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Zhang’s Vol Experience Launches Career Success

Fan Zhang.

It’s a mark of the department’s success when it can graduate students who not only join the nuclear industry but also get hired by another top nuclear engineering program to pursue a scholarly career.

Research Assistant Professor Fan Zhang graduated from the department with a PhD in 2019 and worked for Assistant Department Head for Undergraduate Studies and Service, Associate Professor, and Southern Company Faculty Fellow Jamie Coble to continue developing her research in cybersecurity of industrial control systems and instrumentation and control. In July 2021, she joined Georgia Tech as an assistant professor.

During her time at UT, Zhang developed cyber-physical testbeds using simulators and physical components to investigate different areas of cybersecurity, including network architecture, authentication, different cyber-attack scenarios, cyber-attack detection methods, and risk assessment strategies. Her other research areas included systems modeling and simulation, online monitoring, fault detection, and diagnostics using statistical models and machine learning methods.

“Since Fan joined my research team in fall 2016, she has shown herself to be incredibly motivated, innovative, and collaborative,” said Coble. “She was an outstanding member of our research team for five years, and she will be sorely missed! Georgia Tech is very lucky to have attracted her to their faculty. I’m very excited to watch her career and research trajectory.”

Zhang received the 2021 Ted Quinn Early Career Award from the American Nuclear Society based on her outstanding achievements and dedication to the nuclear industry. This includes her development of patent-pending research, which is helping to enable the production of a minimum viable product for a proposed cybersecurity device. The pending patent received a Technology Maturation Grant from UT Research Foundation and has a research license agreement with startup company Sentinel Devices LLC.

Zhang’s area of research has attracted global attention from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), for whom she has presented findings of her research on the global concern of cybersecurity for nuclear facilities. She initiated the department’s involvement in an IAEA Coordinated Research Programme (CRP) on “Enhancing Computer Security Incident Analysis at Nuclear Facilities,” the largest CRP to-date at the IAEA with participation from over 20 institutions in 13 countries worldwide.

In addition to her research accomplishments, Zhang has contributed greatly to the department and the UT community. In March 2020, when COVID-19 caused mask shortages in local hospitals, she joined the East TN Chinese/ Chinese American Care group (established for COVID-19 help) to raise funds and arrange for PPE purchases and deliveries in the East Tennessee area. They managed to donate 30,000 pieces of PPE to local hospitals, police stations, homeless shelters, senior living facilities, and restaurants and have raised more than $12,000 for the Knox County COVID-19 response fund.

“The department and the whole campus have nourished me and helped me in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion,” she said. “UTNE has been my home for the past five years, and I’ve been able to grow and thrive there thanks to the environment and people inside. I’ll forever carry the Volunteer spirit with me, and I will pass on all the good things I learned here to future students. Go Vols!