1. Kansas State University
  2. »Division of Communications and Marketing
  3. »K-State Today
  4. »Prestigious posting: Engineering professor to serve as program director with National...

K-State Today

August 15, 2012

Prestigious posting: Engineering professor to serve as program director with National Science Foundation

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

A Kansas State University professor with a successful track record of securing research grants will soon find himself on the opposite side of the proverbial table.

Zhijian "ZJ" Pei, professor in the department of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, has accepted a program director assignment with the National Science Foundation, or NSF. Among his responsibilities will be evaluating and making funding recommendations on foundation proposals.

"It's an honor to be selected for this position," Pei said. "I'm excited to have the opportunity to learn from this experience and hope to have a bigger impact on the advanced manufacturing research community."

Pei will direct the Manufacturing Machines and Equipment program -- one of the four programs in the advanced manufacturing cluster within the Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation Division at the foundation. The position, based in Washington, D.C., will begin in late August and is expected to be a two-year term.

Program directors oversee the National Science Foundation's gold standard merit review process and help define new funding opportunities. Key responsibilities include interacting with potential and current principal investigators, forming and facilitating merit review panels, and recommending funding decisions. Program directors have the opportunity to be involved with a broad spectrum of national scientific programs and initiatives that ultimately increase intellectual awareness and enhance professional growth.

One of Pei's objectives during his term is to make new connections with other researchers and organizations interested in manufacturing research. With increasing calls for the United States to reinvest in manufacturing, Pei sees this as an ideal time to be involved in setting the research agenda for advanced manufacturing.

"One of the reasons I was interested in the NSF position is the opportunity to gain a broader perspective of advanced manufacturing research, including trends and nationwide topics," he said. "Industry still needs manufacturing research. As a program director I hope to be able to learn from and potentially collaborate with others to expand the manufacturing research community."

Additionally, Pei believes this experience will provide insights into the proposal evaluation and grant-making process that he can bring back to the university to share with faculty writing proposals and help increase their likelihood of being funded.

Pei plans to travel back to Manhattan on a regular basis during the next two years as he continues to direct his research and doctoral students.

"This assignment is a great professional development opportunity for ZJ. I'm also excited about the new contacts he will make and new ideas that he'll bring back to the university as a direct result of this experience," said Brad Kramer, professor and head of the department of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering. "I am confident ZJ will do a great job at NSF and, as a result, bring very positive recognition to Kansas State University and the College of Engineering that will help us achieve the goal of becoming a top 50 public research university by 2025."

Pei is an internationally recognized leader in the field of manufacturing research. He earned his doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and joined Kansas State University in 2000 after completing four years of industrial experience and one year of postdoctoral research. Pei is a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, received the Outstanding Senior Scientist Award from the university's chapter of Sigma Xi, the Frankenhoff Outstanding Research Award from the College of Engineering and the National Science Foundation's CAREER Award. He also was the recipient of the university's 2011 Commerce Bank Distinguished Graduate Faculty Award.

Since joining the university, Pei has obtained more than $3 million in research funding, published more than 100 journal papers and 100 peer-reviewed conference papers, and authored six book chapters. He has graduated seven doctoral students, with four more currently in progress.

Pei's primary research areas are related to abrasive machining, including wafer grinding and rotary ultrasonic machining. Recently, he has become involved in energy manufacturing research with biofuels produced from algae and cellulosic biomass.

He is the past chair of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' MED Manufacturing Process Technical Committee and is a current member of the North American Manufacturing Research Scientific Committee. Pei has organized symposia and regularly reviews research proposals for the National Science Foundation and articles for more than 50 technical journals. He currently serves on the editorial board for seven journals and is the associate editor for two others.

Pei also helps young faculty members develop funded research programs by organizing workshops on writing National Science Foundation CAREER Award proposals. Sponsored by the foundation, these annual workshops have been attended by more than 1,100 assistant professors nationwide.

The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year 2012, its budget is $7 billion. The foundation's funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions.