Rising Stars

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

UC Santa Barbara’s Chunfeng Cui and Hongwei Zhao are among roughly 70 women nationwide invited to participate in the 2019 Rising Stars in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) Workshop hosted by the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Previously held at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, and UC Berkeley, the Rising Stars of EECS seeks the brightest and most promising women in the field during the early stages of their academic careers.

“It will be a great opportunity to learn from the best in academia and connect with other up-and-coming women,” said Zhao, who defended her PhD in electrical and computer engineering (ECE) at UCSB in June 2019. 

The annual workshop unites women who are interested in pursuing academic careers in computer science, computer engineering, and electrical engineering. Participants will present their research, interact with faculty from top-tier universities, and receive advice for advancing their careers. 

“I could not be more grateful or happy to be invited,” said Cui, who is a postdoctoral researcher at UCSB for Zheng Zhang, a professor in the ECE Department. “I look forward to meeting my academic peers and sharing our experiences as female researchers.”

Cui received her PhD in computational mathematics with a specialization in numerical optimization for tensor data analysis from the Chinese Academy of the Sciences. Cui’s research spans two main areas: uncertainty quantification for electronic and photonic design automation; and tensor methods for machine learning. A tensor is a mathematical object that generalizes multi-dimensional data in the context of machine learning.  

Earlier this year, Cui was one of 32 women named 2019 Rising Stars in Computational and Data Sciences and invited to a workshop hosted by the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences. She met dozens of women at the workshop who provided invaluable advice,  

“It’s inspiring to see more and more independent, successful, and well-respected women in both academia and industry,” said Cui, who also received the 2018 Best Paper Award of IEEE Electrical Performance of Electronic Packaging and Systems (EPEPS). “Their existence lights my own path and gives me confidence that I can become whoever I want.”

Zhao will soon begin a postdoctoral research position at UCSB for her PhD advisor, Jonathan Klamkin, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. Prior to UCSB, Zhao received her master’s degree from the Institute of Semiconductors, Chinese Academy of Sciences and completed her undergraduate studies in electronics at Huazhong University of Science and Technology. 

"I am thrilled for Hongwei," said Klamkin, who specializes in integrated photonic technologies. "She was the first PhD student to join my current research group, and she set a high standard for those who followed. She has excelled in her academic career thus far. Participation in this workshop will provide her with an opportunity to showcase her talents and to learn from other leading academics."

Zhao’s research interests include silicon photonics with emerging materials, such as graphene and tin oxide, and compound semiconductor integrated circuits. Her current research focuses on Indium Phosphide (InP)-based photonic integrated circuits for free-space communications. 

“As I continue seeing better results in my research, the more interested, inspired, and committed I become,” said Zhao.  “I am excited to be part of a field where my work can make a difference in society by solving difficult problems through research.”

Tackling challenges in the world and mentoring students are two factors that push Cui to pursue a career as a professor. She offers this advice to other female engineering students. 

“You may face doubts and struggle with confidence, but you should always be proud of yourself,” said Cui. “Getting into UCSB’s College of Engineering shows you already possess the qualities of a great engineer. Get to know the excellent female faculty and staff at UCSB and use them for inspiration and affirmation. They’re proof that your work will be as outstanding as any man’s can be.”

Hongwei Zhao and Chunfeng Cui will participate in the 2019 Rising Stars in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science workshop.

Hongwei Zhao (left) and Chunfeng Cui (right) will participate in the 2019 Rising Stars in EECS workshop.