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KNOXVILLE — Two University of Tennessee, Knoxville, professors have been honored with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) 2011 Young Investigator Program (YIP) awards, totaling more than $1 million over three years. The professors join a select group of institutions including the University of Michigan and Yale, Johns Hopkins, Harvard and Princeton universities.

The Navy selected 21 proposals from more than 270 applications received last year. Only UT Knoxville and Princeton had more than one professor receive an award.

UT Knoxville’s winners are Xiaorui Wang, an assistant professor in electrical engineering and computer science, and Mingjun Zhang, associate professor in mechanical, aerospace and biomedical engineering. Wang and Zhang will each receive approximately $170,000 in annual research grants for three years.

The YIP award supports academic scientists and engineers who have obtained their doctorate (or equivalent degrees) and tenure-track positions within the past five years. They are awarded for compelling research with the potential to deliver game-changing naval science and technology.

“I continue to be proud of our university and impressed by our faculty’s accomplishments,” said Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek. “More often we are finding ourselves in the company of the best universities and brightest minds, which is where we belong. Achievements such as this edge us closer to our goal of becoming a top 25 research institution.”

Wang seeks to improve the connectivity and energy-efficiency of mission-critical wireless sensor networks (WSNs) such as disaster warning systems. His research will aim to solve common problems of communication delays and power failures by developing a framework that utilizes all available channel networks while balancing energy usage for maximized network lifetime.

Zhang turns to nature for creating energy-efficient, unmanned underwater vehicles and robots for naval defense missions. He will analyze and model nature’s design principles of micro-organisms’ energy-efficient swimming and use the findings for inspiration of innovative designs for defense missions.

Both researchers credit the university’s resources, programs and staff for making their research possible.

“The award shows UT’s caliber for attracting excellent research,” said Zhang. “This awarded research will be conducted in a unique lab and program UT helped put together allowing me to pursue this exciting research. In my opinion, the effort made at the university level to commit excellent research to funding agencies is essential and is moving UT to the next level of excellence.”

Since its inception in 1985, the YIP award program has named 554 recipients representing 118 institutions of higher education. A list of the 2011 YIP winners can be found here.