ICES is Fulbright Scholar’s first choice for postdoctoral research

Post doctoral researcher and Fulbright Scholar Yaniv Brick, on left, with Ali Yilmaz, an ICES professor from the UT Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

This April, Yaniv Brick received the phone call that confirmed he had been selected to receive a Fulbright Post-Doctoral Fellowship —a research award known for its high academic standards, promotion of cultural and academic exchange between the U.S. and other countries, and association with Nobel laureates.

Having just earned his doctorate in electrical engineering from Tel Aviv University, the competitive and prestigious yearlong scholarship was like a ticket to his choice of postdoctoral programs.

“It opened every door to me,” Brick said.

But Brick had already made up his mind. He had been accepted as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences a couple of months earlier, and that’s where he intended to go.

ICES’ interdisciplinary emphasis attracted Brick, and set the Institute apart from other programs that functioned within a single university department.

“Here at ICES you’re not only at a university that has one of the best electrical engineering departments, you’re not only at the university that has one the best computer science departments, you’re at the center that combines it all,” Brick said.

Brick started his postdoctoral position in October, working with ICES Professor Ali Yilmaz from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Yilmaz’s research interest in computational electromagnetics simultaneously spoke to Bricks’ prior experience and future goals.

While earning his master’s and doctoral degrees, Brick conducted both theoretical and experimental research in electromagnetic and underwater acoustic scattering—a topic with direct application in radar and sonar system development.

The theoretical work emphasized simplified scenarios, said Brick, a common practice in science that helps establish mathematical foundations. But by working with Yilmaz, Brick hopes to improve his understanding and capabilities of designing and implementing algorithms that account for the details present in the real world.

“Yilmaz is a unique combination of researcher who knows how to take complicated algorithms and make them applicable to realistic problems,” Brick said. “And to become the [computational] modeling person that I want to become requires learning how to solve realistic problems by correctly including the non-simplified details in the modelling and solution techniques.”

Yilmaz has applied his expertise in computational electromagnetics modeling to a variety of subjects. For example, he’s explored how radio waves—such as those emitted by cell phones-- interact with the human body by developing and using the AustinMan model. In addition, Yilmaz’s work on ‘specific microwave effect,’ a little-studied side effect of microwave heating that can unexpectedly alter material behavior, helped UT material scientists develop a new way to adhere photoelectric films to new substrates—an advancement that could lead to cheaper and more durable solar panels.

Brick says he’s interested in learning how to incorporate detail into his algorithms because it can help better capture the specifics of phenomena, while broadening the algorithm’s application from research to industry.

“You want to contribute not just to the academic world per se, you want to contribute in general,” Brick said. “And for someone to pick up your ideas and say they want to use them to design a new chip, or a tool for fracture detection, or radar or sonar, you need to be able to show that the algorithm is capable of solving real problems.”

As part of the Fulbright Scholarship requirements, Brick will return to Israel once his postdoctoral research is complete. He hopes to continue research as a professor, and teach the skills he’s learned at ICES to the Israeli research community.

“I know that from here I will be bringing back home something new that they don’t have [in Tel Aviv),” Brick said. “The areas I’m studying are really necessities that we don’t have in Israel, so I’m looking forward to picking it up here, bringing it back there, and sharing it with the community.”

In the meantime, Brick says he’s getting acclimated to the Austin community in and outside of ICES. Throughout the institute and the city Brick says a common thread exists: a sense of welcoming.

“Austin can really make someone feel wanted,” Brick said. “Whatever scholarship you have, being wanted in a place like this is priceless.”

Posted: Dec. 12, 2014