Research & Innovation

Department of Engineering & Society



As part of the strategic planning process completed in 2011, the Engineering School undertook a critical evaluation of its current research strengths.

Four societal challenges capture much of the research strength within SEAS in 2011:

  • Creating a sustainable future — There is a need to better manage our natural resources while providing sufficient energy for improved life.
  • Engineering improved health — Technology and quantitative understanding of living systems can be used to enhance the diagnosis and treatment of disease and to improve the human condition.
  • Advancing the cyber and physical infrastructure — Although the current cyber and physical infrastructure allows society to function in ways that would have been unknown in the not-too-distant past, there are many challenges to reinvigorating and expanding the reach of this field.
  • Providing personal and societal security — The need for advances in protecting personal privacy and societal security has become increasingly important as more personal and societal functions rely on technology.
Research Foci
Collaborating across disciplinary boundaries
Co-evolving solutions with users
Challenges to collaboration
Collaboration and institutional change

Research Questions
What skills or expertise are essential for catalyzing collaborations?
How do institutional structures support/inhibit collaborative activities?
What practical steps can researchers take to promote a collaborative environment?

Faculty Involved:
Caitlin Wylie
Tolu Odumosu
Michael Gorman
Rider Foley

APMA faculty have been strongly involved in modeling and computational research and can offer expertise in computational mathematics and numerical methods; Mathematical physics, with critical expertise in PDE, statistical mechanics, and interacting particle systems; Stochastic modeling;Data Analysis.

Faculty include Gianluca Guadagni and Eduardo Socolovsky.

  • Researchers are creating representations of objects and phenomena at very large and very small scales, using data from sensors, instruments and imaging techniques that press against the boundaries of human vision and human thought.
  • Visualization and representation of data, processes and structures have become critically important research tools for engineering.
  • Representations allow us to think through, think with and communicate information. They let us peer into previously-inaccessible worlds or crystalize metaphors for concepts or processes.
  • Scientific narratives make sense of this scaled-up, heterogeneous, hybrid, representational ecology, and STS frameworks allow us to situate these narratives in history and in culture.

Key Faculty: Rebecca Perry, Bernie Carlson, Mike Gorman, Kay Neeley, Caitlin Wylie

  • What social problems can a research cluster address?
  • How will the results of a cluster be received by users, corporate clients, and policymakers?
  • How will responses vary by social groups and by their cultural values?
  • How do social factors constrain engineering alternatives, and what can you do about these constraints?

These are questions to keep in mind from the first stages of research. STS faculty can assess these factors and identify ways to shape design decisions and implementation strategies accordingly.

Key Faculty:
Rosalyn Berne – Biomedicine, Nanotechnology
Bernie Carlson – Innovation
Sean Ferguson – Sustainability, Bioplastics
Rider Foley – Sustainability, Smart Cities
Michael Gorman – Nanotechnology, Engineering Education, Expertise
Deborah Johnson – Information Technology
Jongmin Lee – Environment, Health, Global Context
Lisa Messeri – Earth and Planetary Systems, Virtual Reality, Citizen Science
Kay Neeley – Problem Framing in Sociotechnical Systems
Peter Norton – Cities and Transportation
Tolu Odumosu – Research Cultures
Caitlin Wylie – Research Cultures, Visualization, Citizen Science

Engineering shapes—and is shaped by—the global economy.
E&S Faculty think about global issues in several ways:

  • How can we recruit world-class students and ensure that they have outstanding English-language skills?
  • How can we provide students with international study opportunities that complement their research?
  • How do we conceptualize the processes by which people, ideas, and devices move across borders?
  • How do notions of sustainability vary across cultures?

Key Faculty:
Catherine Baritaud
Dana Elzey
Jong Min Lee
Kent Wayland

Because engineering research involves decisions about how the benefits or hazards of technology are shared by groups in society, ethics should be considered during all phases—early investigations, systems design, as well as operation and maintenance.

Some examples:

  • Software engineering: Should software that controls automobile emissions be able to be turned off when a vehicle is being tested?
  • Autonomous technologies: Research on algorithms that decide whose life should be have priority in an autonomous car collision;
  • Data collection techniques: Research on privacy protection for personal data;
    Biomedical devices: Research on fairness in access to medical devices.

Key Faculty: Deborah Johnson, Rosalyn Berne, Michael Gorman

Research question: How can we avoid the “regulatory gap” by making better design decisions in the laboratory?
Method: Use systematic and iterative research on social context to provide critically important feedback to redesign materials and prototypes.
Faculty Experts: Rider W. Foley, Jim Cheng, David Slutzky, and Sean Ferguson

A critical aspect in securing research funding is to show the pathway by which discoveries can be shaped into new products and enterprises.

The Tech Entrepreneurship Program in E&S helps research clusters articulate this pathway by:

  • Offering courses and experiential opportunities in entrepreneurship for undergrads, graduate students and faculty;
  • Providing entrepreneurs and business leaders as mentors via our contacts with the NSF and NIH I-Corps programs;
  • Assisting in customer discovery and preparing business plans;
  • Developing ties to industries as key partners and research opportunities.

Faculty involved: Elizabeth Pyle, Doug Muir, Jim Cheng, Bernie Carlson

The Applied Mathematics group within the Engineering and Society Department provides applied mathematics instruction that is targeted to the needs of students in the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Math. We seek to provide a solid foundation in all of the mathematics concepts and skills that are necessary for success in engineering with a focus on engineering applications in our courses whenever possible. In addition, we seek to adapt our courses to the needs of the latest generation of students to attend the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
As part of our quest to redesign the calculus sequence to better meet the needs of our students, five members of the Applied Mathematics group recently won Nucleus grants from the Center for Teaching Excellence. Along with other teachers from throughout UVA, the group completed a class in course design and we are currently implementing active-learning methods in our courses. We also participate in a learning community with other teachers from throughout UVA so that we might learn from each other’s experiences.
We plan to implement these active-learning methods in the new calculus courses that we intend to propose. The essence of our proposal is to provide three different two-semester sequences of engineering mathematics courses to allow every student to achieve and demonstrate mastery of mathematics concepts and skills through multivariable calculus by the end of the first year. Each sequence will be targeted to a specific group of first-year students, from those with the most limited calculus background to those who have an excellent calculus background.
These engineering math courses will be accompanied by a newly created mathematics lab course to allow students to achieve and demonstrate mastery of pre-calculus concepts and skills on a self-paced schedule.
The goal of the Applied Mathematics group is to provide excellent engineering math instruction that meets the needs of all of our students and allows them to thrive in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia.
As new and better cyber-physical systems (CPSs) are developed, it is crucial to keep in mind that the purpose of such systems is to further human values and human wellbeing. Not only are CPSs designed to achieve human purposes and values, they function through a combination of human as well as artifactual and computational behavior. Most importantly, CPSs have effects on individuals, organizations, social institutions, and social values.

Although the ethical issues arising around CPSs are somewhat different from system to system, there should be no doubt that ethical issues are implicit in their design. There will issues of privacy whenever CPSs use sensors that gather information about individual human behavior – be it locational information or bodily functions. Even when sensors collect information about the environment, there will be issues about who owns the data and how it can be used. Ethical decisions will be made implicitly in the design of CPSs. The design of transportation systems will involve decisions about who gets to go where with what level of convenience. Security systems will involve trade-offs between security and privacy; self-driving automobiles may make decisions about who will live and who will die in an accident; smart buildings may pit improved energy efficiency against individual autonomy; and so on.

CPS researchers and students who are preparing to work on CPSs should heed the insights from recent research on ‘responsible innovation’, ‘value-sensitive design’, and ‘anticipatory ethics’. This research argues for considering the ethical issues in the early stages of technological development rather than later on when a technology has already been designed and change is much harder to make.

Invention is not simply discovering how to make something; an inventor must also connect his or her invention with society. In studying technology, two big questions must be addressed: how do individuals create new machines and how do people then use technology to shape their culture? The most well-thumbed volumes in my library are Elmer Sperry: Inventor and Engineer by Thomas P. Hughes (Engr ’47, Grad ’53) and Alfred D. Chandler’s The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. Hughes’ biography has served as a model for writing about how inventors bring together machines, business needs and cultural ideas in order to change the world. From Chandler, I gained an appreciation for how managers and entrepreneurs appropriated technology to create powerful corporations and hence revolutionized the American economy at the end of the 19th century. Together, Hughes and Chandler taught me the importance of thinking carefully about the role of individuals and the structure of organizations in history. As technology moves forward into the future, the impact on society will become increasingly important to ensure success.

W. Bernard Carlson











Lisa Messeri

Placing Outer Space









Tolu Odumosu

Cycles of Invention and Discovery









Rosalyn Berne












Joanne Cohoon
A. Richard Newton Educator ABIE Award, 2016


W. Bernard Carlson.
2015 Sally Hacker Prize for Best Popular Book
Society for the History of Technology
The Sally Hacker Prize was established in 1999 to honor exceptional scholarship that reaches beyond the academy toward a broad audience.

2015 IEEE Middleton Electrical Engineering History Award
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
The IEEE William and Joyce Middleton Electrical Engineering History Award is awarded to the author of a book in the history of an IEEE-related technology that both exemplifies exceptional scholarship and reaches beyond academic communities toward a broad public audience.

Rider W. Foley

President’s Award in Sustainability from ASU.

Deborah Johnson

Joseph Weizenbaum Award for life-long contributions to information and computer ethics, International Society for Ethics and Information Technology,

Jongmin Lee

Faculty of the Year Award, Korean-American Scientists and Engineers Association, Central Virginia chapter.