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The National Science Foundation has once again selected a College of Engineering faculty member for one of its highest honors, as Donatello Materassi has been chosen for an NSF CAREER award.

Donatello MaterassiMaterassi, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, joins Cong Trinh, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, to become UT’s second NSF CAREER selection in less than a month.

Materassi’s research is focused on designing control systems through the use of “noninvasive observations.”

“My research is trying to create a bridge between two areas that have typically been considered independent: graphical models and control theory,” said Materassi. “Graphical models are an elegant way to represent and tweak probability distributions, while control theory deals with methods to design systems that are self-regulating.

“It’s surprising how these two seemingly unrelated domains complement each other.”

Materassi explained that being able to put the two concepts together isn’t just a novel breakthrough, but something with real-world impact because it would allow researchers to test solutions from their models without interfering with the working flow.

That is a critical distinction in areas that it would be difficult to experiment with in a “live” condition, such as with the power grid, or in areas where the monetary costs of experimenting would otherwise be prohibitive, such as in gene studies.

“In the medical field, for example, health and safety reasons prohibit you from just randomly adjusting medications over and over to see what happens, but if you could take our noninvasive approach and use the data to help tailor treatment it could really save a lot of time and discomfort,” said Materassi. “Any area where tweaking a working network might have unintended consequences can benefit from this approach.”

In addition to those efforts, Materassi has research interests in modeling, cybernetics, and developing systems.

He plans to use his specialties to help bridge the gap between statistics and application of that data through his noninvasive observations, which served as the basis for his NSF recognition.

The CAREER award is considered the highest honor a midlevel faculty member can receive, and is given as a way to support and develop the budding ideas of those researchers.

“Being selected for this award means that I will be able to devote my time to these exciting topics of research, but even more importantly that the scientific community considers my approach worthy of being developed,” Materassi said.

His CAREER award includes a little more than $500,000 in NSF funding for those efforts.


David Goddard (865-974-0683,