University of Delaware Research Foundation awards six projects

The University of Delaware Research Foundation (UDRF), a nonprofit organization supporting fundamental research in all fields of science at UD, has awarded six strategic initiative grants for collaborative research in the life and health sciences, energy and the environment — areas emphasized in the University’s Path to Prominence.

Each project is led by at least one early-career faculty member working with one tenured faculty member, who serves as a mentor. Each grant totals $45,000-$55,000, which includes $5,000 in matching funds from both the provost’s office and the lead faculty member’s dean.

“The University of Delaware Research Foundation plays an important role in supporting high-priority, high-quality research at UD,” said Mark Barteau, senior vice provost for research and strategic initiatives. “The strategic initiative grants not only advance major areas of research emphasis, but they help early career faculty gain valuable insight from experienced researchers in areas ranging from student mentoring to proposal development, further building a culture of research excellence at UD.”

The UDRF grants will support the following research projects:

• Clara Chan, assistant professor of geological sciences, and Thomas Hanson, associate professor of marine biosciences, will explore how a single microbe can both synthesize and degrade a mineral. Their focus is Chlorobaculum tepidum, a bacterium that both forms and consumes globules of sulfur — the mineral that is responsible for the “Yellow” in Yellowstone National Park, is used as a slow-release fertilizer in agriculture, and is the desired end product for industrial processes to remediate toxic hydrogen sulfide. The researchers will work to identify the genes involved using advanced microscropy and proteomic techniques.

• How much power does your computer consume as you use that word processing software? Assistant professors Kristina Winbladh and James Clause are co-principal investigators on a project with Fouad Kiamilev, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Lori Pollock, professor of computer and information sciences, to develop a technique for measuring power consumption across the entire hardware platform and to map the consumption profile of a running software application. This information will help guide software designers in the development of more energy-efficient solutions.

• A better understanding of the “spin” versus the electrical charge of electrons as information carriers is needed before new-age “spintronics” — faster and more energy-efficient than present-day electronics — can be built. In the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Virginia Lorenz, assistant professor, and John Xiao, professor, will build a magnetometer for studying spin wave propagation in different magnetic materials and geometries and then use that knowledge to develop an all-electric spin wave generator/controller for studying spin waves.

• Although improved gait and mobility are key desired outcomes of Parkinson’s disease treatments, currently there is no “gold standard” assessment that provides a direct measure of gait and mobility in a real-life setting, making it difficult to assess the real impact of treatments. Ingrid Pretzer-Aboff, assistant professor of nursing, and Sunil Agrawal, professor of mechanical engineering, hope to fill that void. They will develop and test an electronic sensor-enabled insole for evaluating gait and mobility in individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

• Joel Rosenthal, assistant professor, and Charlie Riordan, professor, both in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, will explore a new approach for preparing nickel-containing catalysts for converting carbon dioxide into fuels. They will refine a stepwise process to engineer inexpensive carbon-based electrodes with molecular wires of variable composition. Then they will develop methods to systematically tune the length and connectivity of these wires to precisely control the rate and efficacy of electron injection at the catalytic sites.

• Joshua Zide, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, and Ajay Prasad, professor of mechanical engineering, will demonstrate a novel application of thermoelectrics, which convert heat to electricity, to provide energy in inaccessible locales where other technologies are not viable. The researchers seek to model, optimize and demonstrate a system in which fluctuations in ambient temperature can be exploited to generate electrical energy.

Article by Tracey Bryant

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson