April 22, 2020
Oliviero Andreussi (top), Alexis Palmer (above) and Nam Trang (right) were each awarded NSF CAREER grants for excellence in their fields.

Three UNT researchers in linguistics, physics and mathematics were awarded more than $1.5 million total in grant money through the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program.

“While it’s our faculty who won the awards, our students will also benefit from a true hands-on experiential learning experience,” says Mark McLellan, vice president for research and innovation. “Alexis Palmer, Oliviero Andreussi and Nam Trang are three of the reasons UNT continues to expand its leading programs as a world class research institution.”

National Science Foundation CAREER awards are granted to faculty within their first 10 years in a full-time college appointment whose scholarly products are considered to have had a high impact in their discipline and/or on society.

Palmer, a computational linguist in the Department of Linguistics,  received $550,000 for her work in the development of natural language processing tools designed specifically for little known or endangered languages. These tools will provide support to linguists and language communities for documenting and translating languages more quickly. NLP tools use artificial intelligence to learn how to analyze a language through large amounts of training data. The larger and more common the language, the larger the dataset for the AI to utilize. Palmer is developing NLP tools that can learn from much smaller datasets to analyze smaller, less common languages and new AI training methods that focus on using information from one language to predict how another language is constructed.

Andreussi, a computational scientist in the Department of Physics, received $600,000 to develop and apply new tools that help characterize chemical processes at solid-liquid interfaces. Many common devices, ranging from chemical sensors to lithium-ion batteries, involve a liquid solution interacting with a solid electrode. Improving the performances of these devices requires a better understanding of these interactions. Andreussi is developing computer models that will capture the complexity of these systems and help screen existing or innovative compounds, such as two-dimensional materials. The inexpensive nature of computer simulations will simplify the design process and guide future experiments. 

Trang, an assistant professor with the Department of Mathematics, will use his $400,000 grant to conduct research in theoretical mathematics that has the potential to help better understand the foundation of mathematics as it relates to science.

As part of the NSF grant, Palmer, Andreussi and Trang also will develop educational programs so that UNT students can be involved in their research. Their programs include online learning modules, hands-on computer workshops and more.

UNT has 14 researchers who have been awarded a CAREER grant in the last 12 years–the most prestigious recognition offered by the NSF for young researchers. It supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education.