“It’s important to develop innovative ideas; it’s equally important to operationalize them. We’re training a generation of engineering leaders to do both. We surround our graduate students with opportunities to learn from leading faculty in their field, conduct research that impacts society, and engage with policy makers, entrepreneurs, and broad interdisciplinary teams to help shape their growth. All this gives our graduate engineers the opportunity and tools to change the world—and they do.”

– Samuel Graham, Jr., Dean of Maryland Engineering

Dean Samuel Graham, Jr. is smiling. He is wearing a grey suit, a white shirt, and a red tie.

In a lab or classroom or at 3,000 feet underwater, Maryland graduate students innovate to serve our society. Supported by their mentors, surrounded by scholars with multidisciplinary expertise, and armed with creativity and ambition, they make groundbreaking discoveries to tackle grand challenges of today and tomorrow. They equip our nation with solutions to combat a changing climate, socio-economic and racial disparities, and the human body’s vulnerabilities. They embark on this journey at Maryland Engineering—and then they change the world.

Mapping inequities

Researchers and policymakers can’t combat the global COVID pandemic, or any other large-scale crisis, without addressing social inequity. Young innovators from the University of Maryland are answering the call.

Three students—civil engineer Kristen Croft, biological scientist Nora Hamovit, and geospatial researcher Guangxiao Hu—came together to explore racial inequities of COVID-19 impacts. They overlaid Louisiana census and state demographic data on a map to depict stressors in a variety of categories. By spring 2021, the group’s preliminary data visualization showed clear hotspots of mortality early in the pandemic clustered in heavily Black, lower-income urban communities in New Orleans and Baton Rouge and in areas along the Mississippi River with histories of toxic pollutant releases. Their research also showed that later in summer 2020, areas of rural northern Louisiana had secondary hotspots, also in Black and segregated communities with inferior housing and limited access to healthcare.

Siting facilities may seem like social and political work but engineers play a major role in engaging with impacted communities who stand to benefit from infrastructure investment. “If you can identify the stressors, levels of stress, and vulnerability within a community, it’s easier to put action on the ground,” Hamovit said. “The more data you have and the more you can highlight where the long-lasting impacts are, the better.”

Read more about how Maryland Engineering confronts inequity.

Diving deep with robots that cooperate

As part of a multi-institutional project to study the oceanic rim ecosystem, aerospace engineering Ph.D. student Rachael Suitor worked on the crew of a National Geographic Society (NGS)/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research expedition in the Gulf of Mexico. While aboard the Research Vessel Point Sur as it studied aquatic life in the DeSoto Canyon, Suitor worked with a swarm of NGS “Driftcams,” autonomous robotic sensing platforms that can move up and down in the water column.

DriftCams are low-cost, passive underwater robots that have the ability to coordinate with each other in order to optimize their data collection activities. The robots are particularly useful to oceanographers who seek to know more about the “scattering layer,” a deep-water zone found in many of the world’s oceans that is home to an abundance of aquatic life. The inaccessibility of this layer has made it hard to study, but DriftCams are opening up new possibilities. Suitor, who has a background in dynamics and control, is helping to develop swarming control for the DriftCam platform.

“I have developed algorithms for DriftCams to be able to estimate and track the depth of the scattering layers and to do so collaboratively in a swarm,” Suitor said. “The data collected on this expedition will be an invaluable addition to my thesis.”

Read more about Suitor’s work on the NOAA-funded project.

Sustainable energy and markets, all in one battery

Maryland engineers’ breakthrough discovery in sustainable energy technology made a wave of headlines in October 2021. Chemical and biomolecular engineering Ph.D. student Singyuk Hou was first author of a paper on rechargeable magnesium and calcium metal batteries that could become promising alternatives to conventional lithium-ion batteries. Published on the cover of Science, the article signifies a breakthrough in two decades of studies made by energy researchers worldwide.

“In our study, we were motivated by the demands of the market, such as the rapidly growing electric transportation industry,” Hou said. “We wanted to build a battery using materials that are much more abundant than lithium, ensuring its relatively low price.”

The issue in rechargeable magnesium batteries that hadn’t been overcome before Maryland engineers solved it was the incompatibility among electrolytes, anodes, and cathodes that results in low energy density and a tendency of battery casing corrosion by the electrolytes. Advised by R.F. and F.R. Wright Distinguished Chair and Professor Chunsheng Wang, Hou developed a novel design strategy that incorporated a new class of solvents, which prevented the corrosion process and boosted the battery’s overall performance.

Read more about the novel design that could be a breakthrough in research on divalent metal batteries.

Listening to distant rumbles

According to NOAA’s 2020 Billion-Dollar Disaster report, 2020 was a record-breaking year for weather and climate disasters, from storms and droughts to tornadoes and hurricanes. University of Maryland Ph.D. students Lingyao Li and Zihui Ma are developing a new tool in the race against time after disaster strikes by mining social media. Using natural language classifiers, modeling, and machine learning, the research students are scraping textual information from social media platforms like Twitter to assess emergency situations, public attitudes, and other information quickly, from damage assessments after an earthquake to vaccination rates for COVID-19. Li and Ma explain that social media is a viable alternative to traditional surveys, satellite imagery, or other current tools; with social media, researchers can see changes in real-time, down to the county level, and with high correlation to other data.

Read more about the Maryland engineers at the forefront of disaster resilience in the face of a changing climate.

New technologies for a sustainable society

Mechanical engineering Ph.D. student Qiongyu Chen and Herbert Rabin Distinguished Professor Liangbing Hu co-authored a Science paper explaining a “water-shock” process to enable wood—normally a rigid substance that must be carved or cut—to become moldable. The breakthrough opens the door to using wood for many purposes now assigned to metal or plastic, which in the past were preferred because of their pliability.

As a member of the research team involved in the research, Chen performed two-scale mechanics modeling in order to pinpoint the precise mechanism that enables wood to become moldable. “I’m excited to be contributing to the development of new technologies that can help create more sustainable societies,” Chen said.

Read more about moldable wood.

Improving lives, over-the-counter

First developed at Maryland, an antibacterial gel that stops bleeding in seconds entered the over-the-counter pharmaceutical market. With support from the Fischell Department of Bioengineering, Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute, and other UMD programs, Matt Dowling (Ph.D. ’10) founded Medcura, Inc. to manufacture Rapid-Seal for commercial use. Having received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, today the innovative product is available in pharmacies and on Amazon.

The technology behind Rapid-Seal was born in Clark School Professor Srinivasa Raghavan’s lab. Dowling joined Raghavan’s lab as a doctoral student; together, they worked with faculty at the University of Maryland School of Medicine to test the discovery that would later become Rapid-Seal.

Apart from Rapid-Seal, Medcura has secured seven U.S. patents and one granted European patent, with multiple additional patents pending. Today Medcura is located in UMD’s Discovery District and looking to expand its know-how across a variety of potential products: bandages for vascular closure; foams, powders, and putties for combat injuries; and gels.

Another example of graduate research that made it from Maryland Engineering to market is the TROMATZ toothbrush, manufactured by Young Wook Kim’s (Ph.D. ’14) company ProxiHealthcare Inc. This toothbrush propagates a small electric current and field approximately one inch from the edge of the device. The resulting electrostatic force (the bioelectric effect) induces relaxation of biofilm structure and helps detach the plaque from the tooth. First available in South Korea, the toothbrush employs the bioelectric effect to effectively attack the mouth’s plaque and tartar biofilms. It has received federal approval in the United States and is available for purchase on Amazon.

Maryland Engineering in facts & numbers

  • #10 public graduate engineering program*
  • #23 school for entrepreneurship programs**
  • Top 10 school in conferring the most B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees to African American students***
  • Graduate student enrollment: 1,721
  • 24.3% female students
  • 206 faculty members
  • 30 National Academy of Engineering members among affiliated faculty

*According to the 2022 U.S. News & World Report
** According to the Princeton Review's Top 50 Schools For Entrepreneurship Programs
***According to Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Graduate student recognition

Recent faculty recognition

Six NSF CAREER awards

Three researchers ranked as top scientists in the world by Guide2Research:

Thomas Antonsen, Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering: 2022 IEEE Marie Sklodowska-Curie Award

Akua Asa-Awuku, Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering: Audubon Naturalist Society’s 2021 Taking Nature Black® Environmental Champion

Balakumar Balachandran, Martin Professor and Mechanical Engineering Department Chair: 2021 J.P. Den Hartog and Lyapunov Awards, American Society of Mechanical Engineering (ASME)

Lina Castano, Assistant Research Scientist, Aerospace Engineering: Hal Andrews Young Engineer/Scientist Award, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)

Yanne Chembo, Associate Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering: member of the IEEE Photonics Society Board of Governors

Jin-Oh Hahn, Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering: ASME Fellow

Liangbing Hu, Herbert Rabin Distinguished Professor, Materials Science & Engineering: 2021 Blavatnik National Awards finalist, 2021 Materials Research Society (MRS) Fellow

Amy Karlsson, Associate Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering: 2021 Joseph J. Martin Award, American Society for Engineering Education 

Alireza Khaligh, Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering: 6th Nagamori Award

Stuart Laurence, Associate Professor, Aerospace Engineering: 2022 Associate Fellow, AIAA

Deb Niemeier, Clark Distinguished Chair and Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering: member, American Philosophical Society

Laurie Locascio, UMD Vice President for Research, Professor, Bioengineering: Nominee for the role of Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology

Michael Ohadi, Professor, Mechanical Engineering: 2021 Heat Transfer Memorial Award in the Art category, ASME

Ryan Sochol, Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Bioengineering: emerging leader, Institute of Physics’ Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering 

Eric Wachsman, Distinguished University Professor, William L. Crentz Centennial Chair, and Maryland Energy Innovation Institute Director, Materials Science & Engineering, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering: President of the Electrochemical Society 

Chunsheng Wang, Professor and R.F. & F.R. Wright Distinguished Chair, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, Maryland Energy Innovation Institute: 2021 Battery Division Research Award, Electrochemical Society

Min Wu, Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering: President-Elect, IEEE Signal Processing Society

Huan “Mumu” Xu, Assistant Professor, Aerospace Engineering: National Capital Section’s Engineer of the Year Award, AIAA 

Ji-Cheng “JC” Zhao, Minta Martin Professor and Department Chair, Materials Science & Engineering: 2021 William Hume-Rothery Award, Minerals, Metals & Materials Society