URI doctoral student receives prestigious award from Chinese government

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First URI student to ever receive the award

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 1, 2015 – Zhen Ni, a doctoral student at the University of Rhode Island, has been awarded the 2014 Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Students Abroad.


Since 2003, the Chinese government has annually recognized up to 500 Chinese doctoral students studying around the world who exhibit academic and research excellence. Ni is the first URI student to receive the award, which includes a $6,000 prize and a certificate from the China Scholarship Council.

Zhang Qiyue, consul general of the People’s Republic of China, presented the award at a ceremony in New York City on April 17.


Ni, who grew up in China and earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering at URI in 2012, is advised by URI Associate Professor Haibo He, the Robert Haas Endowed Professor of Electrical Engineering, whose reputation in China attracted Ni to the University.


“It is a great honor to be selected for this award and be recognized for my work,” said Ni, who noted that the application process is quite rigorous and includes two rounds of peer review in the U.S. and China. “It is also a great motivation to continue to work hard at my research.”


Ni’s research focuses on the growing discipline of computational intelligence, which uses computer models to mimic how the human brain thinks. He aims to apply this technology to the development of a smart power grid that can make decisions about the flow of electricity and restore power intelligently and more efficiently.


“We are proposing a brand new framework based on adaptive dynamic programming that will enable the electric power system to operate in an optimized, secure and reliable way,” Ni said.


The new computational intelligence techniques Ni and Professor He are developing can be applied to a wide range of complex systems, such as the power grid, industrial controls, human-robot interactions, cognitive radio networks and smart cities.


Funding for Ni’s research comes from the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Army Research Office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Ni and He are working on the fundamental principles of computational intelligence research so it can be applied to such projects as Rhode Island’s offshore wind farm.


When Ni completes his doctorate later this year, he hopes to find an academic job at a university somewhere around the world where he can continue his research and teach graduate and undergraduate students.


Pictured above

Zhen Ni, URI doctoral student, receives the Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Students Abroad from China’s Consul General Zhang Qiyue. (Photo courtesy of Haibo He.)