Professor sees NSF CAREER award as path to new UAH antenna curriculum

Dr. Maria Z. A. Pour

Dr. Maria Z. A. Pour has won a National Science Foundation Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award.

Michael Mercier | UAH

New research in phased array antenna engineering and new antenna engineering classes for students at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) are being advanced after an assistant professor’s five-year, $500,000 National Science Foundation Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award.

Dr. Maria Z. A. Pour, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, garnered the award on her first proposal submission. CAREER awards are NSF’s most prestigious awards “in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through research, education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations."

The NSF allots tenure-track junior faculty three proposals maximum for CAREER award consideration during their tenure-track career. In engineering, about 15 percent of proposals are awarded on average.

“I’m really happy to win this award, and especially on the first try," says Dr. Pour, whose research interests are in the areas of antennas, applied electromagnetics and remote sensing.

“There is a growing demand for advancement in antenna technologies," she says. “They are ubiquitous."

Dr. Pour’s proposed research focuses on phased array antennas, an array of antenna elements that create a beam of radio waves that can be electronically steered to point in different directions without moving the antennas.

“Phased array antennas have a promising potential for the next generation of wireless technologies," she says. Applications include remote sensing, advanced radar, next generation mobile communications, and wireless communications for military, space and satellites.

“This new research opens the doors to electronically reconfiguring the element spacing and the radiation patterns with wide-angle scanning capabilities," says Dr. Pour.

The research will pave the way to a new phased array antenna design and then a prototype. Initial experimental efforts will be performed at UAH and Huntsville’s Adtran Inc. Full prototype testing will be conducted at the University of Michigan’s Radiation Laboratory (Radlab).

In a military technology environment like Huntsville’s, antenna engineering is a subject of much interest. Yet while demand grows, finding people trained in these technologies can be difficult.

That’s why Dr. Pour’s proposal includes an outreach program to foster participation by local colleges in antenna research activities, to engage high school students in workshops held at UAH and to attract young students, particularly from underrepresented groups, to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. Her plans have been well received by Alabama A&M University and by Huntsville City Schools.

“Currently, there’s a noticeable shortage in antenna scientists and engineers," says Dr. Pour. Students who matriculate in these areas have excellent chances of finding employment upon graduation, she says.

An antenna workshop at UAH will draw together students from high schools and college with professionals working in this field from the greater Huntsville area, Dr. Pour says.

By filling the workshop with STEM education opportunities and student research reports, she hopes to reach out to spark early interest in young students and provide an atmosphere where students can connect with those already in industry.

“This will open many opportunities for students to establish relationships and to find internships and cooperative work opportunities," says Dr. Pour. “My plan with this workshop is to be able to foster those types of beneficial relationships."


Dr. Maria Z. A. Pour

Jim Steele