URI electrical engineering associate professor wins young researcher award from Navy

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Tao Wei (front right), associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of Rhode Island, with his students. Photo courtesy of Tao Wei.

KINGSTON, R.I., July 27, 2017—Tao Wei, an associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of Rhode Island, has won a Young Investigator Program award from the Office of Naval Research.

Wei is the first recipient of the award in URI’s history.

Started in 1985, the award is one of the nation’s oldest and most selective scientific research advancement programs. Its purpose is to fund early-career academic researchers—called investigators—whose work shows promise for supporting the Department of Defense, while also supporting their professional development.

For 32 years, the program has attracted the highest-quality researchers in academia. It remains fiercely competitive. Wei, a native of Nanjing, China, who now lives in Kingston, was among 34 scientists selected from over 360 applicants, based on past performance, technical merit, the potential for scientific breakthrough and long-term university commitment.

The three-year grant provides up to $170,000 every year for a total of $510,000. Wei will use the award for his project, “Sub-Terahertz-Range-Interrogated Fiber-Optic Systems for Distributed Sensing Applications.”

Wei is an expert on optoelectronic devices with a focus on low-cost, low-power sensing devices for many different applications. His research can be used to provide sensing capabilities for self-driving cars, robotics, smart cities and wearable devices that improve the quality of life.

The recipient of more than $2 million in research grants from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Navy and state of Rhode Island in the past five years, Wei also supports outreach activities to educate local K-12 students about electrical engineering and careers in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Wei received his undergraduate degree from Nanjing Tech University in China and his Ph.D. from Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Mo.

“I am deeply honored to receive this award and am thankful to my colleagues at the Department of Electrical, Computer and Biomedical Engineering, as well as the College of Engineering, for providing an excellent environment, the resources and the guidance for success,” says Wei. “I look forward to continuing my research at URI.”

For more details about the award, visit