts to provide a real-world hands-on educational experience the Automation and Robotics Lab has added two Nao humanoid robots, a Rethink Technologies Baxter robot, an additional Fanuc LRMate 200iC R30iA robot with integrated machine vision, three state-of-the-art programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and four current generation touch screen human machine interface (HMI) units that have already been integrated into multiple classes. These acquisitions allow our students to not only gain valuable experience in using technologies that they will encounter when they join the workforce, but with the Nao and Baxter robots, they will also have experience with some of the technologies that are shaping the future of the robotics industry.

Robotics Leads to Future STEM Students
Faculty from the engineering technology department are playing a major role in nurturing the next generation of science and technology leaders in our region by working with FIRST®, a Manchester, NH-based charity that inspires young people's interest and participation in science and technology via a number of robotics-based programs. Daniel Kohn, Robert Hewitt and Tom Banning have been supporting the high school level FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC®) teams in the Memphis area for the past 6 years with a number of events including the World Wide Kickoff and having workshops for teams during the build season. Additionally, Tom Banning and Daniel Kohn support the FIRST Lego League® (FLL) program, aimed at middle school students and are also the FLL® West TN Partners responsible for the FLL® West TN Championship.

Biomedical Engineering

Big medical ideas that lead to life-changing products
Memphis has long been a worldwide leader in many areas, but especially bioscience. Putting Herff on the map in this high-tech field is Dr. Gary Bowlin and his Tissue Template Engineering and Regeneration Laboratory at the University of Memphis. Dr. Bowlin and his team work tirelessly on research in tissue engineering which is leading to products that drastically improve quality of life. Currently Dr. Bowlin is closing in on advancements in cartilage repair. For example, rather than patients undergoing a full knee replacement, Dr. Bowlin is optimizing a biodegradable template design geared towards the regeneration of "real cartilage." In another study, he is working to create a template or "scaffold" that dramatically improves the body's initial response to an implanted device. This invention manipulates fiber and pore size to drive the immune response towards regeneration and not extended inflammation or rejection.

Along with Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Isaac Rodríguez, undergraduate student Allison Fetz, and oral surgeon Dr. Brent Burger, Dr. Bowlin is on the verge of another huge breakthrough in dental implants. When a tooth is extracted or missing (something 40% of our senior population experiences), the closure of the hole left behind is essential to prevent infections and to create the ideal environment for a dental implant placement. The team developed an ideal barrier membrane using a unique composition of naturally-derived gelatin, chitin nano-crystals, and medical grade Manuka honey formed into a thin, wafer-like product. The membrane is placed over the hole in the jaw and under the gums to combat infection and allow for enhanced healing so the bone graft placed to regenerate bone and fill the void will be successful. Current biomaterials used as membrane barriers are often difficult to handle, degrade too quickly, and offer no enhanced wound regeneration. Dr. Bowlin and his expert team have engineered a membrane with antibacterial and regenerative properties that naturally and controllably degrades allowing for retention of the bone graft while promoting more rapid closure of the overlying tissue minimizing complications for the patients undergoing these procedures.

The power of collaboration

Inspiration for a crazy genius idea might come from one source, but the joy of shaping an idea until it springs to life almost always is the work of a strong team. Even better, is when teams of researchers get along so famously that the grueling hours on a study don't feel like hard work at all. That's the Herff way. Take Drs. Lindner and Pendley, these two are friends outside of the classroom, who feel strongly that the work comes together better when you respect one another as brilliant colleagues, and as good friends. Dr. Bradford Pendley, a PhD electrochemist who is also a practicing physician, is an affiliate professor of biomedical engineering who currently practices Internal Medicine with Primary Care Specialists in Memphis. Dr. Erno Linder is the R. Eugene Smith Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Herff who holds a PhD in electrochemistry. Together, they are collaborating to develop chemical sensors for clinical diagnostics and for measurements of ions, small molecules (sodium, potassium, propofol, CO2, etc.) in a variety of biological mediums (serum, plasma, whole blood, urine, tear fluid, etc.). For example, they work together to measure the amount of CO2 levels in urine as a means of reducing severe sepsis mortality. Dr. Lindner, in collaboration with Dr. E. Chaum (UTHSC) and support from the US Army, has developed a sensor for the anesthetic drug propofol, a potent intravenous anesthetic drug, for feedback-controlled anesthesia.

In addition to developing new chemical sensors, research performed by Drs. Lindner and Pendley also improves the characteristics of existing sensors by investigating their response mechanism. Chemical sensors, are used every day in hospitals. About the size of the tip of a pen, the sensors are usually located in a desktop instrument in a patient's hospital room. They are used to read blood samples and determine blood electrolyte levels, which help guide a physician's course of medical treatment. If the sensors need to be replaced it is essential to get accurate results again as soon as possible, e.g., during surgery. This is where Team Lindner Pendley makes a difference. They are working on an improved sensor that only requires 10 minutes to be replaced and be fully functional. A significant improvement compared to the state of the art, which is about 30 minutes. Reducing the amount of time needed for a physician to get an accurate blood electrolyte reading is crucial. It can be the difference in a faster course of treatment that ultimately saves a life. Both Drs. Lindner and Pendley attribute their successes to the strong collaborative relationships they have developed throughout their careers, with co-workers and learning from professors. That's why they stress skills, like translational research, to Herff students. When you take basic knowledge and convert it into practical applications to enhance human health and well being, you become a high-potential graduate. Through collaborative problem solving, students don't just uncover new ways to enhance society, they discover who they are personally and the kind of engineers they want to be.

Civil Engineering

Meet the brains behind optimization expertise

Dr. Charles Camp is an expert in engineering optimization research, but his passion is in passing that knowledge on to graduate students. That eureka moment happens quite a bit in his studies, leading to research and published works that keep Herff in civil engineering headlines. He teamed up with Dr. Andrew Assadollahi to develop methods that utilized innovated bio-inspired optimization algorithms, such as those based on the behavior of ants figuring out a way to get food into their home, to design reinforced concrete structures that not only satisfy all strength and safety requirements specified by building codes but also significantly lower construction costs. Sustainability is also an important consideration in this research as it is looking at ways to reduce the CO2 emissions associated with both construction materials and fabrication methods. Dr. Camp also collaborated with Dr. Sanaz Saadat to advance performance-based design of steel structures exposed to significant earthquakes by minimizing the impacts of both economic and social losses while providing collapse protection. Dr. Camp and his graduate student Mohammad Farshchin are conducting research that is developing methods to monitor, model, and predict the strength of the structures throughout their life-cycle that will ultimately lead to safer bridges for all of us.

Influencing, leading and empowering

Dr. Stephanie Ivey certainly embodies the Herff way. More than just teaching, she inspires students to go out and change the world in lasting ways. She has distinguished herself as a noted researcher in livability as it relates to the impact of freight on communities and helping them coexist together. In freight-centered communities, like Memphis, her work has resulted in innovative practices—including the development of safer routes to school, neighborhood improvement plans, and improvements in child and pedestrian safety.

Through a recent four-year grant by the Federal Highway Administration, Herff's Intermodal Freight Transportation Institute will house the Southeast Transportation Workforce Center. Under Dr. Ivey's leadership, the Center will focus on transportation workforce development by providing access to career opportunities, education and training for those seeking re-entry into the workforce, career transition or career advancement. While all transportation workforce needs will be addressed, particular attention will be given to issues of women in transportation, freight system opportunities, and military/veteran transition into the workplace. Memphis is unique in that more people are employed in the transportation sector here than any other major metropolitan area in the United States. Dr. Ivey is excited about the challenges involved in helping our region develop a sufficient career-ready pipeline of transportation professionals.

Dr. Ivey's. work has been acknowledged in Washington DC by Presidential Cabinet members. She was selected as one of fifty to attend a White House roundtable which resulted in local programming, specifically the launch of the Society of Female Transportation Professionals. Over the years she has mentored girls as young as 11 years old through the Girls Experiencing Engineering program, instilling confidence in girls to become interested in career opportunities in science, technology and engineering. Dr. Ivey is making a huge difference, one student at a time.