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UW Crest with engineering background
June 7, 2022

Engineering faculty earn Research Forward grants for collaborative projects

College of Engineering researchers are leading three projects and assisting in six others that have earned funding through the second round of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Research Forward, a program to support groundbreaking, collaborative work that spans disciplines.

Padma Gopalan

Professors Padma Gopalan (materials science and engineering) and Frank Pfefferkorn (mechanical engineering) and Associate Professor Krishanu Saha (biomedical engineering) are leading three of the 16 selected projects leveraging researchers from across campus.

Gopalan is leading a project called, “Creating ‘Button-Snap Latching’ to Make Artificial Materials Inspired by Membrane Biology.” Button-Snap Latching could enable next-generation bandages, body sensors and other smart materials. Michael Arnold, a professor of materials science and engineering, is a co-principal investigator on the project.

Pfefferkorn will head up a project titled, “Multi-Material Additive Manufacturing of Electrical Machines.” The results of this work could reshape the landscape of electric machines and bring about a new design and manufacturing paradigm that will help accelerate reduction of the carbon footprint in transportation.

Frank Pfefferkorn

Buzz Rankouhi, a postdoctoral researcher in mechanical engineering, Eric Severson, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Dan Thoma, professor of materials science and engineering, are co-principal investigators.

Saha’s project is called, “Programmable, Pro-Regenerative Immune Cell Therapies for Neurodegeneration and Brain Injury.” This project develops a new concept to treat brain disorders, injuries and aging via cell therapy—with potential applications in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

William Murphy, the Harvey D. Spangler Professor of biomedical engineering and H.I. Romnes Faculty Fellow, is a co-principal investigator. Melissa Kinney, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, Sean Palecek, the Milton J. and A. Maude Shoemaker Professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Melissa Skala, the Retina Research Foundation Daniel M. Albert Chair and professor of biomedical engineering, are also co-investigators.

Kris Saha
Krishanu Saha

Six engineering faculty members are serving as co-principal investigators or co-investigators on other projects as well.

Xudong Wang, a professor of materials science and engineering, is collaborating on a project seeks to develop a stent that has self-generated electrical potential that can resist cell buildup without the need for drugs.

Hiroki Sone, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, will contribute to an effort by ice researchers from different disciplines to take advantage of the world-class instrumentation at UW–Madison.

Gopalan is also assisting with a project aiming to create a crucial electrical component for holographic displays, high-resolution biomedical imaging and laser-based range finders valuable for self-driving cars.

Joshua San Miguel, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, is part of a project to apply a small, battery-powered device to transform the study of pollinators and the critical role they play in supporting crop yields and biodiversity.

Kangwook Lee, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, will help develop a new technique to look back in time and reconstruct what happened at the Big Bang, aided by recent developments in machine learning.

James Schauer, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, is part of a team measuring exposures to weed killers and household chemicals to uncover risks for lymphoma in dogs.

The Research Forward initiative is sponsored by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education and is supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which provides funding for one or two years, depending on the needs and scope of the project.

Amy Wendt, associate vice chancellor for research in the physical sciences and a professor of electrical and computer engineering, notes that project teams in Round 2 were also asked to submit diversity, equity and inclusion plans as part of their research proposals. Submitted DEI plans include gender and racial/ethnic diversity on project teams, recruiting graduate students and community research participants from underrepresented and underserved groups, and supporting diverse research backgrounds and cross-disciplinary teams.

“Many of the project teams are diverse in their academic and demographic backgrounds,” Wendt says. “Some team members have a demonstrated record of prioritizing and advancing DEI, including through service work in their departments and academic fields. Having scientists and trainees with diverse backgrounds and life experiences working together brings different perspectives to the table as we address complex scientific problems. When we remove barriers to increased participation by members of underrepresented groups, we enhance public trust in our research.”