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Aerial Photo of Engineering buildings
January 4, 2019

A successful 2018: Looking back on the past year

Written By: Staff


For the UW-Madison College of Engineering, 2018 was a year full of outstanding achievements. We continued to push the boundaries of scientific knowledge on many fronts, harness engineering expertise in efforts to improve the quality of our lives, and innovate in delivering a world-class educational experience.

Looking back on 2018

In August 2018, one of the world’s top high-tech manufacturing companies launched a major new partnership with UW-Madison to drive advances in technology and science. Foxconn Technology Group announced plans to invest $100 million in engineering and innovation research at the university, an investment that includes funding to help establish a new interdisciplinary research facility for the College of Engineering on campus.

Our faculty are leaders in UW-Madison’s newly created Forward BIO Institute, which is directed by Biomedical Engineering Professor William Murphy. The institute supports innovation in the emerging area of biomanufacturing to create the next generation of healthcare products such as engineered tissues, cell therapies, pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Several projects that could potentially improve patients’ lives are already underway at the institute.

We’re tackling a wide variety of energy-related challenges in innovative ways. We’re exploring how we might be able to leverage power-hungry data centers to actually ease strain on the power grid. By developing a hybrid system that combines an internal combustion engine and fuel cell, we’re setting our sights on achieving double the efficiency of standard fossil fuel-based power plants while enabling an increasingly distributed array of renewable energy generation sources.

image of collagen fibers
Biomedical engineers are examining the extracellular matrix to uncover hidden drivers of ovarian cancer. Image courtesy of Paul Campagnola.

Our faculty continued to garner significant funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for advanced nuclear research. Approximately $4.7 million in DOE grants are supporting our efforts in areas that include coatings, materials, big data analytics, and others. In addition, our engineers are advancing molten salt science and technology to support the development of promising next-generation nuclear power reactors.

Manufacturing in the United States is a $1.2 trillion endeavor, and a new partnership between our college, via the Grainger Institute for Engineering, and Argonne National Laboratory seeks to develop ways to accelerate technology development that fuels growth in that sector.

Our faculty are at the forefront of gene editing research and have been awarded significant grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to advance the field. In an effort aimed at treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s precisely where they originate, we’re developing nanoparticles to deliver CRISPR gene editing tools to brain cells that require editing. Our faculty are also leading a collaborative, groundbreaking effort to develop quality-control methods for improving genome editing therapies in the eye.

NIH grants are also supporting our work in developing a new, stent-free approach for treating common cardiovascular ailments, uncovering the hidden drivers of ovarian cancer, and pushing toward personalized pancreatic cancer treatments. In addition, we’re learning more about inflammation and cell signaling processes—research that may point the way to new targeted drug therapies. 

Gaining momentum, our growing Wisconsin Institute of Healthcare Systems Engineering earned $2.5 million in funding to develop a patient safety learning laboratory. The effort also will enable a transdisciplinary team of researchers to evaluate a “patient safety passport” for older adults who visit the ER.

 Navya driverless shuttle
Our researchers are helping drive autonomous and connected vehicle research through a number of projects and partnerships. Photo: Renee Meiller.

Through the recently established Mental Health Technology Transfer Center, a team of our industrial engineering researchers is playing an important role in strengthening mental health services in the Midwest.

Recognizing the breadth of expertise in data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence research at UW-Madison, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Air Force Research Laboratory awarded $5 million to establish a university center of excellence. ECE Professor Rob Nowak is leading the center at UW-Madison, called the Machines, Algorithms and Data Lab (MADLab), which is focused on making machine learning more efficient and robust.

The future of transportation will include vehicles that operate with little or no input from human operators, and researchers from across the College of Engineering are helping drive autonomous and connected vehicle research through a number of projects and partnerships. In April 2018, we brought an autonomous shuttle made by the French company Navya to campus to demonstrate the technology and offer rides to members of the public.

In addition to our work that benefits Wisconsin and the nation, our engineers are making an impact around the world. Civil and environmental engineering faculty currently have ongoing research work on five of the world’s seven continents, improving infrastructure and examining environmental issues. And in an effort that aims to give relief organizations months—rather than hours or days—to prepare for disasters such as floods, we’re developing an online early-warning system that includes advanced response strategies.

Research breakthroughs

In 2018 our faculty led many advances in a wide range of fields. Some of their most significant accomplishments over the past year included:

Outstanding faculty

 nine professors that won awards
In 2018, these nine promising faculty members won prestigious NSF CAREER awards.

College of Engineering faculty earn prestigious honors for their research and teaching. In 2018, the National Science Foundation named nine of our faculty members recipients of its Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards. These awards support early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education, as well as leaders within their institutions.

Our 2018 CAREER award recipients are: ECE Assistant Professor Mikhail Kats; MS&E Assistant Professor Jason Kawasaki; ECE Assistant Professor Laurent Lessard; ECE Assistant Professor Jing Li; ECE Assistant Professor Po-Ling Loh; EP Assistant Professor Jacob Notbohm; ECE Assistant Professor Zongfu Yu; CEE Assistant Professor Daniel Wright; and CBE Assistant Professor Victor Zavala.

The college is growing with new faculty hires, including:

Education and Student Achievements

As one of top colleges of engineering in the world, the UW-Madison College of Engineering delivers an outstanding engineering education, and that includes providing our students with cutting-edge facilities that foster creativity and enable active, hands-on learning opportunities.

Members of our Society of Women Engineers learned to weld at a workshop offered by the TEAM Lab.

Part of nearly 25,000 square feet of fabrication space, our TEAM Lab includes a whole host of equipment to help students transform their ideas into real objects. In October 2018, the lab offered a workshop for members of our Society of Women Engineers to give students an opportunity to get comfortable using the equipment.

Our cutting-edge makerspace, the Grainger Engineering Design Innovation Laboratory, is enabling exciting new opportunities for students to collaborate, learn and create. In April 2018, the makerspace hosted our first energy hackathon. Students spent a weekend developing everything from smartphone apps to home sensor networks that might help people make more sustainable energy choices. And for UW–Madison Summer Term, the makerspace debuted a course called “Design & Make (Almost) Anything,” in which students worked on interdisciplinary teams to develop creative solutions to real-world issues.

We unveiled the Rockwell Automation Industrial Connected Enterprise Laboratory in the Engineering Centers Building. The lab will give our students access to state-of-the-art technology from Rockwell, helping them gain real-world experience and an important leg up when they enter the job market.

For engineers looking to advance in their careers, it can be challenging to find the time to pursue additional training and gain new skills that are important in quickly changing industries. That’s why we’ve developed a number of new one-year master’s programs that offer considerable flexibility. For example, graduates of the industrial and systems engineering department’s two new specialized master’s options in human factors and health systems engineering and systems engineering and analytics are finding success in their careers.

 UW-Madison engineering students and women in Tharaka Nithi County in Kenya
Students designed a double-sided vest to help women in Kenya to carry water.

And to help working engineers gain essential skills in industrial data analytics, ISyE Assistant Professor Kaibo Liu developed and taught a new online course to make an immediate impact well beyond the physical boundaries of the campus. 

In summer 2018, a group of our undergraduates participated in the Citrine NextGen fellowship program, through which they developed critical skills in the burgeoning field of materials informatics.

Our faculty not only are world-class researchers, but they also continuously strive to elevate their teaching. As participants in a UW-Madison program designed to enhance their skills, electrical and computer engineers Zongfu Yu, Dimitris Papailiopoulos and Eric Severson are part of a long tradition of engineering innovation in education.

 Kayla Huemer and Hannah Lider in India
Students Kayla Huemer, left, and Hannah Lider received 2018-19 Fulbright awards, which will allow them to study and conduct research in India.

Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Peter Adamczyk saw an opportunity to enrich students’ educational experience by completely reinventing the Introduction to Robotics course to emphasize hands-on learning and doing robotics. The new course format is getting an enthusiastic and positive response from students.

Taking the Wisconsin Idea to heart, our students pursued projects aimed at benefiting the lives of people in the state and beyond. These projects included designing a renewable energy system for a school in rural Wisconsin, and creating a double-sided vest to help women in Kenya to carry water long distances in a less physically taxing way.

Our student organizations give participants the opportunity to take lessons learned in the classroom and apply them to big challenges while competing against the best teams from around the world. Our Clean Snowmobile Team earned third place in the 2018 SAE International competition, and Wisconsin Racing won fourth place overall at the 2018 Formula SAE Electric competition with an innovative all-wheel-drive electric car. In addition, the Badgerloop team had a strong showing at the 2018 SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition.

Some of our top undergraduate scholars won major awards. Chemical engineering student Nathan Wang won a prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship. And biomedical engineering students Kayla Huemer and Hannah Lider received 2018-19 Fulbright awards, which will allow them to study and conduct research in India.