October 18-20 | Tucson, AZ

The Research Institution GAP Fund and Accelerator Program Summit

Seed funding jump-starts 20 transdisciplinary projects | VTx | Virginia Tech

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October 18-20, 2023 / Tucson, AZ
The annual summit for research institution gap fund and accelerator programs, including proof of concept programs, startup accelerators, and university venture funds

The Story

With startup funding from seed grants, researchers across the College of Engineering are pursuing 20 new projects addressing subjects from quantum phononics to human-robot interaction to how bacteria influence the proliferation of cancer cells.

The seed grants were distributed through a program called the Engineering Faculty Organization-Opportunity Grants. It is one of several run by the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS), an investment institute that advances university research by connecting researchers with resources that will help them maximize the scope and impact of their work. One of the institute’s principal tools is a set of seed funding programs with a range of goals designed to facilitate specific types of research.

The seed grants in this particular program are earmarked for College of Engineering faculty collaborating with colleagues in other disciplines. The grants often support preliminary data collection to support the development of competitive external proposals or early collaborations with the potential to grow into larger research centers.

Mary Kasarda, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and ICTAS’ faculty director for scholarship, manages the program. She said the grants make it more feasible for researchers to pursue some of the new ideas that always spring up in the course of existing projects.

“The awards help people try something a little different,” Kasarda said. “A lot of these projects are pilot studies, where even a small amount of funding can provide the resources they need to explore an idea that could turn into a new direction for their research.”

Like most of the work ICTAS supports, these projects are transdisciplinary by design: To be eligible for one of these grants, the project must involve a collaboration with a colleague in another college or department. Faculty members also must cite the specific opportunity the seed grant will help them pursue.

For the first two years of the program, the ICTAS awarded five of the $10,000 grants each year. The program was so successful at laying the groundwork for external funding that the institute doubled the number of grants awarded the following year; this year, it has doubled again to 20.

These projects were selected for funding this year:

  • Effect of Curved Interface of Spray Aerosols on Liquid-Vapor Phase Equilibrium of Multicomponent Hydrocarbon Mixtures. Led by Bahareh NojabaeiDepartment of Mining and Minerals Engineering.
  • Machine Learning and Optimization for Advanced Manufacturing of Ultra-high-performance Polymer/Graphene Membranes. Led by Xi ChenGrado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.
  • Piezoelectric/Diamond Heterostructures for Quantum Phononics. Led by Linbo ShaoBradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
  • Machine-Learning-enabled Source Attribution of Salmonella enterica serotype typhimurium Using Genomic Variants. Led by Jingqiu LiaoCharles E. Via, Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
  • New Instrumentation to Measure Sediment Properties for Predicting and Controlling Streambank and Coastal Marsh Erosion. Led by Mark StremlerDepartment of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics.
  • Topological Superconductivity Meets Element 83, Bismuth. Led by Suneel KodambakaDepartment of Materials Science and Engineering.
  • Preliminary Investigation in Load Symmetry in Postpartum Women During Activities of Daily Living and Differing Child-Care Related Loading Conditions. Led by Sara Arena, Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics.
  • A Smartphone-assisted Digital CRISPR (SPA-dCRISPER) Device for the Rapid and Sensitive Detection of Emerging Viruses. Led by Juhong ChenDepartment of Biological Systems Engineering.
  • Quantifying the Role of Fusobacterium nucleatum in Pancreatic Cancer Metastasis In Vivo. Led by Scott Verbridge, Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics.
  • A Unified, Natural, and Computationally Efficient Genome-based Classification System for All Microbes. Led by Lenwood HeathDepartment of Computer Science.
  • Virtual Reality Clinical Immersion. Led by Jennifer Wayne, Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics.
  • Towards a Global Ethics of Artificial Intelligence (AI): Exploring and Assessing Intercultural Ethical Perspectives on AI. Led by Rockwell ClancyDepartment of Engineering Education.
  • Patient-specific Finite Element Modeling to Assess Bone Fracture Risk Following Histotripsy Ablation of Osteosarcoma Tumors. Led by Caitlyn Collins, Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics.
  • An Investigation of Factors Related to Engineering Major Selection and Persistence After Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Led by Susan Sajadi, Department of Engineering Education.
  • Genetically Engineered Living Biosensors Empowered by Nanophotonics for Continuous and Selective Monitoring of Environmental Toxins. Led by Anna Duraj-Thatte, Department of Biological Systems Engineering.
  • Investigation of the Effects of Hemolymph Pressure on the Deformation of Insect Wings During Flight. Led by Sevak Tahmasian, Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics.
  • A Study on Human-Robot Interaction Design based on a Dog-Caregiver Relation.  Led by Andrea L’Afflitto, Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.
  • Programmable Nano-Bio-Hybrid Living Systems for Continuous Monitoring of Airborne Pathogens. Led by Bahareh Behkam, Department of Mechanical Engineering.
  • A Fundamental Understanding of How Snakes Move Using Substrate-Friction Interactions. Led by Hodjat Pendar, Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics.
  • mMHealth: An App to Address Maternal Mortality and Pregnancy Health Disparities. Led by Anne Staples, Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics.


Full story: Seed funding jump-starts 20 transdisciplinary projects | VTx | Virginia Tech


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