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Round 3, Academic Plan Proposals

Almost four 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 know, $13 million was committed to fund 33 projects in Rounds 1 and 2, and it has been gratifying to see so many of these projects off to excellent starts. In some cases, funded AP projects have already leveraged sizable extramural awards, which is exactly what we had hoped for.

In our Round 3, we requested submissions for Level 1 ($300K), Level 2 ($150K), and Equipment, and 10 projects were selected for funding. Proposals for new projects were of exceptional quality, depth, and breadth, and we extend our gratitude to all faculty who submitted applications and to those who served on review panels. Taken together, the awards – totaling approximately $2.5 million – represent a milestone in our continuing efforts to achieve the academic goals we have set for the University. Over a three-year period, these grants will support research across a wide variety of disciplines and departments – fine arts, human rights & diversity, health & wellness, sustainability & resilience, genomics & personalized medicine and advanced materials & manufacturing. These projects will support the growth in research & scholarship, undergraduate education, graduate education, teaching effectiveness and public engagement.

Round 3 academic plan proposals were accepted through January, 2017, and a full list is below.


Title: 3D-printed Immunoarrays for Protein-based Diagnostics of Metastatic Cancer
PI: James Rusling Co-Director: Anson Ma
Goal of Academic Plan: Research and Scholarship

Summary: A new research program in 3D printed medical devices for cancer detection will be a component of UConn’s new NSF I/UCRC Additive Manufacturing Center. The project is a collaboration with UConn Health and U. Cal. San Diego. A specific goal is to develop an automated, miniature device to detect the spread of cancer (metastasis), which accounts for 90% of all cancer deaths. Low cost 3D-printing will enable rapid development of arrays to measure metastasis-indicating proteins at very low cost. Automation features a battery-powered control system and a camera for detection.


Title: Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Core for Optogenetic and Brain Computer Interface Treatments
Heather Read Co-Directors: Yongku Cho, Monty Escabi, Edward Large, Alexander Jackson,  John Salamone, Sabato Santaniello, Ian Stevenson, and Harvey Swadlow
Goal of Academic Plan:
Research and Scholarship

Summary: The new “Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Core for Optogenetic and Brain Computer Interface Treatments” aims to make the University of Connecticut a world leader in interdisciplinary neuroscience.  We bring together collaborative research teams across fields of expertise in Engineering and Science in order to build new technologies, advance basic neuroscience research and to address major health concerns.   Our long-term vision is to develop robust brain computer interface systems for health applications including remediation of deafness, tinnitus, epilepsy, sleep disorders and tremors in Parkinson’s disease.


Title: Transportation Technology Society
: Norman Garrick Co-Director: Carol Atkinson-Palombo
Goal of Academic Plan: Research and Scholarship

Summary: Transportation technologies allowing for self-driving vehicles are emerging rapidly, sparking considerable speculation about how they may revolutionize society. Academic inquiry on this topic is thus far limited, focusing primarily on technological aspects such as vehicle sensors. This project will bring together scholars from a wide range of academic disciplines across the University of Connecticut to deliberate and evaluate the complex interactions between self-driving cars and society.  Academic disciplines involved in the project include Geography, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Environmental Psychology, Law, Sociology, and Communications. The structured scientific inquiry that will be enabled by this interdisciplinary examination of issues surrounding the adoption of this technology will provide a valuable counterpoint to the public discourse currently emerging that is dominated by a disorienting combination of speculation, utopianism, and fear mongering. Structured and rigorous consideration of the costs and benefits that may result from various scenarios will ideally help society to carefully adopt this technology in order to minimize unintended (and unwanted) legal, social, economic, and environmental consequences.


Title: The UConn Microbiome Initiative
PI: Joerg Graf Co-Directors: Nichole Broderick and Peter Gogarten
Goal of Academic Plan: Research and ScholarshipSummary: A microbiome is the community of microbes living in the human gut, along plant roots, inside an insect or any other environment imaginable. At the University of Connecticut, we have a nationally recognized strength in microbiome research (http://cmsee.uconn.edu/) and we want to elevate the research and training in this important area by developing workshops for undergraduates, hosting an annual symposium and recruiting talented graduate students. This initiative, led by Professors Joerg Graf, Peter Gogarten and Nichole Broderick from MCB, will promote microbiome research at UConn and enable us to compete nationally for training grants.


Title: Software-Defined Smart Grid
PI: Peng Zhang Co-Directors: Song Han and Peter Luh
Goal of Academic Plan: Research and Scholarship

Summary: This project aims to pioneer a strategic area of Software-Defined Smart Grid (SDSG), the future gigabit infrastructure integrating Software-Defined-Networking (SDN), real-time edge computing and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to enable a scalable, self-configurable, plug-and-play next generation smart grid capable of coordinating the flows of power/data and cultivating America’s smart communities and smart cities. SDSG will provide groundbreaking technologies to cost-effectively modernize America’s power and energy infrastructures which cannot be achieved by existing technologies.

This pilot project will enable future innovations for different layers of grid infrastructures that will potentially transform today’s power grids into tomorrow’s autonomic networks and flexible services towards self-configuration, self-healing, self-optimization, and self-protection against grid changes, PV injections, faults, and disastrous events. The project will lead to compelling results to obtain significant funding from federal agencies and establish UConn’s international leadership in research and education on smart and connected communities, smart grid, cyber-security and critical infrastructure resilience.


Teaching and Engagement Investments

Title: AntU: How army ants and their guests can inspire synergy across science, fine arts, and the humanities
Janine Caira Co-Directors: Bruce Cohen, Anna Lindemann, and Chris Vials
Goal of Academic Plan:
Public Engagement

Summary: This collaborative project brings together faculty and staff in the Fine Arts, Humanities, Sciences, and the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History. It includes a series of innovative activities inspired by an NSF-funded project focused on a world-class collection of army ants and their associated insects and mites (i.e., guests). These activities—collectively referred to as AntU—are designed to inspire exploratory learning in coursework across disciplines, engage regional campuses in Storrs-based research, develop and present artistic work inspired by scientific content, expand public understanding of complex biological systems, and address issues of human migration using ant movements as a metaphor. AntU endeavors will include (1) two public exhibits, one of which will feature an interactive digital media element, (2) a set of creative writing essays and poems inspired by the biology of army ants and their guests, (3) puppetry activities including an exhibit of “The ant and the grasshopper,” a toy theatre workshop, and a “mANTsfield” parade, (4) an original live art-science theatrical performance entitled “The colony”, (5) a freshman year experience course aimed at providing students with the opportunity to explore the wonders of Natural History Collections, (6) a cooperative series of mechanical engineering student senior design projects aimed at simulating army ant raiding colony behavior (using large ants), (7) an installation of Colombian artist Raphael Gomezbarros’ work “Casa Tomada” which, using 1,000 large ant sculptures, addresses immigration and forced displacement, and (8) a Colloquium on transnational and diasporic movement. We are committed to developing the creativity and talent of our students, and promoting their intellectual inquiry across disciplines to engage the greater community in scientific and artistic endeavors. The ultimate goal of this project is to develop a model to inspire lasting strategies for integrative activities for broader impact elements of future UConn NSF proposals.


Title: Connecticut Program in Intraoperative Neuromonitoring
PI: Joseph LoTurco Co-Directors: Radmila Filipovic and Payam Andalib
Goal of Academic Plan: Graduate Education

Summary: The Department of Physiology and Neurobiology (PNB) will establish a one-year professional Masters program in Intraoperative Neuromonitoring (IONM).  This MS would be the first of its kind in the US, and will be the centerpiece of a new center for innovation in IONM education. The IONM education center at UConn will coordinate the MS program, develop an online certificate, and run workshops for continuing education in IONM.  Through these efforts, UConn will become a national leader in providing a standardized rigorous education to training practitioners in the profession of Intraoperative Neuromonitoring.


Title: Student Engagement in a Living Laboratory for Sustainable Agriculture
PI: Richard Parnas Co-Directors: Ali Bazzi, Gerald Berkowtz, Julia Cartabiano, Phoebe Godfrey, Karl Guillard, Andrew Jolly-Ballantine, Julia Valla, Kristina Wagstrom, and Julia Yakovich
Goal of Academic Plan: Undergraduate Education

Summary: A critical global priority is developing sustainable and equitable food systems that mitigate environmental destruction and climate change by working within water use, land use, energy use and ecosystem service constraints. We proposed an interdisciplinary collaboration of faculty, students and staff from Engineering, CAHNR, CLAS, IMS, Office of Public Engagement, Dining Services, First Year Programs, and the Spring Valley Student Farm. This project will create a living / learning laboratory at the UConn Spring Valley Student Farm for students to develop ideas for sustainable energy, water use management, crop nutrient and soil health management, unique living experiences, community outreach, and the social and environmental considerations of our food systems. Our goal is to provide experiential learning opportunities for students focused on the nexus of food production and environmental quality using Service Learning pedagogy to create a demonstration of sustainability capable of educating responsible global citizens. This project will implement a rural semester living experience, both solar photovoltaic and solar thermal energy systems to supply power and heat to greenhouse operations, an aquaponics system for state-of-the-art integrated fish and vegetable production, and many other projects to educate over 100 students each year in the intricacies of sustainable agriculture.


Investments in Research Technology

Title: Material Discovery for Novel Aerospace Applications: arc melting and single-crystal synthesis
Rainer Hebert Co-Directors: Seok-Woo Lee, Pamir Alpay, Mark Aindow, and Jeong-Ho Kim
Goal of Academic Plan
: Equipment (Investments in Research Technology)

Summary:  An arc-melter is used to fuse elemental metals into alloys with the help of an electric arc. The process of melting different metals into a new metal with improved properties dates back to the Bronze-Age and today’s modern society still relies on the same technology, especially for the most sophisticated metallic materials. UConn has embarked on a trajectory of advanced materials and manufacturing and with the proposed arc-melter, a full value chain will be established: strong capabilities exist in materials modeling, using ab-initio and materials genomics approaches as well as in characterizing materials. The arc-melter yields physical samples at sufficiently large sample sizes that new material chemistries can be computationally predicted, physically synthesized with the arc-melter, and then characterized with electron microscopy and with mechanical testing, including UConn’s new Gleeble system. As an enabling technology, the arc-melter will support existing industry partnerships, including the UTAS and PW Centers of Excellence and will be required for major funding initiatives and for new center activities, for example, the Center for Materials and Manufacturing Data. UConn’s new arc-melter will be manufactured in New Hampshire by Materials Research Furnaces (MRF) and will feature two major accessories—a vacuum casting option to produce small rods and a single-crystal growth kit. These and other accessories are geared toward producing samples for the most demanding applications, including in particular for turbine- and other high-temperature applications.


Title: Next Generation Analytical Ultracentrifuge at UCONN Storrs
James Cole
Goal of Academic Plan
: Equipment (Investments in Research Technology)

Summary: Analytical ultracentrifugation (AUC) is a broadly applicable, rigorous technique to characterize the size, shape, and interactions of molecules in solution. This information is used to define the properties of proteins, macromolecular assemblies, nanoparticles nanotubes, biopharmaceuticals and drug delivery systems. UCONN has been a leading center for AUC research and training since the 1960s. The quality of the data generated during AUC experiments is critically dependent on the capabilities of the optical detection systems used to monitor the molecules in real time as the sample is centrifuged. The new AUC enables rapid data collection at multiple detection wavelengths and will greatly increase the scope and power of this technology to analyze complex materials.  This capability will have broad impact on fundamental studies underway at UCONN in molecular biology, pharmaceutical research and material science and will enhance our ability to compete for external funding.