Grants fund projects that will tackle 'Grand Challenges'

December 22, 2010

TEMPE, Ariz. - Seven projects responding to the nation's Grand Challenges for Engineering will get support from a program launched by Deirdre Meldrum, dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University.

Meldrum announced Grand Challenges Research Seed Funding grants of approximately $100,000 each to several ASU engineering faculty members. They will lead research to answer the call of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) for technological progress needed to improve the quality of life in the 21st century.

The research teams will pursue advances in technologies and systems being used in pursuits to improve human health, protect the environment, improve global and national security, develop renewable energy sources, provide safer recycling of electronics waste and respond to the needs of technology-based industries for advanced workforce education.

The seed funding program is an outgrowth of efforts led by Meldrum in recent years to align engineering research and education programs in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering with goals set by the NAE's Grand Challenges initiative.

The initiative encourages engineers to focus their work on projects that seek the technological solutions necessary to meet the most pressing societal needs on a global scale.

In support of the effort, ASU organized and presented a regional Grand Challenges Summit on behalf of the NAE earlier this year. Meldrum and others in ASU's engineering schools are also working with the academy's Frontiers in Engineering Education program to spark innovation in teaching and learning methods.

Each of the projects being funded through Meldrum's program has a long-range target of earning support for development of major research centers focused on the NAE's Grand Challenges.

"It's critical that we seed interdisciplinary teams that can lay the groundwork for establishing large centers designed to find solutions to the world's biggest problems," Meldrum said. "We've awarded these grants to strong research teams that hold promise for meeting these challenges."

Meldrum's funding awards will support these projects:

National Center on Wireless Biosensors for Priority Global Health Conditions

Led by Nongjian Tao, professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and energy Engineering and director of the Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors in the Biodesign Institute at ASU, and Andreas Spanias, a professor in the School of Electrical, Computing and Energy Engineering and director of the Center for Sensor Signals and Information Processing

The project will explore, develop and test wireless biosensors and algorithms for application in personalized medicine and mobile medical care.

Tao and Spanias intend for the work to lead to development of a regional center for research in biosensor hardware and signal and information processing technologies.

Advances in biosensors will enable more accurate and rapid medical diagnosis that can be applied to meeting many kinds of urgent health care needs around the world.

The team also will develop education and training methods to ensure technologists learn to use the next generations of biosensors effectively.

Cooperative Neural Control of Real and Virtual Devices

Led by Christopher Buneo, assistant professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering

The project involves development of the Center for Cooperative Neural Systems to focus on human-machine and human-human interactions using next-generation brain-machine interface technologies.

The aim is to create systems that enable two or more individuals to cooperate in controlling multiple devices using their recorded brain signals and multiple forms of feedback.

Such systems can be applied to both health care and national security needs. They can be adapted to enhance and improve physical therapy and physical rehabilitation methods, and for use in controlling neural prosthetic devices.

For national security uses, brain-machine interface systems could enable military personnel to collaborate with robotic devices or other autonomous vehicles, both on and off the battlefield.

The project will include ethical analysis of the research to foster discussion and debate about the social impacts of employing brain-machine interface technology.

Consortium for Emerging Technologies, Military Operations, and National Security

Led by Braden Allenby, professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

The project will involve assessing the implications of emerging technologies for military and national security applications - for example, microwave weapons, robots, cyborgs and physically performance-enhanced soldiers - and exploring the potential social, cultural and political ramifications of employing these technologies.

Allenby will seek to develop a framework for effectively analyzing such impacts and to provide a reliable basis for public policy decisions to guide the use of such technologies.

Center for Integrated Sub-mm Environmental and Molecular Sensors

Led by Bertan Bakkaloglu, associate professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering

The goal is to develop portable sensors able to detect small amounts of biological materials, chemicals, or bacteria in test samples from different sources, such as human body, environment, or atmosphere using Terahertz wavelength radiation.

Such sensors could be employed for health care, in the chemical industry, for national defense and security, and as a valuable tool in scientific research.

The work also promises to lead to a new industry based on the commercialization of Terahertz technologies for close-proximity sensors and stand-off imagers.

These types of sensors can be used in medical diagnostics, biomedical imaging, and detection of explosives and biologically hazardous materials.

Advanced Materials and Processes for CO2 Capture and Solar Biofuels Production

Led by David Nielsen, assistant professor in the School for the Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy

Nielsen's project will seek to find ways of better controlling air-polluting carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants and using the emissions in a process to produce biofuels using photosynthetic microorganisms - in this case algae.

It will involve making advances in the processes for separating carbon dioxide from other gases, capturing it, and converting it into a form that's useful in generating fuels from biomass.

The works holds potential to improve environmental protection and enhance sources of renewable energy.

Integrated engineering and policy solutions for sustainable end-of-life electronics

Led by Eric Williams, assistant professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, and the School of Sustainability

The project seeks environmentally and economically sustainable ways to deal with the world's growing avalanche of electronics waste (or e-waste) - old computers and other electronic devices.

Many current recycling practices cause environmental damage when toxic materials from electronics components are discarded and find their way into water sources and soils. There are also concerns about threats to security when data remains on old computer hard drives.

Williams is exploring ways to promote safer recycling methods without losing the economic benefit of the jobs - especially ones in less affluent countries - that are provided by the recycling industry.

A Global Nanotechnology Education Collaboratory - A New Frontier for Meeting the 21st Century Grand Challenge Workforce Needs

Led by Vincent Pizziconi, associate professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, and B.L. Ramakrishna, associate professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy

The goal is to create an Arizona Nanotechnology Education Collaboratory - called AzNanoTEC - to enhance education in science, technology, engineering and math in middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities in the state.

The project aims to attract more students to careers in engineering and science. It addresses the need to provide a growing workforce with the advanced knowledge of nanotechnology necessary to meet many of the national and global NAE Grand Challenges.

AZNanoTEC will team education researchers in a variety of fields of expertise, including ASU engineering faculty along with teachers from Phoenix Community College and Arizona Western Community College, and SanTan Junior High School and Basha High School in the Chandler Unified School District.

Once established, the AzNanoTEC team will pursue a long-term goal to create a Global Nanotechnology Education Collaboratory (GNanoTEC) involving international partnerships with educators in Taiwan and other countries to focus on the global educational needs of countries facing similar challenges.

Arizona State University

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