Research & Innovation

Two School of Engineering & Science Faculty Honored with Prominent NSF CAREER Award

Antonia Zaferiou and Damiano Zanotto receive a combined $1M to fund research projects focusing on gait-improvement strategies

Antonia Zaferiou and Damiano Zanotto

The faculty at Stevens Institute of Technology are an innovative group of professionals committed to exploring cutting-edge research that furthers the school’s mission of seeking solutions to the most challenging problems of our time. This year the National Science Foundation (NSF) has recognized that too, awarding two Stevens professors one of the foundation’s most prestigious honors.

Assistant professors Antonia Zaferiou from the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Damiano Zanotto from the Department of Mechanical Engineering have both been named as 2020 winners of the NSF CAREER award as a result of their rigorous and innovative work.

These two awardees join a robust group of Stevens’ faculty who have received this honor in the past, including electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Negar Tavassolian; mechanical engineering professors Brendan Englot and Robert Chang; chemical engineering associate professor Stephanie Lee, and biomedical engineering professor Ramana Vinjamuri.

The CAREER Award recognizes early-career faculty who stand out as leaders and role models in education and research. Winners are provided more than $500,000 over five years to pursue their research and develop their unique research projects.

Assistant professor Antonia Zaferiou’s research, which incorporates machine learning and wearable technology, caught the NSF’s attention. The award funds of $822,200 will support her efforts to identify balance and gait deficits in fall-prone older adults and to deliver personalized auditory biofeedback ("sonified biofeedback") designed to improve dynamic balance while walking.

Zaferiou’s project “Adaptive Sonification to Improve Balance During Everyday Mobility” will identify relationships between how a specific person balances themselves while turning and other factors, including physiological and cognitive capabilities—such as strength and capacity for spatial reasoning—as well as environmental factors such as the presence or absence of obstacles. She will use this data to design a system that plays sounds to inform the person of how well they are balancing themselves while walking.

Assistant professor Damiano Zanotto is recognized for his development of adaptive, assist-as-needed controllers for a powered ankle brace and is awarded NSF funding in the amount of $597, 471. He is exploring how such systems may help rehab patients learn correct gait patterns during physical therapy. Reinforcement learning will be used to shape personalized control policies that balance movement error and user effort.

Zanotto’s project “Reinforcement-Learning Assist-as-Needed Control for Robot-Assisted Gait Training,” will expand upon this research, adding a second objective: In situations where the participant does not know the desired target motion, control strategies must be calculated online. The research will advance our understanding of the adaptations that can arise when human and machine intelligences interact through physical channels, here in the context of gait rehabilitation.

It’s this type of cutting-edge research that makes Stevens a leader in engineering education and innovation.

“It is such an honor to have two CAREER award winners in a single year,” said Jean Zu, dean of the Schaefer School of Engineering & Science. “These awards highlight how fortunate we are at Stevens to have such high-quality young faculty who are pushing their fields in exciting new directions and involving students in their research.”

The entire Stevens community congratulates Dr. Zaferiou and Dr. Zanotto on being recognized by the NSF. The university shares the foundation’s enthusiasm for supporting academic leaders who are driving research forward while inspiring students to get involved in pioneering work.