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Almost two years ago, UConn launched a comprehensive process to develop a new academic vision and identify initiatives that will enable the University to enhance excellence in research and education. As you recall, our academic plan pursues excellence in five fundamental areas: undergraduate education, graduate study, teaching, engagement and research.
We are pleased to announce the first major financial awards in support of this path to excellence.
In order to grow our research and teaching capabilities, we must invest in our future. Taken together, the awards listed below – totaling almost $10 million – represent a milestone in our continuing efforts to achieve the academic goals we have set for the University. These grants will support research across a wide variety of disciplines and departments – the humanities, social sciences, sciences, and professional schools and colleges.
We extend our gratitude to all faculty who submitted applications, those who served on review panels, and to the nearly 300 faculty who participated in the planning process that was the primary inspiration for these investments. Our goals will always reflect the tremendous talents and ideas of the people who make UConn such a wonderful place for innovation and discovery.
Susan Herbst and Mun Choi
Four grants of nearly $1 million were awarded. The first grant will support a new Institute for Brain and Cognitive Science, proposed by co-principal investigators Gerald Altmann and Joseph LoTurco. The Institute will serve as a beacon for research across the brain and cognitive sciences at UConn and beyond, promoting and supporting the interdisciplinary science of the mind and its instantiation in biological and artificial systems.
The second grant, awarded to Professors Marc Lalande, Brent Gravely, and Michael O’Neill, will support the Center for Genome Innovation (CGI), enabling us to expand genomics technological platforms and create a sophisticated computational data analysis capability to support researchers and students across the UConn community.
Led by Professors Michael Lynch of the Department of Philosophy and Brendan Kane of the Department of History, a third grant will fund the Humanities Institute’s Public Discourse Project (PDP), enabling UConn to sponsor an international grant competition, host a series of workshops and conferences, expand the Institute’s current Fellowship Program, and create a dynamic digital interface for the presentation of innovative research.
The last grant awarded at this financial level will fund the new Connecticut Cybersecurity Center (C3), building upon existing strengths in engineering and computer sciences. This innovative project, led by Professors Laurent Michel and John Chandy, will investigate, develop, promote, and nurture the best hardware and software-based security practices for defense and commercial application domains and, in particular, for emerging fields such as mobile device security.
Several faculty have been awarded grants up to $750,000 over the next three years, across several different academic areas. Professor Craig Nelson and his colleagues will further enhance UConn’s reputation in Single Cell Biology. Joining an external partner, this creative team will work on the construction of a complete cell lineage map of mouse embryogenesis from fertilization to birth. This rare sponsored research opportunity with Fluidigm Corporation is one of only five to ten projects funded in the world. Another grant was awarded to Professors Holly Fitch and Joe LoTurco, who proposed the creation of a Murine (Mouse) Behavioral Neurogenetics Facility to screen genetically modified mice. This facility will promote interdisciplinary projects across campuses. Such facilities exist at many top universities, reflecting the proliferation of new gene-editing methods and engineered mouse preparations at once-inconceivable rates. Richard McAvoy, Xiusheng Yang, and Jeffrey McCutcheon from the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources were funded to build a Smart Resource Grid. This one-of-a-kind facility will enable the development and demonstration of new technologies to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges associated with food security, water conservation, and alternative energy resources.
Several research proposals were funded at a level of approximately $300,000, and include faculty from the Neag School of Education, Psychology, Haskins Lab, and the Schools of Medicine and Pharmacy. Devin Kearns, Michael Coyne, and Jay Rueckl were awarded a grant to develop two theoretically-different reading interventions for elementary-age children with developmental dyslexia (DD). They will test the efficacy of these interventions in improving the reading achievement of children with DD, and then examine the neurobiological factors and mechanisms that relate to treatment response and resistance. This project will further enhance UConn’s reputation for conducting applied neuropsychological research to solve important educational problems. Xiuling Lu and colleagues from the School of Pharmacy and Medicine were funded to develop a modular polymer-based nanocarrier platform for effective delivery of potent chemotherapeutic agents based upon precise understanding of the relationship between the physical characteristics and structure of various polymer nano carrier systems and the efficacy/safety of delivered drugs.
Teaching and Engagement Investments
We are also investing almost over $700,000 in additional support for teaching excellence, enabling more faculty to become even better teachers. Two years ago, we formed our new Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL). New academic plan funding for CETL will enable UConn to offer higher levels of assistance to improve teaching through innovation and collaboration. Under the direction of Dr. Peter Diplock, we will also offer financial incentives for teaching and learning innovation, faculty learning communities, as well as discussions of pertinent and provocative scholarly works. These funds will offer seminars for faculty and teaching assistants, as well as access to a network of our exemplary professors, who have agreed to serve as mentors.
During the past decade, UConn has made impressive strides in public engagement in the form of engaged scholarship, service-learning courses and experiences, and mature community partnerships. Additional funding will enable the Office of Public Engagement and its Director, Dr. Carol Polifroni, to develop additional outreach/engagement programs and support engaged and translational scholarship. This funding will continue our support for our UConn Cities Collaborative project that serves the public good with relevant, responsible and reciprocal programs.
Investments in Research Technology
The University reviewed proposals to purchase equipment that will enhance teaching and research, attract top-tier faculty from across the country, and allow UConn to develop new knowledge for the state, nation, and the world.
Dr. David Goldhamer, of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, was awarded a grant to purchase the IVIS SpectrumCT for small animal live imaging. Wide faculty interest across schools, colleges, and departments will utilize this state-of-the-art, stand-alone equipment that combines capabilities for quantitative 3-D optical tomography, X-Ray and microCT. Drs. Xinnian Chen and Dr. Jeff Kinsella-Shaw were funded to purchase virtual cadaver dissection tables for each anatomy laboratory, allowing students to interact with life-size human anatomy by using a virtual knife to cut away layers of the human body at any angle, rotate the body in any direction, and isolate structures. UConn’s new Brain Imaging Research Center will be expanded through an equipment grant to purchase a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) device and two electroencephalograms (EEG). TMS is a safe noninvasive technology that induces a temporary modification of electrical activity in the brain, offering a new way of testing models of human neural function. EEG allows researchers to observe changes in neural activity in real time, over millisecond timescales. Principal investigator Dr. Jay Rueckl and co-principal investigators Drs. Peter Molfese, Emily Myers, and Erika Skoe will lead this initiative. Drs. Dan Schwartz, Xudong Yao and Spencer Nyholm will develop a proteomics core for the study of the complete set of proteins in an organism to gain important insights between the link between the genome and physiology.
Additive manufacturing (AM), a process used to construct 3D parts layer-by-layer directly from digital models, has been identified as having the potential to overcome various fundamental limitations in traditional manufacturing. Dr. Xu Chen will work with Drs. Rainer Hebert and Anson Ma to develop an open-source powder bed fusion additive manufacturing machine capable of fabricating multiple materials, such as metals, polymers, and ceramics.
Drs. Michael Mundrane, Sanguthevar Rajasekaran, Rampi Ramprasad, Yong-Jun Shin and others will develop high performance computing infrastructure to promote research in genomics, materials, digital media and other disciplines requiring high-bandwidth computational resources.
The University will also support the Institute for Systems Genomics and Center for Genome Innovation’s proposal to integrate current facilities and infrastructure to improve sequencing and computational capabilities in genetics, genomics, and personalized medicine. This purchase is linked with a tier-one grant, and Dr. Marc Lalande will lead a team composed of Drs. Rachel O’Neill, Ion Moraru, Jill Wegrzyn, Brenton Graveley and Michael O’Neill.