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This year’s Reach for the Stars honorees really live up to the award name. They are tackling some huge problems and are conducting research that betters society and improves the possibilities of the human race.

MAE Assistant Professor Helen Huang is among this year’s awardees, which include physics professor Adrienne Dove and civil engineering professor Thomas Wahl.

The recipients were named during Founders’ Day. The award recognizes early career professionals with highly successful research and creative activity with a national or international impact. Aside from working on some huge challenges, this year’s awardees generated more than $8 million in sponsored research in the past five years from organizations such as NASA, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Common characteristics of the honorees are a deep-seated passion for their work, commitment to their students and a willingness to share their research in ways their peers and the general public can understand.

Helen J. Huang

In the few short years that Helen J. Huang has been at UCF, she has soared in her role as an assistant professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Not only has she received a prestigious $1.5 million research project, or R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health, but she is also a recipient of a recent National Science Foundation CAREER award. She established her BRaIN Lab,developed and taught some of the first UCF biomedical engineering graduate courses, recruited and mentored successful undergraduate and graduate students, and became highly engaged in her college, including serving on the College of Engineering and Computer Science Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Task Force.

As a UCF researcher, Huang focuses her studies on the neuromechanics of human locomotion and adaptation, or how the brain and muscles work together so people are able to walk and keep from falling.

She got interested in the field because she loves sports, especially ultimate frisbee, soccer and ping-pong.

“I enjoy being able to move about, explore the world, and play sports,” Huang says. “So, I think as a scientist and engineer, it’s natural to want to study and understand how the brain, muscles and body work to make those fun activities happen.”

Her goals include finding new approaches to predict falls before they happen, identifying the types of people more likely to fall, and creating personalized programs to improve people’s walking ability and balance.

To do this, she uses methods such as electroencephalography, or EEG, to record brain signals and track their changes during activities such as walking, slips and people’s attempts to regain balance. She also studies the potential of alternative exercises, such as recumbent stepping, for helping those who have difficulties walking.

This research is particularly important for the elderly, as more than 2.8 million older Americans visit emergency rooms for fall-related injuries each year.

“My ultimate goal is to help others preserve or regain their mobility, which in turn improves their quality of life,” Huang says.