From Resilient Infrastructure to Intelligent Computing, NJIT's New Faculty are Designing the Future

Civil and environmental engineers Matthew Adams and Matthew Bandelt have joined forces to devise new tests to predict how next-generation materials will survive both extreme weather and the grinding wear-and-tear of 21st century life.

Booming urban populations, severe weather linked to climate volatility and years of disinvestment are putting acute stress on the country’s infrastructure, prompting planners to rethink the material building blocks of civilization: the asphalt, concrete and steel that compose our roads, bridges and tunnels.

Matthew Adams and Matthew Bandelt, new faculty members informally dubbed Matt2 by their colleagues in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, have joined forces to devise new tests to predict how next-generation materials designed to meet these challenges will survive both extreme weather and the grinding wear-and-tear of 21st century life.  Adams focuses on the link between the chemistry of concrete and its long-term durability and resiliency. “I’ll put samples through 300 freezing and thawing cycles in a matter of weeks,” he notes. Bandelt concentrates on how building materials respond to physical stress or “the damage a hurricane might cause.” He adds, “The new forms of fiber and recycled materials we put into concrete can affect both its internal chemistry and its physical structure and we need to know how it will perform.” Some of the fundamental questions they are pursuing: how do we create infrastructure capable of surviving a catastrophic event, how do we expeditiously replace it if it fails, and, more generally, how do we design and sustainably construct it with materials that are both cheaper and more durable.

Adams and Bandelt are two of the 18 new faculty members presenting their work Monday at the NJIT President’s Forum and Faculty Research Showcase. They will be joined by colleagues working on artificial intelligence in robotic manufacturing, improvements to the reliability and security of mobile devices, the impact of human interactions and relationships in accounting practices and the physics of the Sun’s massive explosions. The new hires reflect the university’s research priorities and core expertise in three major areas:  life sciences and health care; sustainable systems; and data science and information technology.

“I am so pleased - and proud - to present the work of our new faculty to the wider NJIT community, including friends of the university and our external partners in academia and industry. Each one of these newcomers is working on an important scientific or societal problem," said Atam Dhawan, vice provost for research. "By introducing them to potential collaborators and supporting their novel, interdisciplinary research with faculty seed grants, we hope to accelerate their progress. As they succeed, their work will make a tangible difference in the community.”

Biomedical engineer Xiaobo Li develops mathematical techniques to evaluate the structural and functional organization in the human brain to better understand the biological underpinnings of cognitive disorders. She is currently focusing on the neural networks linked to attention deficit disorder in children with traumatic brain injuries. “Patients do not always have a clear biological diagnosis based on objective criteria. Our goal is to provide predictive disease markers based on the person’s medical history, neuro-imaging, behavior and clinical data so that caregivers can develop individualized strategies for treatment and interventions." Li brings an interdisciplinary perspective to her work. “I began academic life as an engineer working on computer-based geometrical modeling,” she notes. “My advisor suggested I look at the most complex real object – the human brain – because of the multi-dimensional, geometric properties inherent in folding. We can link the folds of the brain cortices to functions,” she says, adding, “As it turns out, I am really interested in medical science and I like the challenge.”

Michael Lee, an information systems specialist who focuses on human-computer interaction, has invented a clever application to bridge the digital divide: a multi-level game called Gidget ( that teaches people of all ages and cultures how to program by solving debugging puzzles. To measure their progress, the program weaves testing into the story as the player helps Gidget solve problems. “We’ve spent several years identifying features that keep people engaged and eliminating those that don’t – if a game isn’t entertaining, the people who play it will think programming isn’t exciting,” Lee says, adding that it also isn’t judgmental. Gidget never blames the users for mistakes and responds to errors with a sad face and the acknowledgment, “I don’t understand.” Correct answers prompt: “You helped me succeed.” To date, thousands of people have played the game – from youngsters in rural parts of the U.S., to girls at summer camps, to adults and children all over the world. Lee received a National Science Foundation grant to work with international collaborators to examine the effectiveness of Gidget in different cultures. He notes, “Programming is an increasingly important 21st century skill throughout the world and researching new ways to effectively engage and measurably teach people online is an important field of work with many exciting opportunities that can affect educators, researchers, industry employers and policy makers.”

For the first year, the new faculty showcase is part of a larger research-focused day, beginning with the inaugural President’s Forum, a featured event in the Albert Dorman Honors College Colloquium Series. 

Julian M. Goldman, MD, the medical director of biomedical engineering for Partners HealthCare, an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and the director of the multi-institutional Program on Medical Device Interoperability, will give the keynote speech.

“Julian is one of the great innovators in healthcare information systems with expertise in a critical area: the interoperability of medical devices. As we make patient information accessible through electronic record systems and connect people to sensors that will allow clinicians to monitor their health in real-time, we need to make sure that we properly calibrate all of these devices so they communicate with each other,” said Dhawan. “In addition to being a technology visionary, Julian is also an excellent physician. He brings the patient’s perspective to everything he undertakes.”

In the afternoon, brief talks by the new faculty members will be followed by a poster exhibition and networking session, including displays of interdisciplinary research projects funded by NJIT faculty seed grants, in the Campus Center Gallery.

Tracey Regan