Prosthetics Researcher Earns NSF CAREER Award

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Photograph courtesy of SF State/

Xiaorong Zhang, PhD, an assistant professor of computer engineering at San Francisco State University (SF State) whose research focuses on developing neural-controlled prosthetic limbs, has been given the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award. The five-year award supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.

Zhang is working to develop hardware and software for neural-machine interfaces that could be used in next-generation prosthetic devices that sense a user's intentions. The system will have to handle large amounts of data while still being energy- and memory-efficient.

"When you feel thirsty and want to grab a cup of water, it takes a series of continuous and dynamic motions," Zhang said about the challenges in developing an interface that can control a prosthetic arm.

Zhang is also changing the university's computer engineering curriculum. She will be broadcasting a graduate course online to fill what she sees as a gap in public education on interfaces between humans and computers. Additionally, she plans to recruit student researchers from nearby community colleges that offer few research opportunities and hold a yearly workshop with students from nearby high schools and community colleges.

Editor's note: This story was adapted from materials provided by SF State.