Nearly a Million Dollars in Federal Funding Awarded to SJSU Researchers for Health and Safety, STEM Research

by | Jul 18, 2023 | Academics, Awards and Achievements, Research and Innovation

San José State has recently received nearly a million dollars in federal funding for health and safety and STEM research initiatives. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

Summer can be a quieter time for many universities, but San José State researchers have been quite busy in recent weeks. Thanks to U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren (CA-18), Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, along with fellow U.S. Representatives Anna Eshoo (CA-16), Ro Khanna (CA-17), and Jimmy Panetta (CA-19), who advocate for increases to federal research funding year after year, San José State faculty have recently received nearly $900,000 in federal funding for health and safety and STEM research initiatives. These initiatives include work with robotic exoskeletons, wildfire research, more efficient algorithms, quantum technologies, and the roles of specific proteins in diseases

“I am continually inspired by the profound impact of leading-edge academic research at our university,” said Cynthia Teniente-Matson, president of San José State University.  

“San José State University is Silicon Valley’s fast-growing, up-and-coming research powerhouse. Our pursuit of excellence in public-impact research expands the boundaries of human understanding and fuels transformative breakthroughs that drive progress in healthcare, technology, and beyond. We are thankful for our Congressional leaders’ support and advocacy as they continue to invest in the critical academic research that moves us forward.”

One announced set of funding includes $398,117 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support two health and safety research initiatives. 

These two initiatives are:

  • $199,946 for research to improve powered, robotic exoskeletons that assist people with physical disabilities and neurological impairments, overseen by Mojtaba Sharifi, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

Sharifi’s work with robotic exoskeletons aims to “advance the field of assistive robotics to have a widespread impact on the quality of life for a variety of people with disabilities and neurological conditions caused by SCI (spinal cord injury), stroke, and other injuries/diseases.” 

He’s delighted by the possibilities afforded by the funding. “This is my first federal grant from NSF, which has a significant impact on my research career,” he says. “This research will open up a new line of research at SJSU on the personalized control of assistive exoskeletons.”


  • $198,171 for three research workshops on extreme wildfires to improve public safety, human health, and economic security, overseen by Craig Clements, director of the NSF IUCRC-Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center and professor of meteorology and climate science.

“Innovative research leads to medical breakthroughs, new technologies, and enhanced resiliency. That’s why we’re proud to support SJSU’s scientific initiatives that can improve our nation’s understanding of extreme wildfires and improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and neurological conditions,” said Reps. Lofgren, Eshoo, Khanna and Panetta in a joint statement.

Another Round of Funding

The second allocation of funds includes a total of $534,510 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) to support three STEM research initiatives.

The initiatives are:

  • $211,750 from the NSF to develop a new mathematical algorithm that can reduce computational costs and increase the accuracy and speed at which the scientific community can model physics problems involving heat, kinetic energy and other natural processes, overseen by Plamen Koev, professor of mathematics.

Koev and his team “aim to design and implement a new algorithm for computing eigenvectors of symmetric tridiagonal matrices.” 

As he explains, “These mathematical models allow designs for machines, vehicles, aircraft, buildings, etc., to be tested on a computer, which is much easier, faster, less expensive and has lower environmental impact than building than crash-testing prototypes.”  

The new algorithm will also make these computations more efficient, “which will in turn save not only time, but also energy for those calculations and allow the modeling of applications for which the current algorithms are time and/or cost prohibitive.” 

The grant will help provide equipment and software to help them craft the algorithm.  Koev was “thrilled” to receive it: “I feel honored to have the promise of my research recognized and funded by the scientific community,” he says.

  • $180,000 from the NSF to advance quantum technologies and systems by studying the properties of ultracold atoms, overseen by Hilary Hurst, assistant professor of physics and astronomy.

“One of the biggest barriers to practical quantum technologies, including quantum computers, is that they are susceptible to errors due to unwanted interaction with the surrounding environment,” Hurst states. “Broadly, my goal is to understand how we can make these systems more stable using quantum control protocols (i.e. feedback control, but tailored to a quantum system). More specifically, I model the interaction of a quantum system made of ultracold atoms with an ‘environmental observer’ and see how we can control it to stop bad things from happening to the system, such as heating, which can destroy the quantum information present.”

The funding will allow her to “fund undergraduate students to complete a research project with me and my collaborators, including student salaries and travel to the Joint Quantum Institute and National Institute of Standards and Technology outside Washington, DC.” She was “thrilled” to get the funding, which “shows that institutions like ours are an important training ground for the future STEM workforce.” 

She also hopes to use the grant to help students understand that even while the word “quantum” can seem intimidating, “there is a real need in the workforce for students (including undergraduates) who have exposure to quantum technologies and understand their potential. You do not need to be Albert Einstein to make important contributions.”

  • $142,760 from the NIGMS to study the SIRT1 protein and better understand its role in diseases, inflammation and aging, overseen by Ningkun Wang, assistant professor of chemistry.

Wang describes herself as “excited and relieved” to receive the grant.  

“Our goal is to understand the different mechanisms for SIRT1 regulation so that ultimately we can recognize if the regulation is going wrong in diseases, and more importantly, so we can try to design drugs to mimic these regulations for treating these diseases,” she explains. “So far we have uncovered some tantalizing clues on how SIRT1 behaves.”  

The funding will allow them to purchase day-to-day lab supplies, instruments, and reagents, but it has another crucial benefit. 

“Most importantly, a lot of the grant funding will go towards paying students for their research work,” Wang says.  “This is so important because the students are the ones doing the work in the lab and making the discoveries, and being able to compensate them for their work could slightly alleviate their financial stress, which means that they can focus more on research and classes.”  

“Innovative STEM research leads to medical breakthroughs, new technologies, and modernized infrastructure, and we’re proud to support SJSU’s groundbreaking research with this funding,” said Reps. Khanna, Lofgren, Eshoo and Panetta in a joint statement. “These projects will boost our nation’s ability to compete in STEM fields in our 21st century economy, help discover cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Type II diabetes, and approach future scientific challenges more effectively.”

Keep up with the grants and research of San José State faculty.