Amor Menezes wins NSF Career Award

UF MAE professor Amor Menezes has won a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. This is the foundation’s most prestigious award in support of 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.

Menezes received this honor for his work in the areas of modeling and control of biological systems. The proposal that won the award is titled “Enabling Functional Biological Programs.”

The award will enable the systematic development of techniques and tools to accomplish artificial biological regulation. These synthetic programs will control biological protein and molecule production, and will profoundly impact human health, climate targets, energy supplies, food security, agriculture, supply chain resilience, and national security.

Menezes explained that there are complex biological interactions at multiple structural and temporal scales, as well as nonlinearities, stochasticity, non-modularity, and measurement difficulties when organisms are alive. Consequently, synthetic programs often have unintended behaviors and limited functionality. To increase program functionality, this project will add new control programs that are external to the biology, resulting in a “cyber-biological system.” Output biological protein and molecule production will be regulated via external sensing, computation, and actuation.

“The research goal of this project is to further the state-of-the-art via a unique yet broadly applicable testbed of blood coagulation control,” Menezes said. “This will enable functional programs for mammalian systems that have multiple interacting cells, proteins, and small molecules, and that encompass multiple functions and timescales while subject to multiple disturbances.”

The project will address knowledge gaps in control, analysis, and diagnostics. Nonlinear control advances will apply to nonnegative systems beyond biology, such as manufacturing plants, thermodynamics, air traffic flow, multi-agent communication, network congestion, filtering, sampled data, and economics. Testbed experiments will drive integration.

“If successful, this project will be significant because it will directly facilitate the coming bioengineering revolution,” he said. “My long-term goal is to create, deploy, and validate new technologies to control biological system performance at scale, to realize the immense societal and economical promise of such systems.”

With the money from this award, Menezes also plans to raise awareness for the vast possibilities of biological control systems and to continue staying at the cutting edge of the field. One such effort is his coordination of a workshop, “Advances in Cybermedical Systems,” to be held at the 2024 American Control Conference. While there, Menezes will speak about controlling coagulation, and will highlight some of the work for which he won the CAREER Award. Further educational outreach for this project will involve adding blood clotting concepts to a popular game to stimulate bioengineering interest in youth, increase clotting knowledge, and facilitate diverse student interactions.

Overall, Menezes expressed tremendous gratitude for the award. “I am incredibly honored and humbled to receive this award,” he said. “I know that receiving it is really a reflection of the fantastic people around me who have been so very instrumental in my success, and I am truly grateful to them because my application would not have been awarded without them.”