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December 22, 2017

A successful 2017: Looking back on the past year

Written By: Ascedia -

For the UW-Madison College of Engineering, 2017 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.

Ambitious projects, far-reaching partnerships

Our faculty members are leading a number of large research projects that are poised to have significant impacts. In January 2017, a partnership including UW-Madison engineers was named one of 10 proving grounds for driverless cars and trucks by the U.S. Department of Transportation, underscoring the expertise of UW-Madison engineers in researching various aspects of autonomous and connected vehicle technology.

UW-Madison’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC)—a flagship interdisciplinary research center based in the College of Engineering and including 30 affiliated faculty from across the university—received $15.6 million in support from the National Science Foundation to continue its groundbreaking research on materials. The funding marks more than two decades of NSF support for UW-Madison researchers’ quest to investigate fundamental, large-scale and complex questions in materials science.

With a grant from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, we’re developing a low-cost, easy-to-use system that aims to accelerate learning by stimulating nerves in the head and neck to boost neural activity in the brain.

As demands of existing wireless systems reach capacity, we are helping pave the way for the next generation of wireless systems—5G and beyond.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded our engineers $9.3 million in funding for advanced nuclear energy research. The awards will drive new research on compact heat exchangers, nuclear fuel cycles, enabling technologies, and advanced reactor concepts. DOE grants are also supporting our efforts to develop advanced motor technology and 3D-printed heat exchangers. We’re also collaborating with Westinghouse Electric Company on a high-profile, accelerated project to develop nuclear fuel rod coatings that could revolutionize nuclear fuel.

And several of our engineers are among leading researchers around the country participating in the newly created Reducing Embodied-Energy and Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) Institute, which will forge new clean-energy initiatives deemed critical in keeping U.S. manufacturing competitive.

We are developing an electronic health system to help adults over the age of 65 manage multiple chronic health conditions. With a new grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, our researchers have joined a national network to help combat opioid epidemic and other substance abuse disorders.

In collaboration with the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, we are studying patients’ brain networks to increase our understanding of epilepsy. We’re also investigating ways to undermine the metabolism of cancer cells, and working to shed light on the cellular mechanisms that cause ALS.

UW-Madison was selected as a major partner in the new National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Cell Manufacturing Technologies, with several of our engineers contributing expertise to help expand the use of therapies based on living cells. Working closely with industry and clinical partners, the new center could help revolutionize the treatment of cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases and other disorders.

Our engineers take the Wisconsin Idea seriously, and their research projects reflect their commitment to improving people’s lives in Wisconsin and beyond through their work. For example, our engineers are leading a study on the “dairy-water-energy nexus,” which captures relationships among dairy farm operations, water use and quality, and energy use. The researchers will produce decision-making frameworks that government and industry can use to identify optimal strategies to tackle issues such as manure management.

Data science has transformed fields from biology to astronomy, and social networks to politics, influencing most aspects of modern life, and our engineers are making key contributions to building the future of data science. Several engineers are leading interdisciplinary projects in the new Institute for Foundations of Data Science at UW-Madison, developing fundamental techniques for handling increasingly massive data sets in shorter times. We’re also building and testing new methods and tools to make sense of how discreet events can influence the occurrence of other events over time.

In collaboration with several UW-Madison partners, we installed a high-tech flooring prototype in UW-Madison’s Union South that harvests the energy of footsteps and converts it into electricity. The prototype is based on innovative technology developed by our engineers that could soon contribute to the expanding suite of renewable energy options.

Research breakthroughs

In 2017 our faculty led many advances in a wide range of fields. Some of their most significant accomplishments over the past year included:

Outstanding faculty

College of Engineering faculty earn prestigious honors for their research and teaching. In 2017, Randolph Ashton earned a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for his research. In addition, young faculty Mikhail Kats received an Air Force Office of Scientific Research young investigator award; Jason Kawasaki received an Army Research Office young investigator award; and Zongfu Yu won a young faculty award through the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Dan Ludois was one of five researchers nationwide to be named a 2017 Moore Inventor Fellow.

The college is growing with new faculty hires, including:

Eric Severson, Jiamian Hu and Greeshma Gadikota also hold appointments in the college’s Grainger Institute for Engineering. The institute, which was established in 2014 with a historic $25 million commitment from The Grainger Foundation of Lake Forest, Illinois, continues to grow with the addition of new research thrusts. The new thrusts include: energy and sustainability (led by Todd Allen); a smart and connected healthcare thrust (led by Pascale Carayon); and a biomanufacturing thrust (led by Bill Murphy).

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. In September 2017, the college opened the Grainger Engineering Design Innovation Laboratory, a brand-new makerspace located on the ground (2nd) floor of the Wendt building. The 12,000-square-foot space is a maker’s dream; filled with a wide range of rapid prototyping equipment, it’s a place for our engineering students, faculty and staff to invent, 3D print, create, collaborate and fabricate. Additionally, the college transformed the entire third floor of the Wendt building into modern interactive engineering classrooms.

Students are jumping at the opportunity to bring their ideas to life in the makerspace. In a weekend-long “Makeathon” contest, student teams designed and built devices that could help solve a medical disability-related challenge.

We broke ground on the Jun and Sandra Lee Wisconsin Structures and Materials Testing Laboratory, a 2,500-square-foot laboratory addition made possible through a $1 million lead donation from Jun (BSCE ’68, MSCE ’69, PhDCE ’73) and Sandy Lee (BA ’69) and many other contributions from the department’s friends and alumni. The new facility will allow structural engineering faculty, students, collaborators and industry partners to forge new ground in full-scale testing and evaluating structural elements and building materials.

Our faculty continued to provide innovative, hands-on learning experiences that challenge students to solve real-world problems. For their senior design project, a team of civil and environmental engineering students proposed an elegant solution for renovating UW-Madison’s aging Witte Residence Hall, and University Housing ultimately included key elements of the students’ design into its actual Witte renovation plan.

Through an award-winning academic-industry partnership, industrial and systems engineering students got the chance to present their research project to the senior leadership team of a multi-million-dollar company and work with its business intelligence team to turn that project into one of its frequently used decision support tools.

In a new capstone class, Inter-Engineering 601, which is part of the new Certificate in Engineering for Energy Sustainability, students were instrumental in creating an analysis that is helping the Wisconsin city of Waterloo evaluate whether it could generate all its electricity from renewable sources on city-owned land.

Our faculty members continue to be leaders in educational innovation, and they are constantly looking for ways to enhance student learning. For example, the college began offering a new course that teaches students how to use unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, to collect data, and the practical business and engineering applications of the technology.

And faculty members are boosting student engagement with the material by pursuing a flipped classroom format in their courses.

Our students’ success extends beyond their impressive academic achievements. They are driven entrepreneurs with a passion for using their engineering knowledge to improve the world. For example, a startup from two graduate students is working to provide clean, renewable and sustainable electricity to communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And another student startup company harnesses genetic sequencing techniques to rapidly detect pathogens in drinking water.

The Badgerloop team participated in the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition in January 2017, and then designed and built an entirely new, lightweight functional pod to compete in the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition II in August 2017. The team won innovation awards at each competition, which drew teams from around the world.