Nelson honored with NSF CAREER Award in Human-Centered Computing



Alex Nelson

Alexander Nelson, assistant professor of computer science and computer engineering, received the CAREER award from the Human-Centered Computing program of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Information and Intelligent Systems. This is the most prestigious award presented by the foundation to support young faculty who demonstrate the most effective integration of research and education within the context of the U of A’s mission.

His project, titled ‘Enhancing Ambient Capacitive Sensing Through Improved Resolution and Multi-Modal Sensor Fusion’, will contribute to the advancement of medical technologies for patients in physical and occupational rehabilitation.

Physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other doctors can only see their patients for a short time on any given day. Some health factors rely on a large number of movements to relearn how to perform them, teaching the brain how to make the neurological connections necessary to move the body correctly. The problem this project seeks to address is that there is not enough time in the average rehabilitation appointment for doctors to fully and accurately check the patient’s movements.

The most common solution would be to use cameras to track patient movements, but then the user faces privacy concerns and potential connection issues if coverage is unstable. Instead, Nelson’s project will use wearable capacitive sensors to perform real-time motion analysis.

“The nice thing about this project is that it’s human-centered,” Nelson said. “Many people think that computing is just about building technology faster and more powerful – and it is – but they don’t think about how technology can improve the human experience through interaction.”

Nelson credits many of the U of A programs with laying the groundwork for this research award. The Chancellor’s Innovation Fund in Support of Faculty Research at the University of A helped Nelson and students complete a project using some of the tools that will be used in this project. The College of Engineering Research and Engineering Innovation Seed Funding Program is awarded to assist engineering researchers in developing innovative new research programs that have strong potential for significant future support from government agencies, corporations, industry , consortia or foundations. This award helps Nelson and his students work with capacitive sensor arrays (CSAs) for intelligent robots, the same technology that will be used in this project.

“Internal funding mechanisms have produced the pilot work that has led to the hypotheses and research questions we want to address with this project,” said Nelson.

The accompanying education plan aims to improve the technology literacy of the public by hosting a workshop for middle school students during the annual engineering camps at the U of A. This workshop will teach children to program Arduino computers for the Internet of Things . In addition, Nelson will hold a seminar for graduate students and faculty on emerging research on the Internet of Things as it relates to medicine. This workshop will engage scholars for seminars and a panel in a conference setting for students and faculty from across the nation in the fifth year of the project.

Jia Di, head of the Department of Computer Science and Computer Engineering, is thrilled to see the department’s young teachers being rewarded for their hard work.

“It is an honor to have Dr. Nelson on our team and we are proud to see his work recognized by the National Science Foundation with this prestigious award,” said Di. “This grant will help Dr. Nelson create impactful work in both the information technology and health fields.”

Nelson recognizes the support he has received from the Department of Computer Science and Computer Engineering, the College of Engineering and the University of A as vital to his success.

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