Na Li, the Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Applied Mathematics at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), has received a 2019 Young Investigator Award from the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The award seeks to identify and support early-career academic scientists and engineers who show exceptional promise for doing creative research.

At SEAS, Li’s research explores learning, optimization, and control of multi-agent systems with applications in cyber-physical network systems, such as power and energy systems, green buildings, and smart connected communities. The goal of her research is to develop foundational theories and tools to explore and exploit real-world system structures that can lead to computationally efficient and distributed solutions, and apply them to improve systems operations and architecture.

The Young Investigator Award will fund Li’s research into developing a real-time, distributed decision-making algorithm to ensure high-performance operation of multi-agent systems such as underwater networks for oceanographic data collection, climate change monitoring, offshore exploration, pollution control and tracking, disaster prevention and tactical surveillance.

These systems are so challenging to control they often span multiple, uncertain environments with varying conditions and limited communication between agents. Not only will Li develop the theory and algorithms to address these challenges but she also plans to use swarm robots such as the kilobot developed by Radhika Nagpal, to test her results.

Li received the B.S. degree in Mathematics in 2007 from Zhejiang University in China and the Ph.D. degree in Control and Dynamical Systems in 2013 from California Institute of Technology. She then went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and did one-year postdoctoral research. Since 2014, she joined Harvard as an assistant professor.