Research

Alanna Gado Awarded the NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium Graduate Student Fellowship

Warmest congratulations to Alanna Gado for being awarded the Graduate Research Fellowship sponsored by the NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium. Her work focuses on developing advanced catalyst-coated membranes for achieving high efficiency and high durability proton exchange membrane water electrolyzers under the advising of Professor Radenka Maric and in collaboration with Research Scientist Leonard Bonville and Associate Research Professor Stoyan Bliznakov. This research holds immense promise for the field of hydrogen production and clean energy technology, paving the way for sustainable solutions to our energy challenges. Read more on NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium.

Four Faculty Members are Highlighted in the 2023 UConn Research Annual Report

In the latest 2023 UConn Research Annual Report, the exceptional contributions of four distinguished faculty members take center stage. President Radenka Maric, along with esteemed professors Kelly Burke, Xiao-Dong Zhou, and Cato Laurencin, have been featured for their groundbreaking work spanning the realms of sustainability, energy, health, medicine, and community development. The report underscores the significant impact of their research, showcasing their commitment to advancing knowledge and addressing critical issues that resonate across diverse fields.

Read more on UConn Research Annual Report

Microalgae for Poultry Nutrition: UConn Researchers Receive NSF Future Manufacturing Grant

The interdisciplinary research team will develop a novel biomanufacturing technology to use microalgae to produce an essential amino acid for poultry feed. From left to right: Rigoberto Lopez, Yongku Cho, Yangchao Luo, Yu Lei, Mingyu Qiao, and Burcu Beykal. (Nick Snow, CAHNR photo)

Congratulations to Professors Burcu BeykalYongku Cho, and Yu Lei on winning the $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Future Manufacturing initiative!

This interdisciplinary team with Professors Mingyu Qiao (PI), Yangchao Luo, and Rigoberto Lopez from UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, and Professor C. Patrick Heidkamp from Southern Connecticut State University will tackle carbon-neutral amino acid synthesis with microalgae.

They will also develop an Artificial Intelligence (AI) model to determine, essentially, when the algae should act like a plant and when it should act like a microorganism based on the availability of sunlight or other essential nutrients to minimize costs. The AI model will automatically calculate how much of a given resource, like sugar, is needed to optimize amino acid production.

The grant will also include workshops for underrepresented high school and community college students to help prepare them to enter the biomanufacturing workforce in collaboration with Southern Connecticut State University.

Read more on UConn Today.

Dorian Thompson Wins Graduate Student Competition in Sensors at the AIChE Annual Meeting

Dorian ThompsonWarmest congratulations to Dorian Thompson for an outstanding achievement—securing the 3rd place in the Graduate Student Competition in Sensors at the AIChE Annual Meeting! Dorian works on PFAS detection under the advising of Professor Yu Lei.

This win is a testament to the hard work and commitment of our graduate students, driving forward groundbreaking advancements in the field. Here’s to the continued success and impact of our student’s research at the forefront of chemical and biomolecular engineering!

EPA Testing Shows the Power of DIY Air Filters to Trap Viruses

After the EPA released its exciting testing results about the power of D-I-Y air filters, Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz took a celebratory photo with 5th graders at Macdonough Elementary School in Middletown, Conn. along with State Sen. Matt Lesser, and researchers from the EPA and UConn’s Indoor Air Quality Initiative.

The UConn Indoor Air Quality Initiative Team which our very own Professor Kristina Wagstrom is a co-investigator in, has just unveiled groundbreaking results from their collaboration with the US Environmental Protection Agency!

Their findings reveal that DIY air filters (known as ‘Corsi-Rosenthal Boxes’) can remove over 99% of viruses within just one hour. This breakthrough has enormous implications for improving indoor air quality and public health. This research not only advances the field of environmental science but also presents an incredible opportunity to engage students of all ages in meaningful projects that have a tangible impact on their communities.

Professor Wagstrom has also highlighted that “It’s not only a cool, fun thing to build, but it’s something they can actually connect to their everyday lives and helps them connect to how STEM and science and engineering can really help people.”

Read more on UConn Today.

Read more on News 8 Daily News (WTNH).

Burkey wins $2.5M NSF S-STEM Grant to Support Students Majoring in Computing, Data Sciences

Dan Burkey PhotoA newly awarded $2.5M National Science Foundation (NSF) Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) grant—spearheaded by Professor and Associate Dean Daniel Burkey—will support low-income and first-generation students majoring in computing and data science at the University of Connecticut (UConn).

Professor Burkey said UConn will use the grant—titled “Community, Identity, and Competence: Supporting Low-Income Students in Computing and the Data Sciences”—to assist approximately 30 students over the next six years of the grant. Students, who will go through an application and selection process, will be eligible for up to $15,000 per year throughout the entirety of their degree.

S-STEM is a signature program from the NSF that supports low-income and first-generation students with academic ability, talent, or potential to pursue successful careers in promising STEM fields. The grant includes scholarship funds as well as a cohort model that provides various programmatic, curricular, and co-curricular activities to ensure that students are well-supported, from matriculation through graduation, and prepared for the workforce or further graduate study. Read more on Engineering News.

Inspiring Story of our Ph.D. Student Laron Burrows

Laron BurrowsLaron Burrows, making remarkable strides in environmental innovation. His groundbreaking work focuses on cleaning up one of the world’s dirtiest chemical processes, ammonia production. Along with Prof. George Bollas, he has developed a new chemical looping reactor that is smaller, more efficient, and less expensive than traditional methods.

Laron is an entrepreneur at heart, and his startup company Andros will be competing in two major entrepreneurship challenges later this month. Best of luck to him!

Read the full article to learn more about Laron’s incredible journey and the impact they are making in UConn Today.

Meet the Researcher: George Bollas, UConn Tech Park

 Consider the complexity of a modern passenger airliner. An aircraft is a self-contained “system-of-systems,” consisting of a diverse assortment of interdependent subsystems and components working together. Electrical, hydraulic, flight control, fuel handling, cabin pressurization, and engine systems are all crucial parts of a functional aircraft, each with their own constraints and requirements in addition to those of the aircraft as a whole.

The complexity of engineering interconnected systems like aircrafts — or, for that matter, power plants, smart buildings, and modern manufacturing facilities — has led many industries to migrate toward formalized systems engineering, considering large systems holistically.

Led by George Bollas, the United Technologies Corporation Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering (UTC-IASE) has been solving these real-world problems for industry since 2013.

Bollas, who is a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering in UConn’s School of Engineering, focuses his research on process design, simulation, optimization, control, and diagnostics. These research interests align seamlessly with the needs of industry partners like United Technologies Corporation.

Located in the University of Connecticut Tech Park’s Innovation Partnership Building, UTC-IASE is working on some of the most pressing challenges for businesses and research sponsors using innovative approaches to model-based systems engineering.

“We have converted it to something that is self-sustained and can work with United Technologies at many levels, but also engage other satellite industry partners, the state, and federal agencies to have a greater impact,” says Bollas.

Location, Location, Location

At UConn Tech Park, students from different departments and research groups in the School of Engineering who are working on different projects managed by the UTC-IASE can come together in a central location. Much like the complex operations the students are researching, their individual projects and skills all work together to make systems more efficient. Bollas says this allows for close collaboration and frequent discussion of what each individual group is tackling.

“For the first time we’re all in one place,” Bollas says. “To develop that culture for students, where they work next to each other, day and night, and all that good competition that comes out of it is very positive for the mindset and culture both at UConn and when these students go out in the workforce.”

“Industry often focuses on measurable outcomes, seeking means for producing their products better, faster, and at reduced cost. Awareness of these tangible impacts helps students understand the importance of their research”, says Bollas.

“In many cases, you know from the get-go that you are going to help a company solve a $10 million-a-year problem. It’s very exciting for the students to work on something that they understand has immediate value and impact on such a huge scale,” Bollas says.

Many of the students at the UTC-IASE go into careers with United Technology Corporation or other companies in the area of manufacturing, energy, aerospace, building, and robotics. The experience contributes to the preparation of graduate and undergraduate students for these careers as they learn to communicate with industry partners effectively and consistently.

“It’s a natural next step,” Bollas says. “It’s very helpful to know where they might be going, what they’re going to face in industry or academia.”

In addition to graduate research, UTC-IASE exposes UConn students to business professionals through a training program that was originally designed for employees of the corporation. Bollas says this training is critical, since the entire concept of systems engineering works to un-train students from thinking about problems in terms of their own specificity.

“In both research and training, we emphasize the concept of system-level thinking. One needs to understand what the entire system looks like – from architecture to requirements, design, commissioning, performance, and maintenance. This approach relies on thinking of the entire life-cycle of a system from design to decommissioning.”

To accomplish this, UTC-IASE offers training of professionals through a formal Graduate Certificate and a Master of Engineering program in Advanced Systems Engineering. These programs are offered to geographically dispersed professionals as well as students at UConn who are interested in developing a unique and valuable set of skills in the areas of model-based systems engineering of cyber-physical systems.

“We’re helping lifelong learning for the existing engineering workforce,” Bollas says. “We’re helping them understand what is the state-of-the-art, and some of the approaches and solutions to the problems they are dealing with in their everyday work. We call this integration of undergraduates, graduate students, and professional engineers a ‘talent eco-system’ that can produce and sustain a modern engineering workforce in the state and for the nation.”

Big Problems, Real Solutions

Bollas is currently collaborating with Collins Aerospace to improve fault detection and isolation methods. The advanced detection algorithms Bollas and his research team are developing are optimized for actively identifying faults during aircraft operation and helping to reduce false alarms. This project has already led to two patent applications filed jointly by UConn and Collins Aerospace.

“We’re transferring what we develop here at the university to actual industry environments, where we have access to all the data, constraints, requirements, and system-specific details. We do this through internships and sabbatical leaves, and this has really been a wonderful model for technology transfer,” Bollas says. “I’m not sure we’d be aware of the significance and limitations of our research if we weren’t working with a technology leader like UTC.”

Bollas again points to the importance of location, both in Connecticut and at Tech Park, to help the institute grow.

“There are so many opportunities generated for the institute just because we are located here,” Bollas says. “We’re working with several other Tech Park centers and their industry partners since they are more and more focused on ‘smart’ processes for manufacturing.”

Bollas is referring to a paradigm shift dubbed Industry 4.0 or “smart manufacturing,” which places emphasis on cyber-physical systems. Cyber-physical systems include physical machines controlled by computer-based algorithms that are deeply ingrained in the so-called Internet of Things. To remain competitive, companies like Collins Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney have been investing in the development of smart manufacturing technologies in their respective industries.

By having access to test beds at the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology and the Pratt & Whitney Additive Manufacturing Center in the IPB, the UTC-IASE researchers working on smart manufacturing projects with the Department of Energy provide a better picture of how well their research, algorithms, and solutions will work when used in an industrial setting.

“Smart manufacturing solutions are sometimes easy on a computer, but when you actually have to deploy these advanced technologies, it’s very helpful to have test beds we can use right here at the Tech Park,” Bollas says.

Bollas says he is proud of laying a strong foundation for future growth through partnerships with industry and federal agencies on such a large scale. Moving forward, he has no doubt that the research collaborations taking place at UTC-IASE will continue to generate innovative, real-world solutions that help Connecticut and its industry partners grow.

 – Anna Zarra Aldrich ’20 (CLAS), Office of the Vice President for Research

 

Senior Design Day 2015

By Sydney Souder

Team 10 CaptionMay 1, 2015 marked the School of Engineering’s much anticipated Senior Design Day. The Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering showcased the projects of 13 teams at the event, a school-wide poster competition held on the floor of the Gampel Pavilion arena.

Each team of students spent the entirety of their senior year on a single open-ended capstone design project. The teams began their journeys with a written description of their project, and a faculty and an industry advisor to mentor them as they tackled the challenge.

Over the next eight months, students presented multiple oral presentations and submitted a range of written reports. The poster competition is the final step where the student’s designs are summarized on a 2’ by 3’ poster board display for the public.

On this ultimate design day, both the posters and students are judged. This year, CBE was pleased to host 14 industry experts to judge the posters. Half of these judges were UConn chemical engineering alumni. Each team of students had their poster and verbal pitch evaluated five times.

Team1CaptionThis year’s assortment of projects varied from inventing a human habitat on Mars, to designing wastewater treatments for Unilever. Visitors were even treated to samples of sugar-reduced ice cream developed by a student team for UConn’s Dairy Bar. The following teams earned the highest scores:

First place was awarded to Team 10 whose project was titled “Novel Production and Purification of Manganese Dioxide.” The team consisted of Nicole Beauregard, Gianna Credaroli, Andrea DiVenere, Naomi Tennakoon and Abbey Wangstrom, and they were advised by Dr. Bill Mustain. Duracell sponsored their project to produce and characterize a more pure electrolytic manganese dioxide for use in alkaline batteries. By incorporating electrolyte additives, impurities in the material can be decreased. A battery with higher capacity can improve Duracell sales, lessen the environmental burden of battery waste products, and enhance the consumers’ trust in their power.

Team4CaptionSecond place was awarded to Team 1 for their project “Oxygen Generation via CO2 and H2O Splitting for NASA Manned Space Missions.” Thomas Gay, Ari Fischer and Oscar Nordness made up Team 1, and they were advised by Dr. George Bollas. Team 1 used a chemical looping process to implement a metal oxide oxygen carrier for the Oxygen Generation System (OGS) in NASA’s International Space Station. Potential benefits of their system could reduce size and mass of the OGS as well as improve its electrical efficiency.

Third Place was received by Team 4 for their project “Defluoridation of Ethiopian Groundwater for Human Consumption.” Dr. Doug Cooper advised the group of Jack Edmonds, Gabriella Frey and George Shaw. Due to the pressing health concerns from fluoride contaminated water, the goal of their project was to design a cost effective method of removing upwards of 90% of fluoride ions in groundwater used for human consumption. Current methods use imported technologies from China which are expensive and prone to shipping delays, especially in third world countries. Team 4 created a new method to defluoride water using magnesium oxide, a mineral already existing in Ethiopia.

“Design day is wonderful conclusion to the undergraduate journey,” says Dr. Cooper, professor and head of the department. “Our students show off their hard work, and visitors enjoy learning about the creative and sophisticated solutions they have developed.”

Research Insight: Nanostar

By Sydney Souder

Photo of Dr. Nieh posing with the Nanostar SAXS machine by BrukerDr. Mu-Ping Nieh hopes to discover elusive secrets in the nano-structures of functional materials using the new X-ray scattering machine he and his collaborators have secured for the University of Connecticut. His work focuses on the study of soft materials, and in particular, understanding their nanoscopic structures to optimize their functions. With the new, top-of-the-line Nanostar SAXS instrument, Dr. Nieh expects to take his research to the next level.

Acquired through a competitive National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Grant, the Nanostar SAXS is a sophisticated instrument that allows researchers to probe the nanostructures of materials in a large sample area. Specifically, it can identify the shape, size, aggregation behavior, polydispersity, interparticle interactions and surface (interfacial) area of a system.

The instrument works by sending an X-ray beam at a sample of interest. As the X-ray hits the sample, the beam diffracts and scatters into different angles. This scatter pattern can reveal information on the nanostructure of the sample. The method can be applied to a broad range of materials including liquids, solids, thin films and gels. This makes the tool valuable for those investigating the structure-property relationship substances. It also enables industry partners to perform fundamental research and to design and develop materials . Dr. Nieh hopes to build on this interest by establishing a regional center for nanostructural characterization for UConn and industrial partners.

Beyond current and collaborative research, having access to the instrument is also an invaluable opportunity for students. “The Nanostar instrument will be used to train the next generation of scientists and engineers through hands-on research experience,” says Dr. Nieh. “I encourage potential research and industry partners to contact me if they would like to learn more.” Dr. Nieh will teach a webinar course “Small Angle X-Ray Scattering (SAXS) for Nanostructural Characterization” to the public through the Institute of Materials Science’s Affiliate Program later this year.