From 2014-2018 16 faculty projects received Innovation Awards.
$300,000 over two years
David Shean, Assistant Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering
Knut Christianson, Assistant Professor, Earth & Space Sciences
Michelle Koutnik, Research Assistant Professor, Earth & Space SciencesGlacier retreat is iconic evidence of climate change. Because glaciers are important perennial freshwater reservoirs, we must understand the effects of ice loss on our nation’s critical water and ecological resources to develop strategic management solutions. Gaining this understanding from existing, relatively short records is challenging due to the long response time of glaciers – decades pass before a glacier fully adjusts to a change in climate. We propose to precisely quantify the decadal evolution of glacier mass change for all glaciers in the western U.S. during the past 50-60 years. To accomplish this, we will use a big-data-driven approach to 1) develop automated, open-source, cloudbased workflows capable of processing historical aerial and satellite image archives, and 2) combine historical and contemporary satellite records to generate high-resolution, 3-D time series of glacier change. We will also use cutting-edge field measurement techniques (e.g., drones, laser scanners) at high-priority glaciers in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) to provide calibration and validation for satellite observations. Validated ice-flow models for these high-priority glaciers will characterize glacier sensitivity to past and projected climate forcing and other environmental controls. Our ultimate goal is to provide the datasets needed by the broader modeling and water resource management communities to improve future projections.
Building an Icy World: A New Tool for Understanding the Role of Sea Ice Algae in Polar Environments
$267,474 over two years
Jodi Young, Assistant Professor, Oceanography
The Arctic Ocean is experiencing rapid warming and record ice retreat. We have little understanding of how the new, emerging Arctic System will function in terms of environment, ecology and as an important economic and social resource. A critical factor in preparing for this new Arctic environment is to understand the complex interactions between ocean physics, chemistry and biology associated with the seasonal formation and retreat of sea ice. I am particularly interested in understanding how sea-ice algae influence the formation and melt of sea ice, and in turn, how temperature and salinity within the sea ice influence the nutritional quality of the algae. To understand these interactions, I propose to develop an artificial, laboratory-scale, sea-ice system that mimics the seasonal formation and melt of Arctic sea ice. Sea ice will be grown within an insulated 3m3 tank placed in a laboratory cold room with adjustable temperature (to mimic air temperature). Circulating seawater inoculated with naturally occurring Arctic sea-ice microbiota (including sea-ice algae, collected from the field) will be fed from a separate, temperature-controlled reservoir (to mimic circulating ocean currents). LED lights and wave paddles will recreate seasonal light and surface mixing conditions. Modular and adjustable sampling strategies and sensors will be included to measure ice formation, physical parameters (e.g. temperature and salinity), chemical parameters (e.g. O2, volatile gases) and biological parameters (e.g. fluorescence, community composition). By simulating the physical, chemical and biological components of sea-ice formation and melt in the Arctic, this will provide a novel, experimental system capable of testing future Arctic scenarios.
A rising tide of marine disease? Unraveling the dynamics of infection in a changing ocean
Explosions of marine disease are now a regular occurrence: urchins in the Caribbean, abalone in California, and sea stars of the west coast of North America have experienced recent epidemics resulting in mass mortality. Is this apparent uptick in infection real, or an artifact of improved observation and reporting? If oceans are experiencing a “rising tide” of marine disease, what kinds of outbreaks can we anticipate on the horizon? These questions are challenging to answer because few data exist that describe the historical state of ocean disease. Without these baseline data, it is difficult to evaluate whether contemporary disease outbreaks are accelerating in frequency or increasing in severity.
We propose to fill this gap in the historical record by “turning back the clock”, generating primary data on the dynamics of marine disease over long time profiles. We will accomplish this using a novel method pioneered by Chelsea Wood’s lab: parasitological dissection of liquid-preserved museum specimens. Natural history museums hold millions of preserved fish collected over the past century or centuries, and parasites that infected these fish in life are preserved alongside their hosts. We will reconstruct historical parasite assemblages of Puget Sound between 1880 and the present day by identifying and counting the parasites of these museum specimens, focusing on 10 fish species that span the Puget Sound food web.
By tracking change in the abundance of dozens of parasite species through time, we will generate the baseline data needed to evaluate whether Puget Sound is experiencing a “rising tide” of marine disease. We will also identify the parasite taxa that are the greatest beneficiaries of long-term change, and isolate the parasite and host traits associated with long term increases in parasite abundance, allowing us to predict where and when marine disease outbreaks are likely to arise in the future. Our approach will serve as a model for researchers working in other ecosystems, because parasitological dissection can be conducted on any liquid-preserved specimens, and millions of these specimens are held in natural history collections around the world. Our research will therefore facilitate work by other ecologists to anticipate disease threats in ecosystems beyond Puget Sound, including marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems.
Modulating complex natural behaviors in rodents with direct closed-loop control of neural systems
The mammalian brain is a remarkable organ comprised of vast networks of neurons, and the activity of these neurons underlies all sensations, actions, thoughts, memories and feelings. Despite the complexity of interactions between regions of the brain, most studies of neural processing have been constrained to greatly simplified, artificial behavioral paradigms and restricted to analysis of a small number of brain regions. However, many natural behaviors cannot be localized to any particular brain area—rather, they arise from coordinated interactions between multiple distinct parts of the brain. In this proposal, we will study mice engaged in a navigation and sensory-guided foraging task in a large open arena, a self-guided behavior that closely mimics the ecological environment of these animals. To characterize networks of interactions between brain areas as an animal solves this complex task, we will combine large-scale, high-density neural recordings with data-driven modeling to understand the dynamic computations that support natural behaviors. Further, these dynamic models present a unique opportunity to inform control theoretic approaches to directly manipulate brain activity and influence natural behavior. To accomplish closed-loop control, we will leverage the models we build to describe large-scale neural dynamics and design efficient algorithms to control behavior in real-time. These algorithms will be realized through millisecond-precision inhibition and excitation of specific neural circuit elements in multiple brain regions during active behavior. The hardware and software platforms developed as part of this project will be shared as open-source resources for the wider neuroengineering community. This cutting-edge effort will illuminate our understanding of how coordinated brain activity supports ecologically important behaviors, as well as contribute a network-theoretic perspective of brain function and dysfunctions that manifest as neurological and mental disorders.
A general approach for label-free, ELISA-like detection of small molecules
The analysis of small molecule metabolites and drugs in body fluids and tissue extracts plays a vital role in the fields of human health, food safety and environmental monitoring. Small molecule detection is traditionally associated with complex, time- and resource-consuming technologies, such as mass spectrometry. In contrast, antibody-based approaches, such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs), can be performed in almost any condition, with easily interpretable results available within a few hours. However, antibodies against small molecules are difficult to obtain by animal immunization because small molecules, by themselves, are non-immunogenic, and can only elicit antibodies upon conjugation to protein carriers. In addition, the detection assays require the labeling of small molecules—i.e., chemical linking of small molecule targets or their competitive inhibitors to solid support or reporter molecules—and thus, are not generally applicable because some modifications are difficult to chemically synthesize or can affect small molecule binding activity. Here, to overcome these limitations, we propose a general approach based on chemically-induced dimerization (CID) systems, in which two proteins dimerize only in the presence of a small molecule. Naturally occurring CID systems, such as rapamycin-inducible FKBP/FRB and gibberellin-inducible GAI/GID1 complexes, have been widely used as biosensors, transcriptional regulators, small molecule-gated therapeutics, etc. Nevertheless, a robust methodology to create CID systems with desired affinity and specificity for a specific small molecule remains an unsolved problem in the field of protein engineering. Indeed, so far there is no previous report of de novo engineered CID other than natural CID and derivatives. De novo engineering of new CID systems has been hampered by the barriers of computational protein design and high-throughput screening. First, it is highly challenging to design higher-order interactions involving a small molecule and two proteins, because protein-protein and protein-small molecule interacting surfaces, often undergoing significant conformational changes in CID systems, cannot be properly modeled by current computational methods. Secondly, the engineering of two proteins in a CID complex requires the screening of two large variant libraries to search a two-dimensional matrix of possible combinations (‘library-by-library’ screening), which is not affordable with conventional high-throughput approaches. Overcoming any of these barriers will fundamentally advance CID engineering.
We recently developed a single-molecular-interaction sequencing (SMI-seq) technology (Gu, et al., Nature, 2014) for large-scale ‘library-by-library’ protein-protein interaction (PPI) profiling in a single solution. SMI-seq can identify CID binder pairs by quantifying PPI changes between two binder libraries when titrated with small molecules. Two strategies will be applied to engineer CID systems: i) targeted screening of computationally designed binder libraries, and ii) random screening of vastly diverse binder libraries (>10^9), in particular, combinatorial synthetic single-domain antibody (or nanobody) libraries. We will assess the success rates, turnaround times, and cost-effectiveness of both strategies by testing important drugs and metabolites, all of which have unmet needs for label-free, in-solution detection. Finally, selected CID systems will be validated to be next-generation ELISA reagents to measure the drugs in blood samples. This two-year project will provide an affordable approach to creating CID systems for broad applications in research, diagnostics and theranostics.
Using virtual reality to dissect the function of proprioceptive neural circuits during behavior
$253,700 over two years
John Tuthill, Assistant Professor, Physiology and Biophysics
Proprioception, the sense of self-movement and body position, is critical for the effective control of motor behavior. Despite the importance of proprioception to motor control in all animals, little is known about the neural computations that underlie limb proprioception in any animal. This gap is due to two basic challenges: (1) identifying the specific neurons that encode proprioceptive signals, and (2) recording neural activity from proprioceptive circuits during natural limb movements. Here, we propose to overcome these challenges by investigating the neural coding of leg proprioception in a genetic model organism: the fruit fly, Drosophila. My lab has developed new methods to record from genetically-defined neural circuits in the fly while controlling leg movements with a magnetic control system. This proposal seeks to extend these methods to record and manipulate proprioceptive circuits as a tethered, walking fly navigates a virtual environment. We will apply these methods to investigate three fundamental problems: (1) neural coding of leg movements by populations of proprioceptive sensory neurons, (2) integration and transformation of proprioceptive information in central circuits, and (3) feedback control of motor output during walking. Our long-term goal is to build up a complete integrative view of how sensorimotor circuits operate as an animal walks through a dynamically simulated visual environment. Although there are obvious differences between flies and humans, the basic building blocks of invertebrate and vertebrate nervous systems share a striking evolutionary conservation. These similarities suggest that the general principles discovered in circuits of the fruit fly will be highly relevant to somatosensory processing in other animals. A deeper understanding of proprioception has the potential to transform the way in which we treat proprioceptive and movement disorders.
Generating mutant mosquitoes to identify the genetic and neural bases of human host-seeking behavior
$194,736 over two years
Jeff Riffell, Associate Professor, Biology
Mosquitoes are vectors for several debilitating human diseases, including malaria, yellow fever, Zika, and West Nile virus. Mosquitoes locate appropriate blood hosts using their sensitive olfactory system, which is tuned to scents emitted by their hosts. Yet, for many mosquito species, there is remarkable variability in their preferences for individual humans, and many species still have the ability to shift host species when their preferred host is no longer available. An important mechanism by which mosquitoes select their blood hosts is their prior experience with a host. This experience, in the form of their ability to learn, has recently been shown in my laboratory to mediate mosquito scent preferences; however, there exists no information about the neural and genetic bases of these behaviors. Such information could explain the shifts in host preferences by mosquitoes that cause West Nile outbreaks in California, or the malaria disease reservoirs that occur in regions of Africa.
I propose – via cutting-edge genetic manipulations and new neurophysiological recording methods – to identify the genetic and olfactory bases of host preferences in mosquitoes, and how learning modifies mosquito behavior to bloodhosts. I hypothesize that mosquito learning plays an important role in host selection, and that modulation of a specific olfactory circuits in the mosquito brain – through dopamine release – enhances the response to the learned host scent. I will test this hypothesis by pursuing two Objectives that both center on utilizing novel tools and technologies developed in my laboratory and enabled by the Innovation Award:
Objective 1. To examine the learning abilities of mosquitoes in mediating host selection, and the neural bases of olfactory and learned responses in the mosquito brain.
Objective 2. To determine the genetic bases for learning and host preferences, and identify if these are suitable targets for mosquito control.
$500,000 over two years
Xiaodong Xu, Associate Professor, Physics, Materials Science and Engineering
Kai-Mei Fu, Assistant Professor, Physics, Electrical Engineering
Christopher Laumann, Assistant Professor, Physics
Modern society’s limitless appetite for digital information demands advanced data storage systems with higher density, faster operation speed and smaller operating energy than can be achieved with current technology. The key to overcoming these challenges may lie in an entirely new class of two-dimensional (2-D) quantum materials. These materials lie at the frontiers of research in science and engineering due to their exceptional electronic and optical properties, and they promise to disrupt existing technology.Our team aims to exploit magnetism in 2D quantum materials to build new spin-based devices. We will 1) introduce magnetism into 2-D semiconductors by creating heterostructures with magnetic insulators, and 2) explore a number of promising new 2-D materials that are predicted to possess magnetism. Scientifically, this program aims to break new ground in the experimental investigation of magnetism in the 2-D limit. Practically, discovery of 2-D magnets may result in compact and energy-efficient devices, which would revolutionize future computing platforms, data storage and consumer electronics.
Josh Lawler, Denman Professor of Sustainable Resource Sciences, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences
Katie Davis, Assistant Professor, Information School
Children are spending less time outdoors than ever before and more time in front of screens. Although it seems counterintuitive to develop a mobile app to get kids outside and changing their relationships with nature, that is exactly what we plan to do. NatureCollections will engage elementary school children in an exploration of the natural world by allowing them to build, curate and share nature photo collections. The app will build on children’s innate desire to identify, collect and catalog nature.The goals of this project are to 1) develop a beta version of a mobile app that encourages nature exploration, and 2) test the effect of that exploration on children’s connectedness to, and fascination with, nature – antecedents to environmental attitudes, science-learning activation and stress relief. Children will be able to curate their collections, putting them into categories such as Plants, Insects, Birds, Water, Landscapes, etc. We plan to partner with schools, zoos, museums and aquaria to disseminate NatureCollections widely. This research has the potential to significantly impact environmental attitudes, health and science learning.
$130,000 over two years
Rebecca Neumann, Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering; Adjunct Assistant Professor, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences
Soo-Hyung Kim, Associate Professor, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences
Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are rising and temperatures are increasing. While it is expected that these changes to the climate system will decrease the amount of food grain that can be grown in the future, the impact they will have on grain quality (i.e., nutrient and toxin content) is highly uncertain. Having enough food to eat is important, but human health also depends on food quality.Here we focus on rice, the staple food for more than half the world’s population. Worldwide, the lack of a single micronutrient (zinc) and presence of a single toxin (arsenic) in rice grain adversely impacts the health of hundreds of millions of people, most of whom live in developing countries. Zinc deficiency weakens the immune system and increases the risk of incidence for diarrheal disease, pneumonia and malaria. Consumption of arsenic in rice grain has been linked with elevated genotoxic effects and increased cancer risk.The concentration of zinc and arsenic in rice grain depends on plant access to and uptake of zinc and arsenic from soil, and on the translocation of these elements from plant roots into the grain. Our project will test whether and how elevated CO2 and elevated soil temperature affect availability, uptake and translocation of arsenic and zinc in rice. This information is needed to 1) predict how grain quality will change in the future, 2) evaluate the health consequences of diminished grain quality and identify populations most at risk, and 3) develop solutions that will help maintain future grain quality.
$400,000 over two years
Noah Smith, Associate Professor, Computer Science & Engineering
People understand perspectives by reading what experts, the media and other citizens say on a given issue. Depending on the sources they read, people can arrive at strikingly different interpretations. In a well-studied example, exposure to discussions of capital punishment in terms of the risk of sending innocents to death or the law of talion (“an eye for an eye”) led people to differing policy preferences.In this project we will break new ground in natural language processing to tackle the problem of open-ended perspective modeling. We will develop a large-scale, real-time, high-resolution visualization of perspectives on news events that captures how information is framed as well as what is reported. Examples include events, policy issues and demographic trends. Our goal is to design and evaluate algorithms that infer the perspective landscape from the vast stream of text data, and then visualize it. We will begin with the American news media, for which many existing components have already been developed, although we anticipate extensions to social media and worldwide sources. Our methodology combines traditional content analysis applied to stratified samples with new advances in natural language processing. The project will produce increasingly more detailed and accurate “maps” of the perspective landscape, along with open-source software tools that augment the ability of scholars, policymakers and citizens to gain a bird’s eye view of all the perspectives on a given issue, drill into specific perspectives, and better survey and understand our society’s discourse.
$130,000 over two years
Carrie Sturts Dossick, Associate Professor, Construction Management; Adjunct Associate Professor, Civil Engineering
Gina Neff, Associate Professor, Communication; Senior Data Science Fellow, e-Science Institute
Kate Simonen, Associate Professor, Architecture; practicing structural engineer
Today’s engineers grapple with more data, more people and less time. Design theory suggests collaborative problem solving leads to innovation. But multidisciplinary projects often fall short of this potential because experts from different fields lack the communication and collaboration skills they need to translate their work across disciplinary boundaries. Joint problem solving requires teams to address differences in values, requirements and constraints, as happens when a structural engineer collaborates with an architect. Few engineers are trained explicitly in these skills, yet engineering problems – in areas as diverse as hardware, infrastructure, nanotechnology and the construction of skyscrapers – require engineers to work with teams of experts from different fields.This project will study how engineers communicate with data and data visualizations for interdisciplinary innovation. We will study student teams to identify the key challenges and opportunities for collaboration. Our research to date suggests a paradox: more detailed visualizations make it easier for interdisciplinary teams to identify and agree upon problems while making it harder for them to generate solutions. One possible answer to this paradox, which we will test in this project, is in the communication strategies that engineers use with other professionals. Our goals are to inspire engineering innovation through the transformation of collaboration with data across disciplines; measure the impact of data communication on shared understanding; and train future engineers in the skills and techniques for communication and collaboration in data-rich environments.
$200,000 over two years
Houra Merrikh, Assistant Professor, Microbiology
Our study tests the hypothesis that a change in gene orientation facilitates and accelerates antibiotic resistance development in pathogenic bacteria. If correct, this could lead to the development of bacterial infection treatments that reduce the incidence of antibiotic resistance.Because genes can be encoded on either strand of a chromosome, they can orient either head-on or co-directionally to DNA replication. In bacterial genomes, the majority of genes are co-directionally oriented with DNA replication. Scientists believe this helps decrease the number of potentially detrimental head-on encounters between the replication and transcription machineries.However, in most bacteria, a significant number of genes remain head-on to replication. My lab showed that head-on genes accumulate mutations faster than co-directional genes, a strategy we suggested accelerates gene evolution in a selective manner. Our findings are the first evidence of a temporally and spatially controlled, gene-specific mechanism for increasing the rate of evolution. This mechanism’s underlying processes are the same across all domains of life.Recently, we found that a relatively large number of genes in three pathogenic bacterial species changed orientation during their evolution. This suggests that in pathogenic bacteria, the (more mutagenic) head-on orientation of some genes can be promoted and may be beneficial for adaptive evolution. To test this hypothesis, we will look at several bacterial species to determine:
- If (and which) genes have flipped to the head-on orientation.
- The impact of genes that have flipped head-on.
- If antibiotic treatment leads to new gene flipping.
- If head-on genes accumulate mutations faster than co-directional genes.
$200,000 over two years
Jay Parrish, Assistant Professor, Biology
Ion channel mutations are associated with many of the major psychiatric disorders including autism, bipolar disorder and epilepsy. A major hurdle has been to understand how mutations of a given ion channel leads to disease. Neurons have characteristic, cell-type-specific electrical properties that are defined by the repertoire and levels of ion channels they express. However, ion channel expression is not fixed. Compromising the function or blocking the expression of certain ion channels can induce homeostatic signaling systems that precisely compensate for loss of that channel by modulating expression of other ion channels. Thus, the manifestation of disease is not only the result of a deficiency in a given channel’s function but also the imperfect correction by the ensuing compensatory response.If we can understand how the nervous system compensates for a channel deficiency, then it may be possible to develop entirely new approaches toward the treatment of autism, epilepsy and other psychiatric disorders. My lab has recently used the paradigm of compensatory control between the potassium channels Shaker and Shal to identify a transcriptional regulator of this compensatory network. We found that compensation for loss of Shal involves modulation of Shaker expression as well numerous other ion channels. Using the genetically tractable fruit fly, we aim to use variability in ion channel expression between cells of the same type to identify compensatory expression relationships between ion channels.
$200,000 over two years
Larry Zweifel, Assistant Professor, Pharmacology, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
Mental illness and developmental disorders affecting learning and emotion are among the most prevalent healthcare issues worldwide. Though these illnesses and disorders are widespread, there are currently few treatments that are broadly effective. This is largely due to the variable factors that contribute to the manifestation of symptoms and the variability in symptom severity in individuals diagnosed with the same disorder.We are developing new strategies to facilitate a better understanding of the complex causes of mental illness. Our studies have shown how altering the function of two unrelated genes, both linked to the same disorder, can impact the activity pattern of a specific neuronal cell type in the brain in distinct ways. Consistent with the complex causes of the disorder, these mutations result in profound differences in behavioral symptoms.We are now focusing on categorizing the impacts of genetic mutations linked to specific disorders based on brain activity patterns and behavioral symptoms. To facilitate the rapid screening and characterization of the numerous genetic mutations associated with mental illness, we have developed genome engineering methods that allow for streamlined categorization of mutations and their impact on brain activity. This work holds promise for the development of more tailored treatments than the one-size-fits-all approach currently used.
$500,000 over two years
Shwetak Patel, Washington Research Foundation Entrepreneurship Endowed Professor, Computer Science & Engineering, Electrical Engineering
James Fogarty, Associate Professor, Computer Science & Engineering
Julie Kientz, Associate Professor, Human-Centered Design & Engineering
Sean Munson, Assistant Professor, Human-Centered Design & Engineering
Roger Vilardaga, Acting Assistant Professor, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
Jasmine Zia, Acting Instructor, Gastroenterology
Mobile health technology promises to improve health, broaden the reach of interventions, lower healthcare costs and reduce health disparities. But many challenges must be overcome before realizing this promise. One of the biggest challenges is a lack of collaboration among key fields during the development of such technologies. This results in tools that are less meaningful for people and their healthcare providers.Our multidisciplinary team aims to close this gap. We seek to create a framework and set of methods and tools to help people use computing and mobile health systems to improve their health. The main steps are to help people ask the right questions, collect the right data, form meaningful hypotheses, test those hypotheses and draw conclusions about their health. Those conclusions can then inform personalized behavior-change interventions.In addition to developing a framework, methods and tools, we will conduct preliminary clinical studies assessing the feasibility of our framework and methods. To demonstrate the versatility and feasibility of our framework across multiple health domains, we will conduct two initial case studies:
- An investigation of potential food triggers for gastrointestinal distress.
- An exploration of social triggers for substance abuse.
Research under this award will catalyze a number of efforts, including:
- Further development and deployment of current research in mobile health.
- Making the UW the leader in mobile health technology by seeding larger efforts to develop a cohesive multidisciplinary research community.
- Translating these technologies into the health industry.
$25,000 over two years
Mark Long,, Professor, Public Policy and Governance
Many public policies (like pollutant regulation or speed limit adjustments) impact citizens’ longevity. Regulatory analyses estimate whether the benefits of these policies outweigh their costs. This requires estimation of the value of a life saved (or extended) as a result of the policy. The federal government requires an accurate measure of the “Value of a Statistical Life” (VSL), the value used to measure the mortality-related benefits or costs associated with a policy, for its numerous regulatory policy evaluations.Conventional methods for estimating the VSL have used data to evaluate an individual’s value of his or her own life. Current estimates do not consider altruism (the value that others may place on a person’s life). Thus, these estimates may inadequately estimate the total social value of an individual to all concerned people.Using a stated-preference survey, my research will generate the first empirical estimate of VSL incorporating altruism. This adjustment depends on how much people are willing to give up their own wealth for others’ probability of survival and how much people are willing to forgo their own wealth for others’ wealth. If people value others’ safety more than their wealth, then traditional benefit-cost analysis has undervalued life. However, if people primarily value others’ wealth, then they would be unwilling to tax others to extend their lives, suggesting the traditional VSL overvalues life. This research can advance knowledge about how and whether the value placed on a “statistical” life needs to incorporate altruism, and will thereby substantially improve public policy.
$200,000 over two years
Payman Arabshahi, Associate Professor, Electrical Engineering
Gina Neff, Associate Professor, Communication
Vipin Kumar, Professor, Mechanical Engineering
Vikram Jandhyala, Vice Provost of Innovation and Professor, Electrical Engineering
Education related to innovation at UW is, not surprisingly, based on traditional curricular models of certificate programs and department offerings. However, the traditional courses do not always provide needed skills, answers or guidance at the right depth at the right time. Many successful innovators will never complete a course in entrepreneurship or receive a certificate or degree. They want an answer immediately to the questions they have on translating their ideas into innovations. This is the learning gap our work addresses, and we call it just-in-time learning for innovation readiness. We will address the learning gap by developing a co-curricular, cross-campus program for innovation readiness. The program will develop students’ entrepreneurial thinking and creative problem-solving skills, regardless of major or the ultimate success of any particular idea. Project characteristics include:
- Curation and creation of best-practices lessons, materials and novel experiential activities targeting student innovators across campus, regardless of discipline or program. This will include an online just-in-time learning platform, a discussion forum, a social networking service, seminars, “hackathon”-style design activities and workshops.
- A co-curricular experiential learning program that provides sustained advising and mentoring for a select group of Undergraduate Innovation Fellows, adapted to their needs. This will involve the creation of a pool of Innovation Mentors from the Presidential Entrepreneurial Faculty Fellows, other faculty, alumni and successful startup founders and executives who can provide ad hoc guidance for student innovators, both in person and via a novel LinkedIn-based mentorship platform.
$500,000 over two years
James Carothers, Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering; Adjunct Assistant Professor, Bioengineering; member, Center for Synthetic Biology; and member, Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute
More than 50 years of research in the molecular life sciences combined with new capabilities for cheaply synthesizing and analyzing DNA has created tremendous potential for engineering cells to solve pressing real-world problems. Recent successes show that “synthetic biological systems” constructed through genetic engineering can help meet demands for renewable chemicals, new medical diagnostics and therapies, and materials for global health.One of the central challenges has been that engineered biological systems typically encounter very high, but fluctuating, demands for resources. If the cell cannot manage the extra demand for resources, the system may crash in much the same way that web servers can crash when internet traffic is too high. To accommodate web use surges, computer engineers created adaptive feedback control systems that automatically provision resources. This enabled the rapid deployment of elastic cloud computing on a vast scale. We believe that dynamic genetic control systems that balance the supplies and demands for cellular resources can dramatically increase the sizes and complexities of biological systems.We will test the limits of what can be accomplished through genetic control system design while simultaneously improving the production of industrially relevant materials. In particular, we will:
- Employ advanced computational simulation and analysis that integrates biochemical and biophysical modeling to map the theoretical space of dynamic genetic control system designs.
- Perform a massively scaled experimental analysis to map the functional space of dynamic genetic control system designs in a microbial system engineered to produce renewable polymer composites.
Innovations in quantum dot chemistry for solar energy production and storage
Brandi Cossairt, Assistant Professor, Chemistry
Fulfilling the transformational promise of nanoscience in next-generation energy technologies requires solving fundamental challenges in controlling the composition and interfaces of nanomaterials with atom-level precision. Therefore, our aim is to make contributions in two key areas of research: 1) understanding the mechanisms of nucleation and growth of semiconductor nanocrystals and 2) understanding what factors are critical for selective energy transduction in semiconductor nanocrystals for application in energy-efficient solid-state lighting, renewable electricity generation and green fuel formation. Our research will enable predictive control over the synthesis of colloidal nanomaterials and allow for the manipulation of these materials at the level of the electron for the first time.
Eric Klavins, Associate Professor, Electrical Engineering
A 2012 study found that only six of 53 selected “landmark” papers in cancer biology were reproducible. Even when a result is valid, the methods are poorly explained, purposefully not explained or simply buried in some researcher’s head. My “Aquarium Project” aims to fix this problem by providing the means to specify, as precisely as possible, how to obtain a result. This project codifies experimental protocols in a formal programming language using a combination of formal statements, informal descriptions and photographs. Aquarium will be used to guide students through a Laboratory Methods in Synthetic Biology course, a five-week intensive introduction to lab safety, cloning and yeast genetics. Fifteen students will take the course, and by week five, each will have constructed his or her own transgenic strain of yeast. In the second five weeks, the students will move to the research side of Aquarium and develop their own independent projects.