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New Faculty Projects Will Advance Academic Plan

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The University is investing in a slate of new initiatives to enhance research and education, consistent with its Academic Vision.

The University is investing in a slate of new initiatives designed to enhance research and education, consistent with the goals outlined in its academic plan.

Over a three-year period, the 15 grants awarded this year will support $3 million in research across a wide variety of disciplines and departments – fine arts, human rights and diversity, health and wellness, sustainability and resilience, genomics and personalized medicine, and advanced materials and manufacturing. In some cases, the projects are leveraging the funding with grants from outside sources.

UConn launched its process to fund proposals under the Academic Vision almost three years ago, and to date has funded 18 projects totaling $10 million.

Mun Choi, University provost, said this year’s proposals for new projects were of exceptional quality, depth, and breadth. “These projects will support growth in research and scholarship, undergraduate education, graduate education, teaching effectiveness, and public engagement.”

Research

UConn will establish an Institute of Biological Risk to understand and mitigate emerging threats to agriculture, natural resources, human health, and the economy. Climate change, vector-borne disease, and invasive species are reducing the sustainability and resilience of ecological and social systems across Connecticut and the world. The Institute will build on UConn’s internationally recognized strengths in global change biology, and by concurrently developing bridges between UConn and Connecticut’s government, businesses, and non-profit organizations. Researchers include Mark Urban, Chris Elphick, Gene Likens, and Carl Schlichting (all Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) and Carol Auer (Plant Science).

Professors Inge-Marie Eigsti (Psychology), Stormy Chamberlain (UConn Health), and Louise Kalsner, will advance research and scholarship on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is associated with rare variants in many different genes. The team will examine missense variants in ASD candidate genes, specifically focusing on the TSC2 gene, by combining comprehensive deep phenotyping with detailed genetic analyses of patient populations from three ASD programs – Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, UConn Department of Psychology, and Hospital for Special Care.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers seek to advance respect for human rights within the business sector by integrating academic theory and research, classroom teaching and learning, and community engagement and dialogue through the Business and Human Rights Engaged Research Project. A collaboration between the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, the Human Rights Institute, and the School of Business, this project aims to develop better tools for assessing how businesses are performing on key social and environmental indicators, define government’s role in creating an environment where businesses can have positive human rights impacts, and identify ways of empowering stakeholders in their efforts to seek remedy for harms resulting from business activity. Human Rights Institute researchers Glenn Mitoma (Neag School of Education) and Molly Land (UConn Law), and Stephen Park (School of Business), will lead the project.

Mechanical engineering professor George Lykotrafitis and UConn Health’s Dr. Biree Andemariam will work to develop novel tools to treat vaso-occlusive pain in Sickle Cell Disease through research to develop treatments for the intermittent blockages that cause the pain. There is currently no treatment for the severe episodes of widespread bodily pain endured by millions worldwide living with sickle cell disease, including more than 100,000 Americans. The team plans to develop a simple personal device that can accurately predict the risk of blood cell blockage, and to identify drug therapies potentially capable of treating them.

A new Collaboratory on School and Child Health is designed to facilitate innovative connections across research, policy, and practice arenas relevant to school and child health. Professors Sandra Chafouleas (Neag School of Education) and E. Carol Polifroni (School of Nursing) will lead the collaborative, which aims to function as a resource to external partners engaged in efforts that inform healthy, safe, supportive, and engaging environments for all children.

Professors Steven Suib (Chemistry) and Rampi Ramprasad (Materials Science and Engineering) will pursue Next-Generation Materials Discovery, which promises to produce materials for a variety of applications, such as extreme environments, polymer brush materials, and highly selective protein nanoparticle systems. Various interlinking aspects of this interdisciplinary effort involve control of electron transfer, enhanced catalytic activity, and high-performance materials.

Professors George Bollas (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering), Krishna Pattipati (Electrical and Computer Engineering), Parasara Duggirala (Computer Science and Engineering), and Ming-Hui Chen (Statistics) will lead the Bayesian Design of Tests for Fault Detection and Isolation in Complex Systems project. This project aims to seed interdisciplinary and collaborative work on active methods for hard-to-detect faults in complex systems generating large amounts of heterogeneous data. In collaboration with United Technologies Aerospace Systems and with applications inspired by the aerospace industry, the investigators’ aim is to enable the cost-effective and safe operation of modern cyber-physical systems, such as transportation, commercial buildings, manufacturing, energy systems, and emergency response systems, all of which are critical to Connecticut’s industrial base.

Teaching and Engagement

In response to the increased national need for certified genetic counselors, Marc Lalande (Genetics and Genome Sciences), Judy Brown (Allied Health Sciences), and Ginger Nichols (Genetics and Genome Sciences) will establish a new interdisciplinary and accredited Professional Science Master’s Degree Program in Genetics, Genomics, and Counseling. This Genetic Counseling program will be launched under the auspices of the Institute for Systems Genomics, its affiliated UConn departments and teaching hospitals, and The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine. The program would be the first at a New England public institution, and the first in Connecticut.

Professors Mark Boyer (Geography), Maria Chrysochoou (Civil and Environmental Engineering), and John Volin (Natural Resources and the Environment), Sylvain De Guise (Sea Grant), and Chet Arnold, Juliana Barrett, and Bruce Hyde (Extension) will create the UConn Climate Corps. This undergraduate program will require students to assist Connecticut communities in adapting to climate change. During the practicum, student teams will work closely with faculty mentors to directly engage town officials; the students will collect and present information that will be used by towns as they plan for climate resiliency. The Climate Corps will provide service learning experience and workforce development for high-achieving students in environmentally related programs, including the Environmental Sciences, Environmental Studies, and Environmental Engineering programs.

The School of Fine Arts will launch the Ensemble-in-Residence program to designate one of the major Music Department ensembles – for example, Concert Choir, Earthtones, Jazz Ensemble, University Orchestra – as “in residence” annually at each regional campus. The ensemble will perform  at the regional campus, provide supplementary programming, such as pre-concert lectures and open rehearsals, and participate in meals with regional campus students. The program will also include outreach to area high schools and side-by-side concerts featuring the UConn ensembles playing with high school groups. The effort is led by Dean Anne D’Alleva (School of Fine Arts), Professors Eric Rice (Music) and Frank Mack (Dramatic Arts), and regional campus directors Terrence Cheng (Stamford), Joseph Madaus (Avery Point), Michael Menard (Hartford), and Bill Pizzutto (Waterbury).

The Counterproof Press Initiative, led by Professors Laurie Sloan (Art and Art History) and Penelope Pelizzon (English), is a collaborative interdisciplinary venture between the School of Fine Arts’ Department of Art and Art History programs in Printmaking, Illustration/Animation and Graphic Design, and the English Department’s Creative Writing Program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The press will facilitate studio projects in which students, faculty, and visiting artists and scholars from diverse fields work together to produce limited edition art objects, artifacts, and publications. The Academic Plan grant will enable Counterproof Press to grow into an artist’s press with a strong regional and national presence.

Research Technology

The University also approved several proposals to purchase equipment that will enhance teaching and research, and attract top-tier faculty from across the country.

In order to advance capabilities in additive manufacturing, the University will fund the purchase of a customized inkjet-printing platform for flexible electronics. Flexible electronics have numerous applications, ranging from structural health monitoring of aerospace and automotive structures to human health monitoring, such as “smart” clothing and bandages. The equipment will be used by a variety of engineering professors, including Anson Ma and Yu Lei (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering), Ki Chon (Biomedical Engineering), Bahram Javidi and Faquir Jain (Electrical and Computer Engineering), and Julian Norato (Mechanical Engineering).

Assistant professor Thanh Nguyen (Mechanical Engineering) has partnered with Dr. Cato Laurencin, a recent recipient of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, to develop a fully biodegradable pressure tactile-sensor integrated with a 3-D printed graft to create a bionic cartilage tissue. The bionic graft can serve as a replacement tissue to repair cartilage defects, while measuring and mapping out mechanical forces imparted on repaired cartilages inside knee joints. The project received funding to acquire equipment.

Professors Pu-Xian Gao and Mark Aindow (Materials Science and Engineering) were awarded a grant to purchase a state-of-the-art liquid cell (S)TEM sample holder for investigating atomic structure evolution of nanomaterials in liquid environment. With the sample holder, the team intends to combine with the state-of-the-art electron microscopes in the FEI Center of Excellence for Electron Microscopy to tackle emerging nanomaterials research problems that are closely associated with energy, environmental, and biomedical applications.

A faculty team in materials science received funding to utilize the high performance computing infrastructure for modeling metals and alloys employed in aerospace applications. The computational resources will be primarily used in the development of a new generation of additively manufacturable aluminum alloys, and in understanding surface properties and defects in titanium alloys and nickel based superalloys. Professors Pamir Alpay and Rainer Hebert (Materials Science and Engineering), and Jason Hancock (Physics) were awarded the funding.

By: Kristen Cole | Story courtesy of UConn Today


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