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Innovation[X] 2021-2022 Projects

LAUNCH is proud to announce the following projects selected for the Innovation[X] Program grants for 2021-2022:

  • A Portable Platform Enables On-Site Rapid and Sensitive Detection of Airborne Bacteria and Viruses in Aerosol Samples Using Droplet-Based Isothermal Amplification
  • Accelerating Electron Beam Technology Adoption by Empowering Entrepreneurs
  • Human Brain Processes During Complex Locomotor Navigation
  • Innovation for Secure Energy For Homes
  • Innovation for Sustainability: Outlining Opportunities to Transition Texas A&M to Carbon Neutrality
  • Perovskite Quantum Dot Solar Cells with Enhanced Efficiency and Stability
  • Prototyping Blue-Green Infrastructure as Complex Adaptive Systems for Space Habitats
  • Real-Time Analytics for Data Visualization
  • Restoring Happiness: Leveraging GeoAI and Social Engagement to Address Happiness Inequalities Post COVID and Winter Storm Uri
  • SageSensors – Precision Agriculture Biosensor Program
Project Summaries
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Innovation[X] Virtual Poster Gallery

Each year we ask our Innovation[X] Teams to summarize their hard work into research posters to showcase their progress and highlight their cross-campus collaborations. Visit our virtual poster gallery to learn more about each Innovation[X] project and the exciting progress they have made over the past year.

Virtual Poster Gallery

Innovation[X] 2021-2022 Projects

Thanks to the positive response by both faculty and staff to our call for proposals, Innovation[X] is proud to sponsor 10 projects in the 2021-22 academic year. Learn more about each project below.

A Portable Platform Enables On-Site Rapid and Sensitive Detection of Airborne Bacteria and Viruses in Aerosol Samples Using Droplet-Based Isothermal Amplification

Project Contact: Dr. Arum Han, Presidential Impact Fellow, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, College of Engineering
Email: arum.han@ece.tamu.edu
Phone: 979-458-8854

Project Title: A Portable Platform Enables On-Site Rapid and Sensitive Detection of Airborne Bacteria and Viruses in Aerosol Samples Using Droplet-Based Isothermal Amplification

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Arum Han, Presidential Impact Fellow, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering College of Engineering, arum.han@ece.tamu.edu  
  • Dr. Jing Dai, Assistant Research Scientist, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, College of Engineering, jzd0011@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Paul de Figueiredo, Associate Professor, Department of Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunology, College of Medicine, pjdefigueiredo@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Han Zhang, Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, College of Engineering, han.zhang@tamu.edu

Team Contributors:

  • Dr. Michael Criscitiello, Professor, Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, crisciti@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Felix Liu, Postdoc Research Associate, Department of Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunology, College of Medicine
  • Ms. Kaitlyn Romoser, Ph.D. Graduate Student/Research Assistant, Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, kaitlyn.romoser@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Jing Yang, Postdoc Research Associate, Department of Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunology, College of Medicine, yangjing-sh@tamu.edu

Units/Departments Represented:
Electrical and Computer Engineering, Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunology, Veterinary Pathobiology

Schools Represented:
Engineering, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences

Description:
This project offers an opportunity for students from both engineering and life sciences to work with multidisciplinary group of faculties and research staff to develop portable and sensitive airborne pathogen detection technologies that can be deployed for on-site monitoring, both for the current pandemic as well as for the future. Students will learn skills in engineering design, skills in collecting and analyzing data, as well as evaluating the outcomes. Students will also learn how to work collaboratively in a multidisciplinary environment, including both undergraduate and graduate students, and will have opportunities to provide both mentorship and learn from mentors.

Background:
Airborne pathogen transmission has caused the outbreak of several severe pandemic diseases, including SARS (2003), H1N1 (2009), MERS-CoV (2015), and now COVID-19. The rapid development of the COVID-19 pandemic shows the high-risk emerging pathogens pose on public health and economic loss. Significant efforts have been devoted to developing rapid and accurate diagnostic methods, many with success. However, there is still a need for portable and sensitive airborne pathogen detection technologies that can be deployed for on-site monitoring, both for the current pandemic as well as in the future.  

Detection of airborne pathogens requires both aerosol sample collection and analysis. Current sampling methods include gravitational sampling, electrostatic sampling, centrifuge sampling, but they require long sampling time and complex steps. Therefore, a more simple and effective method is needed. Analysis of the collected pathogens can be conducted through two major techniques: nucleic acid-based method such as real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) that detects the viral genetic material, and protein based such as immunoassay (using antibody) that detects specific proteins that are generated in human body upon infection. RT-PCR is currently the gold standard for SARS-CoV-2 detection. This method also has relatively higher sensitivity than immunoassay. However, these assays are conducted in laboratory setting, taking 2-4 h to complete. Therefore, it is challenging to perform RT-PCR for rapid on-site testing. The integration of a microfluidic chip with PCR technique has the potential to address these limitations due to the advantages of microfluidis such as reduced reagent consumption, high-throughput multiplexed assay capability, shorter reaction time, easy to make it portable, and being low cost.

Goals:
The goal of this project is to offer a solution to tackle the challenge of on-site, rapid, and sensitive detection of airborne pathogens present in aerosol samples by integrating multidisciplinary effort from faculties, research staff, and STEM students from both engineering and life sciences.

In this project, we aim to:

1) Develop a portable platform that is capable of on-site aerosol sampling, followed by rapid and sensitive detection of airborne pathogens using microfluidic droplet-based reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification detection. This aim includes three sub-aims:

a) Development of an aerosol collection module to capture aerosol containing surrogates of airborne bacteria and viruses and transform aerosol into liquid phase to collect pathogens. This is because most commonly used molecular analysis method requires the sample to be in liquid phase. To achieve this sub-aim, we will design an aerosol collection module by using membrane filters to trap aerosols inside an airflow. Then, the trapped aerosol will be buffered into the liquid phase to release pathogens into liquid phase and retained for downstream detection. The performance of the collection module will be evaluated using surrogates of airborne bacteria and viruses.

b) Development of a portable platform that consists of a microfluidic droplet generation and collection module, integrated with a temperature controller module, to perform in-droplet isothermal amplification for pathogen detection. Isothermal amplification is a compelling alternative to PCR with advantages of reduced time-to-result (assay time less than 30 min), no need for temperature cycling or rapid heating and cooling, robustness against inhibitors, and high specificity. Two commonly used isothermal amplification methods for point-of-care diagnosis, loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) and recombinase polymerase amplification (RPA), will be evaluated and utilized in the proposed system.  Microfluidic droplet-based assays have been demonstrated to improve the detection sensitivity by over 1,000 times compare to bulk assays. Therefore, performing isothermal amplification in droplet format enables rapid and sensitive detection of target pathogens. The pathogens released in liquid phase will be encapsulated and isolated into millions of picoliter volume droplets generated by a miniature microfluidic droplet generator module. Then, those droplets will be collected and positioned inside a microchamber for subsequent isothermal amplification and imaging. Isothermal amplification-based diagnosis requires only single-step heating and relatively low temperature (25ËšC to up to 60 ËšC), so it has significant advantages for portable applications. Here, a portable temperature controller module will be designed to accommodate the droplet generation and collection modules to perform droplet-based isothermal amplification. This entire platform will be designed to be carried inside a suitcase.

c) Development of a program and algorithm for platform control, image processing, and detection result reporting. A program will be coded to operate the portable temperature controller module. Algorithms will be developed to analyze acquired fluorescence images of droplets under a smartphone-based optical imaging module. A user interface will be developed to allow users to operate and view the detection results on a smartphone.   

2) Foster STEM students’ engagement in a multidisciplinary collaborative project to solve a real-world problem under a challenging circumstance. This aim includes the following three sub-aims:

a) Design of tasks to enable interplay between remote and bench work personnel. For example, computational simulation personnel who can work remotely will have to work with module prototyping personnel.

b) Design of a collaborative task for a small group setting. Generally, two undergraduate students will team up to work together on a single task. Depending on the task content, one graduate student may partner with one undergraduate student.

c) Utilize technologies to enable a collaborative task for a large group setting. The final task of this proposed project will require the participation of the entire team (10 students). We will use available communication and management technologies, for example, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, etc., to facilitate the collaboration while minimizing in-person large group gathering.

Outcomes:
Prototype: The prototype of each component (including aerosol collection module, temperature controller module, droplet microfluidic module, optical module, and smartphone application) and integrated portable device will be manufactured and demonstrated for proof-of-concept validation. 

Publications: We expect to publish the work in a high impact journal such as the ACS sensors, Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical, or Biosensors and Bioelectronics. The combination of isothermal amplification with droplet microfluidics for portable airborne pathogen detection is novel and has never been done before, thus we expect that the completed work will lead to journal publication.  

Further grant application: The proposed detection method has broad utility. For example, the proposed system can be leveraged to fulfill different diagnosis needs, for example, other airborne pathogens such as influenza, tuberculosis (TB), Bird Flu (H5N1), and pathogenic fungus. The outcomes from this project can be a solid preliminary data in future funding applications to federal agencies such as the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB).  

Patent application: The integrated system can be further developed into a portable point-of-care diagnosis system, since the fabrication of the platform is simple and can easily be standardized for mass production, which makes the system to have high commercial value and patentable. The integration of droplet microfluidics method with isothermal amplification could increase the detection sensitivity by several orders of magnitude, which has not been done by others yet. Airborne pathogen detection using such a portable system is rarely reported.

Benefit to Students:
8 undergraduate and 2 graduate students will be involved in this project. Students will learn how to collaborate with persons having different background and knowledge to complete a task in a small group setting and/or a project in a big group setting. We expect to recruit team members from STEM background, create a natural multidisciplinary environment. Both undergraduate and graduate students will improve their skills in research design and method under the mentorship of faculty and research staff. Specifically, in the project, students will gain experience from hands-on experiments such as the use of biosafety cabinets for virus and bacteria cell culture and the use of nebulizers and gelatin filters for aerosol sample generation and collection as well as microfluidic device fabrication (photolithography and replication molding). 

Besides, students also learn important professional skills in engineering design such as microfluidic device design and microcontroller design, software control such as LabVIEW or Arduino automation, simulation & programming (COMSOL heat transfer simulation, fluidic dynamic simulation and JavaScript for Android smartphone application development), and integration technique that to combine the separated compartments to an entire device. Besides, they will learn how to collect and analyze data and evaluate the outcomes, for example, signal processing, calibration technique and calculate the target concentration based on the fluorescent image result acquired by the camera. For graduates, in addition to the above-mentioned benefits, they will learn how to organize and lead a group task/project and supervise undergraduate research.

Students will also have the opportunity to co-author publications with the faculty and team leaders. During the manuscript preparation, students will practice their academic data presentation and writing skills and learn how to construct a high-quality academic journal article.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
For undergraduate students, $11/hour. For graduate students, $15/hour for students who already RA’s or TA’s.

Will the project require travel?
No travel required.

Read the Full Proposal

Accelerating Electron Beam Technology Adoption by Empowering Entrepreneurs

Project Contact: Dr. Suresh Pillai, Professor of Microbiology & Food Safety, Texas AgriLife Research Faculty Fellow, Department of Food Science and Technology, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences
Email: s-pillai@tamu.edu
Phone: 979.458.3229

Project Title: Accelerating Electron Beam Technology Adoption by Empowering Entrepreneurs

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Suresh Pillai, Professor of Microbiology & Food Safety, Texas AgriLife Research Faculty Fellow, Department of Food Science and Technology, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, s-pillai@tamu.edu  
  • Dr. Saurabh Biswas, Executive Director for Commercialization and Entrepreneurship, Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering, and Associate Professor of Practice, Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, saurabh_biswas@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Neil Geismar, Professor, Center for Executive Development, and Department of Information and Operations Management, Mays Business School, ngeismar@tamu.edu

Units Represented:
Food Science and Technology, Biomedical Engineering, Center for Executive Development, Information and Operations Management

Schools Represented:
Agriculture and Life Sciences, Engineering, Mays

Description:
Electron Beam (eBeam) technology is a rapidly growing technology that has a variety of applications to improve human lives. Did you know that the contact lens that you may have worn today, or the dashboard of the car you were in or the spices you sprinkled on your food this afternoon were most probably exposed to this technology? Texas A&M University is the world leader in this technology and is the home of the National Center for Electron Beam Research (https://ebeam-tamu.org/). We are looking for at least 12 undergraduate students and 3 graduate students (masters or Ph.D.) to be part of 12-month ambitious project. Students will be supported on a token stipend and/or could obtain research credit hours working on this project. Your work could propel Texas to become the hub of eBeam technology in the US. You will be exposed to new opportunities in this high-paying field. We want you!

Background:
Electron beam (eBeam) and X-ray technologies are critically important because the ionization radiation they generate can be used for sterilization, pasteurization, and cross-linking polymers. Sterilization, pasteurization, and polymer cross-linking technologies are critically important for the medical device, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, automotive, and food processing industries. Approximately 300 pharmaceutical/medical device/biotechnology companies are spread across Texas, contributing approximately $54 billion to the state’s economy. 

The automotive and the food processing industries in Texas jointly contribute approximately $33 billion to the economy.  Yet, there is NOT ONE commercial eBeam or X-ray service provider in Texas. These industries must ship their products out of state for these services or substitute these technologies with other costly or inefficient technologies. There is, therefore, a highly lucrative business opportunity for entrepreneurs to design, build, and operate eBeam and X-ray service centers all across Texas to cater to industries. In some instances, these technologies may be needed in-line within the manufacturing process, in some instances, the technology may be needed at the end of the manufacturing process, or at times, the products could be shipped to a commercial eBeam/x-ray service facility within a few hours driving distance. 

Therefore, there is a need for highly technical and specific information that will be of value to entrepreneurs who are interested in entering this market and investing in eBeam and X-ray technology -based businesses. The State of Texas has financial and other incentive plans that could be leveraged by entrepreneurs. TAMU’s National Center for Electron Beam Research (NCEBR) at TAMU is the world leading authority on the commercial adoption of these technologies. In this project, NCEBR will develop resources to empower innovative entrepreneurs to build lucrative eBeam/X-ray technology businesses in Texas.

Goals:
The goal of the project is to prepare a comprehensive 5-to-10-year technology and business development roadmap that will empower entrepreneurs to invest in electron beam (eBeam) and X-ray technology businesses in Texas. The specific objectives of the proposed project are to 1)Identify the current and future markets for eBeam and X-ray services based businesses across Texas, 2) Identify the technology configurations (in-line/end of line/in-house/commercial service facility) that these different industries need in their manufacturing processes, 3) Identify the technical specifications for the eBeam and X-ray equipment for each of these different configurations 4)Identify the possible commercial vendors for the equipment to meet the specific configuration (in-line /in-house/3rd party service provider), 5) Identify the ideal geographical locations and logistical considerations for siting these eBeam/X-ray facilities /service centers across Texas, 6) identify the equipment capital costs and operating costs for building and operating eBeam/X-ray businesses in Texas, 7)Identify the economic incentive programs that are available to entrepreneurs in invest in such businesses in Texas, 8) identify the financial and capital resources available for investing in such technologies in Texas, and 9) identify the “opportunity zones” that are available in Texas as part of the State of Texas’ economic development and job creation program . A collateral goal of this project is to expose 16 TAMU students (12 undergraduate and 4 graduate students) about eBeam and X-ray technologies and highlight the business and employment opportunity in these industries. We are confident that we can impart strong highly technical experiential education about eBeam and X-ray technologies to these 15 TAMU students majoring in either business, engineering, or life sciences.   Not only will the students become proficient in these technologies, but by participating in this project they will acquire a wide variety of hard and soft professional skill sets. 

Presently in the US, there are only two large commercial eBeam /X-ray service providers namely Steris and Sterigenics controlling about 12 eBeam/X-ray service facilities in the Midwest, west coast, and east coast. Besides them, there are only two other eBeam/X-ray service providers namely Steri-Tek and E-Beam Services (each of them having a single facility each).  Besides a significant dearth of eBeam/X-ray capacity in the US, there is no such technology/business roadmap for these technologies that is easily accessible for entrepreneurs for any region of the US let alone the world. The NCEBR at TAMU has been recognized by the USDA as the National Center for Electron Beam Research, it has been recognized by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)as a Collaborating Center for eBeam technology applications and more recently, has been designated by the US Department of Energy’s National Center for Low Energy eBeam Research. Besides focusing on advancing fundamental and translational research in eBeam and X-ray technologies, the NCEBR major goal is advancing the commercial adoption of these technologies around the world. One of the major goals of these activities is to remove/reduce/eliminate the need to use radioactive isotopes such as cobalt-60 and cesium-137 from commercial use. Reducing commercial use of radioactive isotopes is of significant homeland security value. Therefore, providing eBeam and X-ray technologies to Texas industries rather than them having to rely on cobalt-60 for some of their applications has significant importance to the national security of this country as well.

Outcomes:
The primary outputs of this project will include a comprehensive, heavily referenced document that will contain all the pertinent information required by entrepreneurs who are keen on investing in eBeam and X-ray technology businesses across Texas. In addition to the hard copy document, the information will be stored on the OAKTrust digital repository at the TAMU library for posterity. Additionally, the information will be stored on a project website that will be used for collecting and curating information and displaying information for interested users and stakeholders. Besides these outputs, the other work products will include peer-reviewed research papers that focus on the study design and the data collection methods.  The major outcome of this project will be the creation of multi-million-dollar eBeam and X-ray businesses across Texas catering to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical, automotive and food processing industries in Texas. The long-term impact of this project will be transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary collaborations across Texas A&M University in the area of eBeam and X-ray technologies. 

The other outcomes will include the development of an eBeam/X-ray technology-based certificate programs with instructors from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Mays Business School, and the College of Engineering. As mentioned earlier, the 16 students involved in this project will develop deep technical expertise in eBeam and X-ray technologies. By virtue of their involvement in the project, there is a strong likelihood that they would find employment possibly within the new eBeam/X-ray businesses that would be created as a spin-off from this project. We are confident that this technology/business roadmap that is customized for Texas can be replicated all across the other states in the US.

Benefit to Students:
The students will benefit from this project in at least three primary ways. Firstly, the students will obtain specific technical knowledge as it relates to eBeam and X-ray technologies, deep understanding of how these technologies are utilized in the different industries and understanding the current challenges in not having these technologies readily available in Texas. Besides this, the students will get to understand concepts in supply chains, logistics, decisions involved in siting of eBeam/X-ray service facilities locations, determining capital and operating costs of a high technology centered business, determining the valuations of companies, concepts and first principles of venture capitalists. 

Secondly, the students will acquire a variety of professional skills during this project. This will include working in teams, project management, working on tangible project objectives, meeting project deliverables, and tracking project progress. The doctoral student on the project team will acquire significant experience in project management and mentoring undergraduate students. The masters level graduate students will also obtain significant experience in project management, empowering as well as mentoring undergraduate students. Thirdly, the students will gain from participating in this project by obtaining ample opportunities to develop and hone a variety of “soft skills” including working in teams, preparing technical documents, presenting technical data, data visualization, speaking with industry professionals, organizing and running meetings.  There is no doubt that students on this project will definitely strengthen their presentation skills.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
We will support only the undergraduate students. We will recruit a minimum of 12 undergraduate students to the project and 3 graduate students (master’s level). We will also recruit a Ph.D. student to the project. Six (6) undergrads will be paid $11/hour for contributing 15 hours/week. The remaining 6 students will be provided 3 hours of research credit. We will switch the students around (in terms of paid/research credit) in the 2nd semester. A Ph.D. student (who is already supported on an assistantship) and with deep knowledge of the technology will be chosen as the Project Student Leader.

Will the project require travel?
The project does not anticipate travel at this time.

Read the Full Proposal

Human Brain Processes During Complex Locomotor Navigation

Project Contact: Dr. Andrew Nordin, Assistant Professor, Department of Health & Kinesiology, College of Education & Human Development
Email: nordina@tamu.edu
Phone: 702-201-7764

Project Title: Human Brain Processes During Complex Locomotor Navigation

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Andrew Nordin, Assistant Professor, Department of Health & Kinesiology, College of Education & Human Development, nordina@tamu.edu   
  • Dr. Heather Burte, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology & Brain Sciences, College of Liberal Arts, heather.burte@tamu.edu

Team Contributors:

  • Dr. Ann McNamara, Assistant Professor, Department of Visualization, College of Architecture and Visualization, ann@tamu.edu

Units Represented:
Health & Kinesiology, Psychology & Brain Sciences, Visualization

Schools Represented:
Education & Human Development, Liberal Arts, Architecture and Visualization

Description:
Walking and running in complex environments is often part of daily life, but we understand surprisingly little about how the human brain operates in the real-world. To better understand how the brain is able to process information while navigating complex terrain, we will develop new methods for wirelessly measuring human brain and body dynamics during gait. By measuring electrical brain and muscle activities, along with eye gaze and whole-body motion tracking in immersive virtual reality, we will uncover the neural basis of behaviors that occur in tasks ranging from grocery store shopping to sports performance.

Background:
This project leverages innovative methods for imaging the human brain during walking to better understand how multisensory processing occurs during real-world locomotor behaviors. Next-generation mobile brain imaging technologies will be developed and integrated with methods to track eye gaze behavior and human movement dynamics while exploring complex, realistic environments in immersive virtual reality. Navigating complex environments is part of daily human life, yet we understand surprisingly little about how the brain is able to maintain dynamic balance during gait while multitasking and managing sensory feedback from sight, scent, and sounds in the environment. Distributed parallel brain processes are therefore necessary for basic locomotor control, spatial navigation, and cognition, which emphasize a need to study whole brain processes in complex real-world environments. 

Despite the rich body of scientific literature examining neural control of locomotion, studying brain processes during freely moving behaviors has remained largely prohibited due to technical limitations. The limited availability of neuroimaging methods suitable for measuring neural dynamics during whole body movement highlights a need to devise innovative solutions for non-invasively measuring brain activity. Many complementary neuroimaging methods exist, but the portability, millisecond precision, and relatively low cost of electroencephalography (EEG) make it well-suited for studying mobile human brain dynamics. Because ambulatory abilities have substantial influence on quality of life, imaging the brain during gait can help to identify causes of, and possible interventions for, gait deficits due to aging, traumatic injury, stroke, or neurodegenerative diseases. Assistive devices that incorporate brain-computer interfaces are also dependent on the applied knowledge gained from cortical locomotor control studies.

Goals:
There are three main goals for the project: (1) To develop next-generation wireless technologies for recording high-fidelity electrical brain activity during locomotion, (2) To measure human brain and body dynamics during gait in immersive virtual reality environments, (3) To identify brain structures and electrocortical dynamics during complex, realistic locomotor behaviors. 

This project introduces hardware and signal processing advancements for capturing high-fidelity electrical brain dynamics during locomotion in real-world settings and will establish best practices for recording and analyzing mobile EEG data during complex locomotor navigation. Mobile EEG innovations have shown it is possible to study human brain processes during gait when appropriately eliminating signal contaminants due to electrode and cable motions. Advancing mobile EEG data collection and signal cleaning methods using next-generation sensor configurations and wireless recording technologies provides a unique opportunity to enhance real world neuroimaging capabilities. By establishing new state of the art methods, the project provides a platform to transform the capabilities of cognitive and motor neuroscience studies. 

Because naturalistic behaviors frequently require object avoidance and interception during locomotion, our aim is to measure human brain and body dynamics during these tasks. Encountering objects to circumvent or step over and targets to reach or intercept occurs during daily activities that span grocery shopping to competitive sports. Multisensory processing is required to maintain awareness of external goals and dynamic objects in the environment. By studying human electrocortical activity while subjects walk within immersive virtual reality, it is possible to better understand sensorimotor and cognitive processes that dynamically interact during daily life. Immersive virtual reality has become increasingly common in gaming, training simulations, and rehabilitation settings because of the nearly unlimited possibilities for generating customized environments and scenarios. Combing treadmill-based immersive virtual reality with mobile high-density EEG recordings allows us to study human brain processes in settings ranging from simple to complex. By creating virtual environments that can be explored through self-paced treadmill locomotion, we are able to investigate human brain dynamics during spatial navigation while systematically introducing visual and auditory stimuli, and mechanical perturbations through continuously adjusted terrain via the treadmill. We will use novel mobile EEG recording and data processing methods to study independent and interactive brain processes during locomotion, object avoidance, interception, and spatial navigation while introducing competing sensory stimuli in complex virtual environments. We will track eye movements and gaze behavior to precisely pinpoint visual target identification using portable wireless eye tracking equipment worn as conventional eyeglasses with four onboard cameras. We will also record full body biomechanics using motion capture and ground reaction forces from a dual belt force measuring treadmill. 

Deciphering basic locomotor control from multisensory processing and multitasking can help to uncover the neural underpinnings of complex, real-world navigation. We will identify the cortical structures and electrocortical dynamics involved in basic human locomotion, including visual target identification, motion tracking, step sequencing, and foot placement, in addition to auditory, somatosensory, and vestibular processing during gait.  Outcomes from the project will include groundbreaking data recording and analysis methods that will provide unprecedented insight into human brain and body dynamics during complex locomotor behavior. Knowledge gained from these unprecedented experiments will also help to generate next-generation neurotechnologies.

Outcomes:
During the project, we will develop methods for recording high-density mobile EEG together with eye gaze behavior and human movement biomechanics. We will also create immersive virtual reality environments integrated into a treadmill-based setup that is installed in many gait labs around the world. This technical work will lead to papers published for the purpose of sharing equipment configurations and data processing steps. Students will produce instructional videos that will be shared via our laboratory websites. These methods will provide the foundation for conducting human subject testing outside the lab using completely wireless and portable recording equipment. The long-term goal of the proposed 4-year project, currently under review with the National Science Foundation, is to measure human brain and body dynamics during a real-world soccer game. Here, we provide the technical capabilities to make this possible. If our NSF proposal is funded, this Innovation-X proposal will fund 9 undergraduate students to work alongside three NSF-supported graduate students. If unfunded by NSF, these data will be incorporated into a future proposal.

Students working on the project will submit abstracts for presentation at the Texas A&M Institute for Neuroscience Annual Symposium. Our research findings will lead to several impactful publications aimed at identifying human electrocortical dynamics during locomotor navigation in immersive virtual reality environments. Following manuscript acceptance for publication, raw EEG, eye-tracking, and biomechanical subject data will be uploaded to PhysioBank, an archive for physiological recordings. With access to these data, the research community will be able to test additional hypotheses about locomotor navigation that will enhance the value of the dataset outside of the proposed project. PhysioNet is supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

Benefit to Students:
Students will gain hands-on experiences configuring, calibrating, testing, and obtaining written informed consent prior to collecting human subject testing using research equipment in a traditional biomechanics gait lab. Specific projects components will also require hardware and software testing, data stream synchronization, coding, and troubleshooting of mobile EEG, eye-tracking, and virtual reality equipment. Because we will form three collaborative groups tasked with completing specific project components, each doctoral student will gain valuable experience mentoring and managing a team of undergraduate research assistants. Each student will have opportunities to share progress and technical knowledge gained during the experimental setup and preliminary findings from human data collections that include mobile EEG, movement biomechanics, and eye gaze recordings during locomotor navigation in virtual reality. 

Support from the award will provide crucial opportunities for three academic trainees pursuing PhD degrees and nine undergraduate research assistants in disciplines that span motor neuroscience, psychology, kinesiology, computer science, visualization, and biomedical engineering. The project will deepen each student’s studies on human locomotion, multisensory processing, spatial navigation, virtual reality, and biomedical sensor development. The knowledge gained from these experiences will be a critical step in their academic growth. As a group, we will circulate weekly literature updates via email to foster discussion and to encourage students to critically assess scientific papers on the topics of biomechanics, neural engineering, and motor neuroscience. Group meetings will be valuable opportunities to present scientific findings to a broad audience based on the academic diversity represented within the research team. Students will work together to prepare results for presentations and publications, with a short-term goal of the students submitting abstracts for presentation at the Texas A&M Institute for Neuroscience 13th Annual Symposium, typically held in April. Students will also gain experiences with the peer review process when preparing written documents and figures for scientific publications.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
Nine undergraduate student researchers will be paid from the Innovation[X] grant funds at a rate of $14/hour for 5 hours/week during 15 weeks in both the Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 semesters.

Will the project require travel?
The project will be conducted on campus at Texas A&M University and will not require travel.

Read the Full Proposal

Innovation for Secure Energy For Homes

Project Contact: Dr. Tracy Hammond, Director of Institute for Engineering Education and Innovation, Professor, Computer Science & Engineering, College of Engineering
Email: hammond@tamu.edu
Phone: 979-353-0899

Project Title: Innovation for Secure Energy For Homes

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Tracy Hammond, Director of Institute for Engineering Education and Innovation, Professor, Computer Science & Engineering, College of Engineering, hammond@tamu.edu  
  • Dr. Mark Clayton, William M. Peña Professor of Information Management, Department of Architecture, College of Architecture & Visualization, mark-clayton@tamu.edu

Team Contributors:

  • Mr. Drew Casey, Graduate Research Assistant, Institute for Engineering Education and Innovation, Bush School of Public Service, drew.casey@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Paul Taele, Instructional Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science & Engineering, College of Engineering, and Assistant Director, Sketch Recognition Lab, College of Engineering, ptaele@tamu.edu

Units Represented:
Institute for Engineering Education and Innovation, Computer Science & Engineering, Architecture

Schools Represented:
Engineering, Architecture & Visualization, Bush School of Public Service

Description:
Let’s prevent power outages with Smart Homes! We can assure that the Texas house of the future is energy secure through increased efficiency of lighting, heating, air conditioning, and appliances as well as innovations in home energy generation, battery systems, electrical vehicle-to-grid systems, intelligent house components, and other technologies. Join our team and become an expert in these technologies – how they work, how to install them, what impact they can have, and the policies that must be adopted to make them real.

Background:
The frigid weather Texas experienced in February 2021 illuminated shortfalls in both the state’s energy infrastructure and long-term policies that led to over four million residents struggling to survive without power.  Most of Texas is on an isolated electrical grid that was overtaxed and ill-prepared for the cold weather, nearly causing a system-wide outage that could have lasted weeks or months. Texas’s Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) did not take the prerequisite steps to prepare the energy grid for cold weather. 

A report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, titled “Report on Outages and Curtailments During the Southwest Cold Weather Event of February 1-5, 2011.” found that the Texas energy grid was not properly prepared for the cold weather that occurred in 2011 and 1989. Both years saw cold snaps similar to the 2021 storm, and after both events, experts recommend Texas take immediate action to reinforce their grid. Additionally, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) produced a report in 2019 warning that Texas had insufficient energy reserves compared to other regions in the US. The recommendations from these previous reports were not mandatory, and Texas did not mandate these vital preparations for the past 32 years due to economic concerns and fears of overregulating.

While energy security starts with resilient generation, small-scale solutions could be more easily implemented to mitigate the damage caused by future storms. Renewable energy sources like wind and solar are growing fast but still have technical issues and inconsistent adoption. Cleaner energy sources need to be explored, providing consumers with more innovative energy distribution and usage opportunities. These new approaches require new sensors, building best practices, smart meters, and more to help utilities and consumers improve energy efficiency and security.

Goals:
This project is a two-semester design project where senior architecture students work with computer science students to design smart home solutions. The immediate goal is to create a small-scale academic incubator between the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and the Department of Architecture to provide undergraduate students an opportunity to collaborate with peers, gain hands-on experience, and generate new solutions to tackle growing energy issues. The architecture students will focus on developing energy-efficient building and land-use planning designs and best practices. The computer science students will design the sensors and networks that enable the architecture students’ innovative designs. 

During the Fall semester, classes taught by both team leaders will meet twice a month as part of their courses to collaborate on student lead design projects. Dr. Mark Clayton’s ARCH 405 Design Studio course will conduct literature reviews of smart building technologies and best practices. Dr. Tracy Hammond’s CSCE 291 and CSCE 491 Undergraduate Research courses will design the software and prototypes needed for the architecture student’s green infrastructure projects. Students from both departments will work on group projects to satisfy the project requirements of their courses. Both instructors have complete “design control” over their courses and will guide the students through their projects.

During the Spring semester, Dr. Clayton and Dr. Hammond will recruit interested students from the fall classes to continue developing and testing their projects as part of an independent research course. We expect to retain ten students from the Fall semester who will continue two or three selected design projects throughout the semesters. Additionally, these students will be paid a stipend during the Spring semester to support their work. 

The individual group design projects will determine their approach to improving green infrastructure, but could include: distributing power generation to the consumer through neighborhood microgrids using photovoltaics, wind, batteries, or other systems; power exchange between electric vehicles, homes,  and other buildings in emergencies; residential energy efficiency technology from high insulation, infiltration barriers, heat pumps, and geothermal heat pumps; better connected smart homes and devices that more efficiently regulate and reduce power usage; industrialize house production using 3D printing or factory fabrication and assembly that minimize energy use; or other facets of design that improve energy efficiency. These projects can be used by students interested in completing an undergraduate thesis or publishing in journals. Depending on the success of the projects, potential commercial applications could be developed. 

Participating students will have an opportunity to visit the Austin Energy Green Building (AEGB) and Center for Maximum Potential Building System. These institutions focus on green community innovation to promote sustainable environmental, economic, and human well-being development. The AEGB developed the first sustainability rating system in the US. The Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems is a non-profit life cycle planning and design research center that collaborates with businesses and professional firms. Students will have an opportunity to visit these facilities during the fall and spring semesters and learn about the current research and potential career opportunities. 

Another goal is to evaluate the pedagogical effectiveness of this project for future collaborations. A graduate research assistant with the Institute for Engineering Education and Innovation will be a team leader for the project and work with Dr. Clayton and Dr. Hammond to review the project’s impacts and publish findings in the appropriate journals and conferences. This analysis will potentially provide insight into future engineering education programs and the potential small-scale solutions for policy and technical issues.

Outcomes:
There are three categories of anticipated outcomes for this project: pedagogical, design innovation, and broader impacts. 

As part of this project’s administration, a pedagogical review will potentially provide insights into this teaching model’s effectiveness. These insights will help inform future projects and contribute to the growing program evaluation field and engineering education. A graduate student from the Bush School’s Master of Public Service and Administration program will develop performance measures to assess the impact on the students’ skill mastery, engagement, and design project efficacy.    

The individual student design projects that will occur through the Fall and Spring semester will provide innovative solutions for the country’s growing energy and policy issues. These innovations could include but are not limited to smart home designs that enable efficient energy usage or sensor network design that more effectively support smart home systems. Ideally, the students’ designs could be further expanded on in the students’ graduate studies or implemented by the green-infrastructure initiatives in Austin or similar institutions. 

This project also aims for broader educational impacts by giving undergraduate students experience working in an interdisciplinary team to solve real-life infrastructure challenges. Students from the Department of Architecture and the Department of Computer Science and Engineering do not have many opportunities to collaborate or participate in research projects. We will engage undergraduate students in research efforts, encouraging them to pursue graduate studies or inspire future career aspirations. This project will introduce more students to the interest area of sustainable design that could foster future innovators.

Benefit to Students:
This project aims to provide undergraduate students with experience working in an interdisciplinary team to solve real-life infrastructure challenges. They will develop team building and cross-disciplinary communication skills. Students from the Department of Architecture and the Department of Computer Science and Engineering do not have many opportunities to collaborate or participate in research projects, especially with other departments. This novel opportunity will engage undergraduate students in research efforts, encouraging them to pursue graduate studies or inspire future career aspirations. This project will introduce more students to the interest area of sustainable design that could foster future innovators. 

Additionally, the students will receive research credits during the second semester.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
Students will be selected for employment based on the quality of the papers that they produce in the Fall classes. We will pay ten students for 10 hours a week at $12 per hour during the spring semester. The estimated total will be $12,000. Students will continue their projects started during the fall semester based on the feasibility of their approach and the strength of their academic work. We could also provide a one-credit course in the Spring to facilitate the students’ work.

Will the project require travel?
The project will involve travel for students who participate in the Fall classes and students employed to continue their projects in the Spring. Students will travel to Austin to visit the Austin Energy Green Building (AEGB), the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, and Pliny Fisk’s sustainable house model.

Read the Full Proposal

Innovation for Sustainability: Outlining Opportunities to Transition Texas A&M to Carbon Neutrality

Project Contact: Dr. Tazim Jamal, Professor, Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences
Email: tjamal@tamu.edu
Phone: 979-845-6454

Project Title: Innovation for Sustainability: Outlining Opportunities to Transition Texas A&M to Carbon Neutrality

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Tazim Jamal, Professor, Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, tjamal@tamu.edu  
  • Dr. Jorge Alvarado, Professor, Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution, College of Engineering, jorge.alvarado@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Bassel Daher, Assistant Research Scientist/ Adj. Assistant Professor, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, College of Agriculture & Life Science, and TAMU Energy Institute bdaher@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Sarah Gatson, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, College of Liberal Arts, gatson@tamu.edu
  • Prof. James Michael Tate, Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture, College of Architecture, tate@tamu.edu 
  • Dr. Gunnar Schade, Associate Professor, Atmospheric Sciences/Meteorology, College of Geosciences  gws@tamu.edu
  • Ms. Kelly Wellman, Director, Office of Sustainability, kwellman@tamu.edu

Team Contributors:

  • Dr. Stephen Caffey, Associate Department Head / Coordinator of MS and PhD Programs / Instructional Associate Professor, Department of Architecture, College of Architecture & Visualization,  stephencaffey@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Jonan Donaldson, Postdoc Research Associate, Center for Teaching Excellence, jonandonaldson@tamu.edu
  • Ms. Sai Brindha Kapalayam V.S., Energy Analyst, Utilities & Energy Services, skapalayam@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Leslie Ruyle, Associate Research Scientist, Bush School of Government and Public Service, and Assistant Director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs, ruyle@tamu.edu
  • Mrs. Susan Scott, Associate Department Head, Lecturer and Internship Coordinator, Department of Recreation Park and Tourism Sciences, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, sgscott@tamu.edu

Units Represented:
Architecture, Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology, Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Center for Teaching Excellence, Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution, Office of Sustainability, Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences, Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs, Sociology, Utilities & Energy Services

Schools Represented:
Agriculture & Life Sciences, Architecture & Visualization, Bush School of Government and Public Services, Engineering, Geosciences, Liberal Arts

Description:
Our project aims to reduce Texas A&M greenhouse gas emissions via innovative proposals to reduce direct and indirect emissions, involving four colleges, the sustainability office and campus utility operations. Student projects shall address energy efficiency, resiliency, and GHG reduction initiatives, and several teams will work closely with the Energy Stewardship Program (ESP) and Energy Performance Improvement (EPI) program to educate themselves and campus constituents. Teams may work independently with faculty advisors or as part of associated courses.

Background:
Global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) have remained high (~10 Gt carbon per year). At the current GHG emission rate, the goal of avoiding global warming near or below two degrees Celsius before the end of the century will not be achieved despite sustainability efforts undertaken by governments, corporations, and the public at large. At Texas A&M, progress has been made in reducing Scope 3 emissions (Utilities & Energy Services (UES), 2019 GHG Emission Inventory), mostly via outreach and engagement with the university community to increase campus sustainability. However, the university’s dominant carbon emissions arise from systemic Scope 1 and 2 emissions related to fossil fuel consumption directly related to on-campus electricity and heat generation by the campus’ co-generation gas power plant, and purchased electricity from third party fossil fuel power generators. 

Even though TAMU has a highly efficient power plant, purchased electricity originates primarily from coal and natural gas sources with a GHG emission rating of 4.2/8 on the STARS scale. While TAMU plans to purchase 50 MW of renewable energy in 2022, more sustained efforts to reduce carbon emissions are needed, e.g., via alternative transportation fuels. Moreover, the university apparently has no tangible plans to use renewable energy on campus despite a high potential for solar generation. Concerted actions are needed to advance GHG emission reduction and energy transition away from fossil fuels.

We aim to advance interdisciplinary approaches for engaged student learning and empowerment to mobilize TAMU’s technological and human resources for sustained action toward a carbon neutral TAMU. Involved students and faculty will critically engage with existing sustainability efforts to innovate and enable systemic change across campus. Collaborative teams will work closely with UES, the Office of Sustainability, diverse campus students, faculty, staff, and other stakeholders, to mobilize TAMU’s potential.

Goals:
We aim to reduce carbon-intensive consumption on the main campus by engaging with students in interdisciplinary teams to design innovative solutions for sustained and timely action to mitigate and adapt to the negative effects of climate change. Teams of students from different Colleges will engage collaboratively with key stakeholders. Students will use existing data and resources to propose solutions to minimize the adverse effects of climate change (adaptation). They will develop various innovations and promote vital sustainability initiatives in coordination with the TAMU Office of Sustainability and TAMU Utilities (UES). The students’ initiatives and innovations will facilitate the adoption and attainment of the Scope 3 goals, the 2018 Sustainability Master Plan and the 2020 Energy Action Plan, including a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per weighted campus user by 2030, with an eye toward net-zero emissions by 2050.

Students empowered and enriched by inclusive, diverse knowledge can contribute actively to help bridge science and policy, engaging key stakeholders, including campus administrators, to advance innovations that would situate TAMU and Texas as leaders in GHG reduction strategies. The project can also contribute to climate justice through the innovation of products and processes, creativity, collaboration, and cross-disciplinary research activities.

We aim to address both energy efficiency, resiliency, and GHG reduction initiatives. Student teams will work closely with the Energy Stewardship Program (ESP) and Energy Performance Improvement (EPI) program to educate themselves and campus constituents about energy efficiency. The ESP has a team of Energy Stewards and a supervisor responsible for closely monitoring and managing the campus energy consumption on a daily basis. This team relies on the data from the campus’ comprehensive metering system to measure the energy consumption of buildings and to make changes when necessary. The EPI program engages and incentivizes building occupants to take action to reduce energy consumption.

Several goals are being proposed as part of the initiative as outlined below, addressing Scope 1 (direct CO2 emissions by Texas A&M), through Scope 2 (indirect CO2 emissions caused by Texas A&M due to its operations) to Scope 3 (indirect CO2 emissions by Texas A&M through its activities and employees) emissions. 

The overall goals are as follows:

(1) Generate and implement innovative ways to tackle Texas A&M’s scopes 1, 2 and 3 emissions reductions to make TAMU a carbon neutral institution of higher learning via
-Student involvement in inter-college activities through cross-campus collaborative teams (ARCH, GEOS, ENGR, BUSH)
-Student-led, faculty-guided design teams to envision 2030, 2040, 2050 stages toward a carbon neutral campus
-Student engagement with university leadership to facilitate strategic action, and to implement product innovations and strategic processes.

(2) Empower students through engaged learning and knowledge sharing to actively develop creative, collaborative, interdisciplinary innovations towards a carbon neutral TAMU. An important aspect here is mobilizing TAMU’s expertise in engaged student learning to facilitate critical thinking using techniques like design thinking to facilitate boundary-spanning, inclusive, diverse students, and diverse knowledge domains. For example, Texas A&M scenario analysis tools including the Energy Portfolio Assessment Tool (EPAT)  and Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus Tool 2.0 could be deployed by a student team to evaluate the sustainability of different campus energy portfolios, through quantifying CO2 emissions and water usage, among other metrics.

(3) Aim for synergies, systemic change, and feasible, fundable outcomes through direct student involvement individually and in classes. For example, the film Wasted illustrates food waste-climate change connections; a curricular unit framed around this, setting a collaborative class project/design team/charette around designing solutions, will directly enable student participation in the process of solution generation. Creative idea generation will aim for structural change, e.g., reducing/eliminating plastics by identifying/innovating “sustainable” containers, compostable utensils, and tackling the inevitable “who pays” funding challenge. Outputs may synergistically complement other campus food waste collection and composting initiatives.

Outcomes:
Students and Team Leaders will jointly study the potential impacts of the following interventions to reduce CO2 emissions:
Scope 1 emission reductions – mitigation and adaptation

  • Interdisciplinary teams will study the potential impacts of the implementation of “green technologies” on the campus carbon footprint
  • Student team to study sustainable electricity on campus, e.g.
    • solar power to shade parking lots, aid in rainwater harvesting
    • solar power on selected campus buildings to offset power requirements
  • Student team to study alternative/biogas sources, e.g.
    • on-campus biomass digester study to produce biogas for the co-gen plant
  • Study the possibility of building a pipeline to use BCS landfill gas in co-generation plant

Scope 2 emission reductions – mitigation

  • Student team to identify strategies for “green” electricity purchasing
  • Student team to advance building energy efficiencies through collaboration with UES on ESP and EPI programs
  • Student team to study xeriscaping on campus to reduce water-waste and nitrous oxide emissions by converting the A&M campus’ excessive lawn areas

Scope 3 emission reductions – mitigation and adaptation

  • Green Event team and classes develop a “Green Event” planning and implementation framework, undertake “green” transformation of  4 RPTS student-organized events on campus (e.g., RPTS Spring Graduation Banquet) focusing on waste reduction (food waste, plastics, packaging), plus initiate outreach for engaging and empowering Student Organizations to undertake waste reduction at their events. Outputs will pave the way to address “Green Events” in the STARS report.
  • Charettes and Student initiated energy conservation competition (spring ARCH Hackathon) designing fact sheets, game/apps, other innovations to understand and engage with campus carbon emissions.
  • Model code (model green energy overlay zone) that may be used by local governments to incentivize use of green technologies and facilitate synergies with TAMU.

Benefit to Students:
Students will have an opportunity to work closely with Team Leaders, Office of Sustainability and UES on data harvesting, methodological and knowledge building skills, through engaged learning approaches that facilitate empowerment and leadership on sustainability and climate innovation. All team members have this unique co-constructive opportunity as the project adopts a human-centered approach where participants come together to negotiate and co-construct new meanings and innovations. Learning lies in the action, the doing of sustainability, in a meaning-making journey — building rapport, understanding the problem from participant (stakeholder) perspectives, ideating and co-constructing strategies, knowledge and solutions together — understanding values of inclusivity, vulnerability (in sharing and ideating, etc.) and empathy.

Students will also enhance their critical thinking and participatory, inter-disciplinary skills–transcending academic silos to engage meaningfully with diverse knowledge, worldviews, and methodological approaches. Meaningfulness drives engaged action, including seeking policy change and administrative support to advance climate neutral processes and prototypes developed. Graduate and undergraduate students will be invited to jointly write research articles and present their journey and efforts at sustainability conferences.

For example, the interdisciplinary “Green Events” team of students from RPTS, ARCH and SOC participants is a direct action project. Participants (students, faculty, other stakeholders) will collaboratively explore implementable strategies for “Green Events”, e.g. focusing on waste reduction (food waste, plastic, packaging waste from vendors). This team includes students from RPTS 320, 321, plus other students working with Team Leaders. A design thinking process will be adopted (guidance to be sought from Dr. Donaldson), which provides students a unique opportunity to learn vital design thinking, practice-based, interviewing and participatory skills. Undergraduate students in one section of RPTS 320 (fall, 60 students) that are in the Professional Events Management certificate continue into RPTS 321 (spring, 60 students). They will plan four “green” campus events (RPTS related) which will be implemented in Spring 2022 via RPTS 321. Skills of multi-stakeholder collaborative planning will be learned as students engage with key stakeholders (e.g., with Aggieland food vendors) in planning and implementation.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
Undergraduate students $10-12 per hour; graduate students $13-15 per hour. Hourly wage students are usually paid bi-weekly, but this may be adjusted by individual team leaders to accommodate the small stipend involved. Unpaid students involved will primarily be voluntary participants from various classes across our areas and across campus.

Will the project require travel?
None anticipated for on-project teams.

Read the Full Proposal

Perovskite Quantum Dot Solar Cells with Enhanced Efficiency and Stability

Project Contact: Dr. Zi Jing Wong, Assistant Professor, Department of Aerospace Engineering, College of Engineering
Email: zijing@tamu.edu
Phone: 979-845-3289

Project Title: Perovskite Quantum Dot Solar Cells with Enhanced Efficiency and Stability

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Zi Jing Wong, Assistant Professor, Department of Aerospace Engineering, College of Engineering, zijing@tamu.edu  
  • Dr. Dong Hee Son, Professor, Department of Chemistry, College of Science, dhson@tamu.edu

Team Contributors:

  • Dr. Chengzhi Qin, Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Aerospace Engineering, College of Engineering

Units Represented:
Aerospace Engineering and Chemistry

Schools Represented:
Engineering and Science

Description:
This project is to develop perovskite quantum dot solar cells with enhanced power conversion efficiency and stability. Students will get the chance to synthesize different colloidal quantum dots and fabricate novel perovskite solar cells, as well as characterizing their performances. In addition to gaining valuable hands-on research experience, students will become familiar with nanomaterials and state-of-the-art photonic, optoelectronic, energy and quantum technologies.

Background:
Global warming and climate change negatively impact our health and lifestyle, and threaten the very existence of species on earth. This calls for a transition from polluting fossil fuels to green energy sources like solar renewable energy. Today’s photovoltaic systems mostly utilize high-purity silicon to convert sunlight to electricity, but their high costs limit widespread application and global adoption of the technology. The recent discovery of defect-tolerant perovskite materials presents a much cheaper alternative for solar energy harvesting owing to their low material costs and easy manufacturing processes. However, perovskite materials are less stable in ambient environment, where their performances degrade rapidly with heat, moisture and ultraviolet (UV) light in real-world operation. In addition, perovskite solar cells (PSCs) generally have lower power conversion efficiencies (PCE) due to their non-ideal optical bandgaps that pose a limit to the solar spectrum absorbed. There is thus a strong demand for a transformative approach to improve the stability and efficiency of PSCs to drive the new photovoltaic market and promote clean energy and environmental sustainability.

Goals:
Our team proposes to develop new perovskite quantum dot solar cells with enhanced power conversion efficiency and stability. The specific goals and innovations are: 

  1. Efficiency enhancement using multilayer perovskite quantum dots: Quantum dots are extremely small nanoparticles whose optical and electronic properties vary with its size due to the quantum confinement effect. By using stacks of perovskite quantum dot films with different optical bandgap and color absorption, we can expand the absorbed solar spectrum. Furthermore, a gradient energy band alignment can be engineered to produce efficient charge generation and carrier extraction, which can lead to a dramatic increase in power conversion efficiency. We will synthesize different perovskite quantum dots and deposit them in a layer-by-layer fashion to fabricate a multilayer solar cell device. UV-visible absorption and photoluminescence measurement will be carried out to characterize the properties of the perovskite quantum dots, while the PCE will be measured using a solar simulator and a current-voltage test system.  
  2. Stability enhancement using perovskites with lattice-matched colloidal quantum dots: The instability of inorganic perovskite materials is mainly due to moisture- and temperature-induced crystal structure (phase) change, which renders them transparent and useless for light absorption. By incorporating colloidal quantum dots that are lattice-matched to the light-absorbing perovskite phase, we can lock the desired phase and suppress the formation of the transparent phase. Perovskites also passivate the colloidal quantum dots and prevent their agglomeration and the attack from oxygen, which further improve the device stability. We will carefully control the stoichiometry and weight ratio of the perovskites and colloidal quantum dots to attain the matching lattice constant, before integrating them in a standard solar cell device architecture. High-resolution X-ray diffraction and transmission electron microscopy will be used to measure the composition, crystal structure and lattice spacing of the hybrid film. The improvement in the PSC’s long-term stability will be verified by performing a light soaking test over an extended period of time.

Outcomes:
We anticipate four major outcomes:

  1. Publications: We expect to publish two papers in high-impact journals with separate claims of efficiency and stability improvement, respectively, using the developed perovskite quantum dot solar cell technology.  
  2. Preliminary results for federal funding: We will leverage the proof of concept results achieved in this project to apply for a larger collaborative grant to demonstrate a large-scale perovskite quantum dot solar module with state-of-the-art PCE and stability. 
  3. Student education and teamwork building: Undergraduate and graduate students will get to learn, brainstorm, and work together with each other and with the postdoc and faculty, as the scope of work is closely linked and requires different fields of knowledge.
  4. Society impact and reputation: The success of this project will establish TAMU as one of the leaders in renewable energy research and march an important step towards resolving the threat of global warming and climate change.

Benefit to Students:
All students participating in this project will gain: 

  1. Hands-on research experience: Students will not only learn cutting-edge perovskite solar cell research knowledge, they will get to try different chemicals and fabrication processes and carry out advanced characterization techniques. 
  2. High-impact publications: Our new approach to develop perovskite quantum dot solar cell for enhanced efficiency and stability will result in two separate publications in prestigious journals, and all participating students will be in the author list. 
  3. Soft skills: Through the interactive research work and meetings, huge improvement in the students’ communication and interpersonal skills are expected. In addition, we aim to instill integrity, work ethnic and professionalism among the students. 
  4. Energy and environmental awareness: Students will be constantly exposed to the importance of energy and sustainability, and how they can contribute on a personal level to increase the harvesting of renewable energy resources. This will promote environmental awareness among the students and nurture them into future leaders in energy research and policymaking. 

In addition to the above, graduate students will also learn how to manage, teach and guide undergraduate students and serve as their mentors. This experience will shape the graduate students’ leadership and pave the way for their future success in academia and industry.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
Graduate students will be paid monthly (totaling ~$10,000). Project-specific research materials and supplies will be purchased (totaling ~$10,000). Undergraduate students will not be paid.

Will the project require travel?
No

Read the Full Proposal

Prototyping Blue-Green Infrastructure as Complex Adaptive Systems for Space Habitats

Project Contact: Dr. Hope Hui Rising, Assistant Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, College of Architecture & Visualization
Email: hope.rising@tamu.edu
Phone:

Project Title: Prototyping Blue-Green Infrastructure as Complex Adaptive Systems for Space Habitats

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Hope Hui Rising, Assistant Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, College of Architecture & Visualization, hope.rising@tamu.edu   
  • Dr. Paul de Figueiredo, Associate Professor, Department of Microbial Pathogenesis & Immunology, College of Medicine, pjdefigueiredo@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Arum Han, Professor, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, College of Engineering, arum.han@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Manoranjan Majji, Assistant Professor, Department of Aerospace Engineering, College of Engineering, mmajji@tamu.edu

Team Contributors:

  • Dr. Robert Brown, Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, College of Architecture & Visualization,  robert.brown@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Bruce Dvorak, Associate Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, College of Architecture & Visualization, bdvorak@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Mengmeng Gu, Professor, Department of Horticultural Sciences & AgriLife Extension, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences,  mgu@tamu.edu
  • Dr. William Pinchak, Professor, Department of, Ecosystem Science & Management & AgriLife at Vernon, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, w-pinchak@tamu.edu

Units Represented:
Aerospace Engineering, Ecosystem Science & Management & AgriLife at Vernon, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Horticultural Sciences & AgriLife Extension, Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, Microbial Pathogenesis & Immunology

Schools Represented:
Agriculture & Life Sciences, Architecture & Visualization, Engineering, Medicine

Description:
The extreme space weather events are likely to create space-like adverse living conditions on Earth before 2025 to necessitate the expedited development and deployment of self-regenerative, closed-loop life-support systems on Earth or in the outer space to maximize water, food, and energy security and wellbeing while minimizing outputs of wastes and exhaust heat and input of sources and energy. To this end, the Space Habitat Design Challenge will combine participatory and evidence-based approaches to enable faculty, students, and external partners to collaborate in prototyping the building blocks of long-term space planetary and transit habitats using the artificial gravity and the skyframe technologies developed by the aerospace engineering faculty at the Texas A&M University. The results of the Space Habitat Design Challenge will be amplified through additional efforts within and beyond 2021-2022, such as entering the EPA Planet, People, Prosperity Competition in addition to conducting pilot data collection and analysis, manuscript development for peer-review journals, and/or proposal writing for future external and internal grants.

Background:
In 2020, the Earth transitioned from an 11-year cycle of solar minimum to another 11-year cycle of solar maximum. The intensity and frequency of solar activities are going to increase until 2025 during the first half of the solar maximum cycle. This will lead to more sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs) above the Arctic to destabilize the polar vortex. The resultant arctic blasts can threaten water, food, energy, material, and thermal security in regions unprepared for freezing conditions. In addition, all the ice on Earth can potentially melt at once to increase the sea level by 217 feet when more intense and frequent solar storms impact the Earth. The impacts of solar storms will become more severe because the magnetic field (that protects the Earth from solar radiation) has been weakening at an alarming rate. The rapid reduction of the Earth’s magnetic field suggests that a magnetic polar reversal is overdue. Polar reversal can cause large-scale tidal waves to inundate most of the eastern half of the United States. This can result in widespread contamination of water, land, and air due to underground sewer backing up into basements and streets and flood-induced explosions at nuclear plants, petrochemical refineries, chemical plants, and oil and gas pipelines. Solar storms can also incapacitate global power grids, radio communications, and global positioning systems (GPS) to lead to power outage from weeks to months and the associated interruptions in potable and waste water distribution systems, heating and cooling systems, food refrigeration systems, life-support systems in medical facilities, gas stations, cellphone service, and transportation. It is currently difficult to predict the seasonal variations of solar eruptions and the spatial distributions of their resultant catastrophic terrestrial events until the increased activities can be observed in the sun about a few days before the solar activities take place.

Goals:
As space weather events result in increasingly more space-like adverse living conditions on Earth, there is a pressing need to build our capacities to evacuate timely and relocate proactively to circumvent the impacts of these events. The invention of artificial gravity has drastically upscaled space habitats to enable 9000 to a million people to be relocated from space weather impact zones at once to space planetary surface habitats deployed in flood-resilient locations on Earth and in the outer space. However, mass productions of large space habitats have been cost-prohibitive because space habitats have often required external resources and mechanical systems to provide water, food, energy, materials, and environmental control without harmful growth of microorganisms for astronauts and space equipment. Space habitats cannot become environmentally, economically, and socially viable long-term life support systems for widespread applications until an effective landscape approach can be developed to integrate microorganisms into ecosystem service providers (ESPs) to create self-sustaining and cost-effective water, food, energy, material, and microclimate systems.

Our first project goal is to develop a modular landscape approach that maximizes system- and component-level production of natural (NESs) and cultural ecosystem services (CESs) from microbial ESPs as building blocks of a space habitat. The objectives for the first project goal are to identify parameters of ESPs to be optimized to effectively 1) transform domestic wastewater into reusable water, nutrient, energy, food, and materials (NESs); 2) maintain a healthy microbiome (NES); 3) facilitate thermal comfort (CES); and 4) increase inhabitants’ attachment to and willingness to finance and maintain these ESPs (CESs). Compared to centralized infrastructure, decentralized infrastructure is more suitable for space habitats due to its scalability and more fail-safe nature. Yet, the intense maintenance needs of decentralized landscape infrastructure require private financing and stewardship associated with users’ functional, emotional, and cognitive dependence on ESPs as loci of place attachment. 

The project will target the following four microbial ESPs as potential building blocks of space habitats: 1) blue modules (microbial fuel cells (MFC) in wastewater); 2) green modules (rhizodeposition-based MFCs); 3) blue-green modules (MFCs with wetland plants partially submerged by wastewater); and 4) green-blue modules (MFCs both within the elevated growing medium and the subsurface wastewater with exposed wetland plant roots). The bio-electricity from MFCs can help power a fan to move the warmer ambient air into the cooler subsurface chamber to help keep relative humidity (RH) above the chamber below 60% to minimize harmful growth of microorganisms. The subsurface chamber condensates the incoming warmer air into reusable water to provide water to humans, protein-rich plants, and algae for fish to offset the loss of water to evapotranspiration while keeping RH in the chamber cavity between 70% and 80% for growing fungal mycelium as a source of 3D-printable material. For the green and green-blue modules, the heat produced by MFCs helps minimize surface moisture buildup on soil, plants, and other surfaces to mitigate microbial growth while making air from green and green-blue modules warmer and dryer compared to the blue and blue-green modules with greater evaporative cooling effects. 

Our second project goal is to make space habitat design science actionable with and for society to accelerate humanity’s preparedness for extreme space weather events and readiness for interplanetary migration. The objectives of the second project goals are to 1) provide hands-on education on space habitat design to students; 2) design space habitats through interdisciplinary collaboration; 3) develop a proof of concept; and 4) collect and leverage pilot data for broader impacts and external funding. For objectives one and two, we will issue a call for participation in a space habitat design challenge to invite faculty and students from around the campus to participate in three three-hour geodesign games each semester. The results of the literature review from project goal one will be used to inform the briefing materials and game cards used by the geodesign games. For objectives three and four, the project faculty team will work with 10 undergraduate student leaders with the most relevant backgrounds among the design game participants, applicants from the Aggie Research Program, and the student networks affiliated with our faculty team leaders and members.  The faculty team will also identify relevant thesis and dissertation topics for interested graduate students to pursue. The select group of undergraduate and graduate students will work with the faculty team to develop a prototype demo and collect pilot data in support of applications and proposals for external funding.

Outcomes:
The students recruited by the faculty team will work with the faculty within their subject areas as the main advisors and other faculty as secondary advisors. The faculty and student team will generate literature review publications, build one prototype demo, and collect pilot data to support external funding proposals. Project goal one will result in two literature review publications on optimizing the microbial ESPs as components and systems to maximize the production of NESs and CESs. Specifically, the publications are intended to 1) inform the design of future controlled greenhouse and field experiments to maximize the production of NESs; and 2) identify hypotheses of component and network configurations that maximize space habitats’ production of CESs, such as microclimatic and social performances. Project goal two will lead to a third publication on the effectiveness of the space habitat design games as open innovation systems that facilitate the inflows and outflows of ideas and information within and across the design, automation, microbial, engineering, and ecological components of the project. The manuscript will also evaluate the extent to which within-team disciplinary diversity contributes to the between-team coherence of outcomes to help converge team outcomes into consensus-based frameworks with fewer geodesign games. The evaluation will be submitted as pilot data for external funding proposals on testing design games as complex adaptive decision-making systems for solving complex problems. Finally, the team will develop a prototype demo and collect pilot data to demonstrate technical and financial feasibility for future funding proposals. The invited student leaders will also submit an application for the EPA People, Prosperity, and Planet (P3) Student Competition with a plan to develop the demo into a more refined prototype for implementation in a real-world setting. 

Benefit to Students:
The participating students will gain hands-on education on different aspects of space habitat design through the design games, including closed-loop systems, the nexus of food, energy, and water, microclimatic design, and the interactions between microbiomes, water, plants, animals, and humans. In addition, they will contribute to publications and proposals and develop teamwork and leadership skills in interdisciplinary settings. Specifically, the students will learn how to situate discipline-specific research topics within the context of convergent research using complex adaptive system as a framework. They will learn how their home discipline makes decisions and interacts with other disciplines to result in the emergence of interdisciplinary synergies that are greater than the sum of individual disciplines. The students will also develop their capacities to bridge convergent with translational research to help solve complex wicked problems. For the graduate students, they will be exposed to a wide range of skills brought by the faculty team, including human energy budget modeling, experimental designs for controlled lab research and field research, microbial analysis of water, soil, and air, prototyping microbial fuel cell modules, measuring NESs and CESs, quantifying the environmental impacts of plant components, and developing adaptive systems with computer vision, smart sensors, robotics, machine learning, and integration with the weather stations and microclimatic data.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
The ideal team will be composed of sufficient faculty and student expertise around design, automation, microbial, engineering, and ecological systems as focus areas to be integrated. The design group will have majors from the College of Architecture, including Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban Planning, Construction Sciences, and Visualization. The engineering group will have majors from the College of Engineering, including Electrical and Computer Engineering, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Biological Engineering. The design and engineering groups will focus on reshaping their disciplines to function synergistically with microbial ecosystem service providers to contribute to a self-regulating microclimate system within a closed-loop context. The microbial group will investigate strategies for minimizing harms from microbial activities and for maximizing the NESs coproduced by blue-green infrastructure modules and microbes through analyzing the microbial activities in water, air, and soil.  The ecological group will study the synergistic interactions of microbes with ecological systems to influence the wellbeing of humans, plants, and animals to provide water, food, energy, material, and energy security. The automation group will integrate all elements from the design, engineering, microbial, and ecological groups into a complex adaptive system through automating feedback loops between groups to respond to weather station data and microclimatic sensors. 

A minimum of 10 undergraduate students with two in each focus area group will be selected as student leaders. The student leaders will be required to participate in six three-hour space habitat design games on 09/11/2021, 10/16/2021, 11/13/2021, 01/15/2022, 02/12/2022, and 03/12/2022. The student leaders will also work closely with the faculty team to conduct literature reviews, build a prototype demo, collect pilot data, and/or develop funding proposals.  Among the 10 student leaders, four will be recruited as hourly student workers at 10 hours per week for two semesters. Their payments may be presented as a scholarship allocated to them at the competition of two semesters to ensure that the students have completed all relevant tasks for two semesters. The four student leaders will co-manage the design and participation aspects of the projects with Dr. Rising and the technical and system integration aspects with Dr. Majji. The other six student leaders will be composed of two from the each of the following three colleges: College of Medicine, College of Engineering, and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Each of the six student leaders will receive a scholarship of $200 at the end of the two semesters to attend six design games as a team leader. The student leaders will be supervised by faculty from their respective disciplines. 

We will encourage at least 10 graduate student leaders, two from each focus group, to attend the space habitat design games to inspire them to take on relevant topics for their capstone projects, theses, and dissertations under the guidance of their respective faculty team advisors. The two undergraduate and graduate leaders for each focus area group will conduct one design game with faculty and students from similar disciplines after each space habitat design game to facilitate vertical integration that deepens each focus area. They will bring the results of the vertical integration back to the subsequent space habitat design game to facilitate horizontal integration with student leaders and faculty from other focus area groups. All student leaders and project faculty will attend all six design games to coordinate their efforts from various focus area groups. Additional students will be recruited through the call for participation in the space habitat design games and the Aggie Research Program and managed by the student leaders and project faculty. They will also participate in the design games and may elect to continue to work on the project beyond the design games. If any of the student leaders would like to donate their scholarship or hourly wage to enable the project to reach out to more faculty and students from other units not originally identified in the proposal, we will redirect their payments. The final list of students to be compensated as hourly workers and scholarship recipients.

Will the project require travel?
No

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Real-Time Analytics for Data Visualization

Project Contact: Dr. Ann McNamara, Associate Professor, Department of Visualization, College of Architecture & Visualization
Email: annmcnamara@tamu.edu
Phone: 979-845-4715

Project Title: Real-Time Analytics for Data Visualization

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Ann McNamara, Associate Professor, Department of Visualization, College of Architecture & Visualization, annmcnamara@tamu.edu  
  • Prof. Barbara Klein, Instructional Assistant Professor, Department of Visualization, College of Architecture & Visualization, kleinba@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Derya Akleman, Instructional Associate Professor, Department of Statistics, College of Science, akleman@tamu.edu
  • Prof. Michael Walsh, Associate Professor of Practice, Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering, and Department of Visualization, College of Architecture & Visualization, mwalsh@tamu.edu

Units Represented:
Mechanical Engineering, Statistics, Visualization

Schools Represented:
Architecture & Visualization, Engineering, Science

Description:
Virtual Reality (VR) offers much potential for data analytics visualization. By immersing ourselves in the data, we can take advantage of the greater space on offer, more natural interactions, and viscerally analyze multi-dimensional data. Students will work in small interdisciplinary teams to explore the viability of VR as an interactive medium for Data Analytics and Visualization. Real-time interaction in 3D will set these projects apart from the current mainstream applications.

Background:
Just in the past 24 months, an astounding 90% of the world’s data has been created.  Roughly 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are generated by humans every day.  It goes without saying that skills including filtering, analyzing, understanding, visualizing, and interacting with such data, are increasingly valuable and highly sought after.  In fact, predictions claim that data scientist careers will grow 19% over the coming decade.

This project will investigate non-traditional methods for analyzing and visualizing data, relying on leaders’ collaborative strengths from Statistics, Fine Arts, and Computer Science.  

Students will work in small interdisciplinary teams to explore the viability of Virtual Reality (VR) as an interactive medium for Data Analytics and Visualization.  Real-time interaction in 3D will set these projects apart from the mainstream.   

VR offers much potential for data analytics visualization. By immersing ourselves in the data, we can take advantage of the greater space on offer, more natural interactions, and viscerally analyze multi-dimensional data.

Working in tandem, students from Statistics will focus on data filtering and analytics.  The Fine Arts (Visualization) students govern the creative aspects, including design, environments, aesthetics, and user-interface.  The Computer Science (Visualization) students will focus on the technical (hardware and software) implementation.  It is envisioned that all three groups will collaborate and learn from each other to deliver a project based on their combined strengths, which could not be achieved without contributions from each discipline. 

Spatial sound can also be incorporated into VR, providing a platform to communicate important dynamics within the visualization that may be challenging to attend visually.  

In Summary, the issue this project seeks to address is how to best leverage new interactive media platforms to advance the current state of the art in data analytics and visualization.

Goals:
The goals for this project are to 

  1. Teach students concepts of Data Visualization and real-time interactive computing 2. Allow students to experience working with real-world data in an interdisciplinary team 3. Show students how to mine the web for their information regarding trends in social media content and activity levels.  Show them how to prepare that data, through analytics, for presentation.  (the students will propose the topic)4, Consider non-traditional mechanisms of information delivery, including visual and spatial sound cues in Virtual Reality. 

Introduction to Data Visualization and real-time interactive computing will be based on Dr. McNamaras Data Visualization Course.  Students will learn the D3.js to realize visualizations, creating 2D traditional charts including bar charts, scatter plots, circular bar plots, bubble plots, hexbin diagrams, and chord diagrams.   Real-time interactive computing education will be delivered via books (Virtual Reality, by Samuel Greengard, Virtual Reality, by Lila Bozgeyikli) and video lectures in Virtual Reality. Content creation will be achieved using the unreal real-time graphics engine

Students will work in teams of three, two undergraduate students (one Statistics, one Visualization) and a graduate student from Visualization.  We will have two teams, six students total.   The project will involve scraping, cleaning, and analyzing real-world social media websites for visualization in a novel 3D immersive real-time environment. 

Led by Dr. Akleman, students will first clarify their research objective, selecting keywords (e.g., pandemic, weather) to search on and the appropriate social media sites to target (e.g., Reddit, Facebook, Twitter).  They will then form a succinct research question. 

They will then filter the data based on their specific project and identity the most salient data attributes (columns).  After finding and removing incomplete data, the students will classify the data based on the content of interest and sort the data.  Students may use lambda functions for these tasks.  A lambda function is a small, nameless function applied to every value in a column. This may take more than one iteration to yield robust data, i.e., more search terms may be needed or more than one social media site.   The teams may also need to resample the data and aggregate it over specific time intervals, for example. 

Using what they have learned from Data Visualization, the teams will create some traditional plots to uncover patterns.  However, the crux of the project will be transforming the data into a format consumable by VR.  To allow the user to fully immerse in the data and interact in 3D in a meaningful manner, some key design and research challenges will need to be solved.   For example, the meaningful axes on which to plot the data will the data change over time, the appropriate scales or dimensions, and how the user will interact with the data. 

Professors Klein and Walsh will oversee the design of the immersive visualizations following the guidelines provided here: 

  1. Reticle use: Overlaying a visual aid or “reticle” makes targeting objects much easier. The best reticles are unobtrusive and react to interactive elements
  2. UI Depth & Eye Strain: Many things affect text legibility. Font size, contrast, spacing, and more play a role. Virtual reality adds another factor: depth. About 3 meters from the viewer is a good distance for a comfortable UI
  3. Using Constant Velocity: VR can make people feel sick in some situations, such as during acceleration and deceleration. Good motion is smooth, with constant velocity
  4. Keeping the User Grounded: Many reference points are necessary to maintain user position and orientation
  5. Maintaining Head Tracking: Latency should remain low
  6. Direct Gaze: leverage lighting cues can direct gaze
  7. Leveraging Scale: Large differences in scale between user & environment are very effective in VR. Scale affects how the user perceives their environment and their physical size in the world
  8. Spatial Audio: Leverate the user’s position and field of view when triggering audio. It’s an effective way to engage the user & immerse them in the environment
  9. Gaze Cues In VR, you always know where the user is looking. The user’s gaze can be utilized as a cursor/trigger passive interactions in the environment
  10. Making beautiful VR Experiences

In summary, the faculty leadership team will leverage their diverse strengths and those of the students to create novel VR experiences to capture, transform and present real-world data in new platforms

Outcomes
The anticipated outcomes are

  • Student co-authored publications
  • Project apps that will be available on GitHub
  • Seed data and preliminary results to target larger external funding. 

The students will gain an education in data visualization, analytics, virtual reality, and human-computer interaction.  We will lead them through the research methods, empowering them to conduct publishable research.  They will gain experience in collaborative problem-solving. The graduate students will benefit from experience in a leadership role. 

The students will have an opportunity to visit and (hopefully) present their work at SXSW in Austin in the Spring of 2022.

Benefit to Students:
Students will get a robust education in data visualization, analytics, interactive techniques, virtual reality, real-time 3D content creation, research methods, and collaboration. 

In addition the graduate students will assume leadership roles and gain experience planning and executing a large project spanning two-semesters.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
Undergraduate and Graduate students will be paid hourly. Graduates $15 per hour and undergraduates $11 per hour. There will be 2 graduate students and 8 undergraduate students.

Will the project require travel?
Yes, the students will travel to South by Southwest in Austin. The grant will allow up to $150 per student toward the cost of travel to Austin.

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Restoring Happiness: Leveraging GeoAI and Social Engagement to Address Happiness Inequalities Post COVID and Winter Storm Uri

Project Contact: Dr. Heng Cai, Instructional Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, College of Geosciences
Email: hengcai@tamu.edu
Phone: 225-588-6978

Project Title: Restoring Happiness: Leveraging GeoAI and Social Engagement to Address Happiness Inequalities Post COVID and Winter Storm Uri

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Heng Cai, Instructional Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, College of Geosciences, hengcai@tamu.edu  
  • Dr. Dongying Li, Assistant Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, College of Architecture & Visualization, and Center for Health Systems & Designs, dli@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Mark Fossett, Cornerstone Faculty Fellow and Professor, Department of Sociology, College of Liberal Arts, m-fossett@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Shuiwang Ji, Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science & Engineering, College of Engineering, sji@tamu.edu

Units Represented:
Computer Science & Engineering, Geography, Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, Sociology

Schools Represented:
Architecture & Visualization, Engineering, Geosciences, Liberal Arts

Description:
The recent Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown/social distancing policies, compounded by the Winter Storm Uri, have caused not only tremendous infrastructural damages and disruptions to social networks but also various degrees of mental stress and depression among different populations. This project aims at developing a research and social service hub to address the pressing issues of declining subjective well-being for Texas communities impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and Winter Storm Uri.

Background:
Life satisfaction and positive sentiment, broadly conceptualized as happiness, are the ultimate goals of all human beings. External stressors, such as pandemics and hazards, have caused emotional distress and depression. The literature has suggested that these stressors’ adverse impacts fall disproportionately on disadvantaged populations, leading to changing levels of happiness and inequalities. The recent Covid-19 pandemic, compounded by the Winter Storm Uri, have caused not only tremendous infrastructural damages and disruptions to social networks but also various degrees of mental stress and depression among different populations. However, we know very little about the happiness disparities since the start of Covid-19 and how the effects of Winter Storm Uri may exacerbate mental distress. As Covid vaccine rollout continues and communities recover from the physical damages of Uri, mental health restoration also requires urgent policy and research attention. 

Existing studies on happiness mainly use two types of measurements. The first type is a composite happiness index by aggregating a set of city- or community-level infrastructural and service indicators such as the WalletHub Happiest States/Cities. The second approach is to utilize self-report survey items to calculate the happiness score such as the Word Happiness Report. However, most of the previous research efforts only focused on coarse geographic scales (country or city) for a static period. Dynamically monitoring the subjective well-being of populations at finer spatiotemporal scales remains challenging due to data unavailability and the lack of empirical validation of happiness levels. Moreover, there is a major disconnection among researchers, stakeholders, and citizens; thus, most of the scientific findings remain unusable or unactionable. There is a critical need to derive actionable and place-based strategies to enhance community happiness.

Goals:
The overarching goal of this interdisciplinary project is to develop a research and social service hub with members from diverse backgrounds to restore happiness for communities experiencing disparities in well-being impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and Winter Storm Uri. We select two metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) in Texas, College Station-Bryan MSA and Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land MSA, as the study area to address the pressing issues of declining subjective well-being caused by the two major events at multiple geographical scales (county and zip code levels). 

Our interdisciplinary team is equipped with expertise in geospatial big data and Geospatial Artificial Intelligence (GeoAI) to model the dynamics of happiness throughout the pre-, amidst- and post-COVID and Uri periods and identify communities in need of intervention. We aim to foster innovative research and broaden participation among researchers, stakeholders, and residents by developing web apps and interactive visualizations and initiating student-led social entrepreneurship to align resources for communities experiencing disparities in post-disaster happiness. 

The first objective is to develop an intelligent GeoAI-based community happiness assessment and monitoring framework. The framework will yield innovative methods and new databases harmonized from various sources, including (1) Happiness Measurement Methods and Database on real-time community happiness levels extracted from Twitter data and calibrated through crowdsourcing. Social media platforms such as Twitter allow the harvesting of users’ digital traces that reflect their experiences and subjective feelings in a rapid, low-cost, and reliable manner. Analyzing the large-scale location-based digital traces from social media data provides an innovative approach to observing the real-time spatial-temporal human sentiments unavailable from traditional databases. Integrating citizen responses, the neural network-based natural language model BERT, and GeoAI algorithms to conduct location-based sentiment analysis and topic modeling will enable estimating the evolving sentiments of community happiness at various scales; (2) Social Support Database containing socioeconomic factors, urban amenities, and service provision; (3) Event Database including data directly related to the evolution of the two events such as Uri-induced power outages and property damages, confirmed Covid-19 cases, mortality, social distancing index. We will further explore the significant determinants in community happiness disparities using a newly developed spatial analysis model, the Multiscale Geographically Weighted Regression. The results will help rapidly and dynamically identify the least happy communities and the underlying reasons and arguments behind low subjective well-being. 

Second, we will develop a cross-platform and user-friendly web application for data collection, real-time computing, and visualization of happiness assessment and monitoring. This web app will integrate five modules: 1. a data dissemination module with metadata catalog for data query and download capabilities; 2. a GIS-based visualization and analysis module that allows dynamic interactions with the end-users; 3. a data analytics module with advanced decision-making tools; 4. an educational module containing video tutorials on the research theory, methods, and findings; 5. a citizen science module that crowdsources the users’ inputs about their subjective well-being and facilitates the communication and feedback between the team and the users.

Third, we will initiate student-led social entrepreneurship to help communities align resources to restore happiness. Through the Department of Student Activities at TAMU, students and faculty leaders will work collectively to initiate a student-led organization called “Post-Covid and Uri Community Happiness Justice” (CHJ). The organization’s mission is to raise awareness of the mental health issues and disparities of happiness in communities in need, identify the specific context/causes of unhappiness, connect researchers and communities advisory groups and local partners, help residents align resources, and build connections with other social groups that can assist. The CHJ student organization will fulfill its mission in four ways: (1) identify communities in need and utilize the web application to conduct community-specific assessments; (2) conducts educational and social engagement activities such as workshops, focus groups with residents, community organizations, and local decision-makers; (3) help the community develop a strategic plan to restore happiness, including assessing needs and resources, creating strategies to align resources, developing actionable items and timelines; (4) monitor the dynamics of happiness during the implementation of the plan and work with the community members to address ongoing issues.

Outcomes:
The project will produce innovative methods/tools and generate new knowledge/experiences on how the convergence of multiple disciplines and social engagement can lead to a deep understanding of post-disaster disparities of community happiness and novel actions and mitigation strategies. The specific outcomes include:

  • Social entrepreneurship: The CHJ will be one of the first student-led organizations in Texas that conduct continuous research and activities to enhance post-disaster community subjective well-being.
  • Web application: The developed web application will serve as the bi-directional communication platform for researchers, stakeholders, and communities. The website of the CHJ organization will also be embedded in the web application.
  • Database products: The three databases created through this project (Happiness Measurement Database, Social Support Database, and Event Database) will be made publicly available through the web application. The new databases will enable other relevant data-intensive research and discoveries.
  • Journal articles, conference presentations, and project reports: the research methods and findings will be published in high-impact journals, such as Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, Annals of American Association of Geographers, and Plos One. Students and faculty leaders will present their work in corresponding conferences. A final project report will be completed at the end.
  • External proposals: Based on the work supported by this project, we will actively seek external funding to sustain our endeavor in research and social engagement.

Benefit to Students:
Students will gain unique and extensive research and outreach experiences that they won’t normally get in the standard classroom. Students with different backgrounds will learn the essential concepts, techniques, and skills from other disciplines. For example, students from Sociology and Urban Planning will learn about the advances in Artificial Intelligence in Computer Science. Students from Geography and Computer Science will have the opportunities to work with community-based organizations to translate their research findings into actions. 

Some specific experiences that students will benefit from this project include: 

  1. Learn technical skills related to GeoAI and data mining in deciphering patterns and trends of social issues. Team leader Cai is currently developing a “Geospatial-Intelligence Education Module” funded by Texas A&M Presidential Transformational Teaching Grants (PTTG). All student members will get direct training through this interactive educational module even with little background in advanced computer algorithms and programming.
  2. Learn to work in a collaborative setting with team members with entirely different perspectives to innovatively solve the real-world problems related to Covid-19 and winter storm Uri that have impacted all the project members.
  3. Gain experience in social entrepreneurship through the founding and growing of the student organization “Post-Covid and Uri Community Happiness Justice”. Improve communication and public speaking skills through social engagement activities, such as hosting dedicated workshops/presentations, meeting with local community organizations and residents.
  4. Learn about research design and methods. Students will work directly with faculty leaders to design the research, selecting the appropriate techniques, learn cutting-edge data analysis techniques and data management strategies.
  5. Learn professional writing skills through preparing journal articles, writing project reports, and developing the web application user manual.

Graduate students will gain leadership training by becoming the student leaders for the three interconnected working groups and the entire project. We will also invite graduate students to lead the efforts in journal article writing and support them to attend academic conferences. The experiences will benefit their future academic careers. 

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
We will pay the students who work in a professional and consistent manner, deliver their assigned tasks on time, and participate in the project in both Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 semesters. Graduate student workers will be paid with hourly salaries at $15 per hour, and undergraduate students will be paid with hourly salaries at $12 per hour. 

Will the project require travel?
Travel destinations may include the College Station-Bryan and Houston area.

Read the Full Proposal

SageSensors – Precision Agriculture Biosensor Program

Project Contact: Prof. John Hanks, Professor of Practice, Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering
Email: john.hanks@tamu.edu 
Phone: 512-965-68279

Project Title: SageSensors – Precision Agriculture Biosensor Program

Team Leaders:

  • Prof. John Hanks, Professor of Practice, Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering, john.hanks@tamu.edu  
  • Dr. Mike McShane, Department Head and Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering, mcshane@tamu.edu
  • Prof. Gordon Carstens, Professor, Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture & Life Science, g-carstens@tamu.edu

Team Contributors:

  • Amir Zaverh, Ph.D. Post-Doc, Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering, amirtofighi@tamu.edu 
  • Ms. Madison Heck, Masters of Biomedical Engineering Student, College of Engineering, madi_heck@tamu.edu
  • Ms. Keara O’Reilly, Ph.D. student, Department of Nutrition and Food Science, College of Agriculture & Life Science, kearaoreillynell@tamu.edu

Units Represented:
Animal Science and Biomedical Engineering

Schools Represented:
Agriculture & Life Science and Engineering

Description:
SageSensors is a new sensor system for remotely monitoring the nutrition and health of dairy cows, beef and other feed animals that does not require blood draws or urine samples. The initial proof of concept is targeted at measuring glucose in dairy cows using an implant and reader which is similar to an existing FDA cleared device for humans. The team challenge will be to modify the technology for use with animals and to build a handheld or “wand” electronic reader that does not need to be attached to the skin of the animal. There will be three student teams: a business team focused on understanding the customer and ensuring the technology fits the customer’s workflow, an engineering team focused on developing the handheld reader prototype, and an agriculture/nutrition team focused on animal studies. Join the SageSensor team and make an impact.

Background:
This proposal seeks to develop SageSensors that will enable direct measurements of blood biomarkers that are predictive of subclinical (before observable by humans) milk fever in dairy cows using a small implant, the size of a rice grain, and an electronic reader.  This technology approach will reduce labor cost and challenges of collecting blood with a syringe, or manually collecting urine or milk samples. Clinical milk fever, hypocalcemia, is a metabolic disease that occurs in 4 to 10% of US dairy cows, with economic losses estimated to be $180M annually. Despite this huge economic costs, clinical milk fever represents the “tip of the iceberg” as losses associated with subclinical milk fever typically exceed losses due to clinical milk fever by 3- to 4-fold.

Unlike existing solutions, SageSensors will enable dairy producers to easily and frequently monitor individual cows for subclinical milk fever on a real-time basis. Milk fever is only the first application. SageSensors is a platform technology that can also detect other subclinical diseases (e.g., ketosis) and may find applications with other feed animals such as beef cattle. 

Currently, the fundamental implant and reader technology has been approved by FDA for use in humans to continuously measure glucose for the control diabetes. See https://www.senseonics.com

Because the existing new chute side technologies require high labor costs to collect biosamples, adoption is likely to be low. We believe an implant with a reader that can be used as a handheld device like SageSensors will have higher adoption. Successful deployment of this technology by the dairy cattle industry could be a game changer as producers will be able to accurately detect subclinical milk fever in real-time, and intervene sooner to improve animal health and wellbeing and reduce the cost of this metabolic disease.

Goals:
There are four goals to the project:

  1. Prototype engineering development: develop an implantable device and electronic reader prototype that can accurately detect decay signals, at a distance, from the implant designed to quantify blood glucose concentrations.  The existing FDA-approved system from Senseionics currently uses a patch reader that is placed directly on the surface of the skin.  Our preliminary research findings indicate that we will be able to measure blood biomarker signals with the electronic reader positioned approximately 50 cm from the animal, so the reader can be mounted in the field at a water trough or used as a handheld wand.  We are modifying an existing implant and reader built to be attached to the surface of the skin from Dr. McShane’s lab and research from the biomedical engineering department.  Their current technology measures pH, temperature, oxygen, glucose, lactate, and other biomarkers. 
  2. Intellectual Property: the output from first objective will be intellectual property that will have an impact on digital health for animals and potentially humans as well.  We are not aware of a reader implant system that can be used at a distance to detect blood biomarkers that are predictive of metabolic diseases.   In addition, there will be additional IP opportunities in to design specific implantable sensor technology to detect other animal metabolic diseases such as ketosis, and to detect the onset of infectious disease such as bovine respiratory disease. 
  3. Early animal studies: once we have fully developed the prototype system, we will examine the accuracy of the implant and reader technology in beef cattle by comparing measurements from the implant-reader technology against blood concentrations of glucose and lactate measured using “gold standard” methods. Results from this live-animal study will be used do demonstrate proof of concept in seeking to secure future grants and potential investors. 
  4. Market Validation and Work Flow Validation with Customer Interviews in parallel with the proposed technology development, we will follow the lean startup methodology and develop a business team consisting of Business and Animal Science undergraduate and graduate students to define the initial target market, value proposition, minimal viable product technical features, pricing, and partner strategy.  The goals of this business team will be to perform customer interviews to understand the value and define how the system can be easily adopted to current dairy workflows within our initial target market.  Understanding not only the technical barriers but the psychological and workflow barriers for new technology and innovation adoption is key to market success. Customer surveys and market insights will be helpful for SBIR USDA grants or private investors.

Outcomes:
Final deliverable:  Investor presentation for seed stage investment or AgTech Incubator

Other Deliverables

  1. Hardware and software prototype (Eng and Ag team).  The prototype will demonstrate the ability to read the gold standard glucose biomarker from more than 50cm.  
  2. Deployment of the prototype solution (Eng and Ag team).  Test prototype on a small number of animals to demonstrate proof of concept.  Given our past experiments we believe accuracy level will be within +/- 10% of blood.  Absolute accuracy for our target market may not be necessary, data showing a relative drop in the biomarker may be sufficient for a commercial product. 
  3. Animal data collection experiment (Eng and Ag team).  Define protocol for testing prototype system on two animals. 
  4. Provisional patent applications (Eng and Ag team).  Our first target for IP is the implant electronic reader for feed animals.  
  5. Customer discovery and Workflow interviews (business and Ag team).  We plan to use the existing mechanical devices for implanting a growth hormone in beef cattle. We need to understand the dairy workflow and how we can minimize workflow.  
  6. Value proposition (business and Ag team).  We want to test and validate the labor-saving value. In addition, we need to validate if a relative drop in the milk fever biomarker is sufficient or do we need to have absolute accuracy.  Trending the biomarker and noting a drop in the measurement over time will be a less costly design. 
  7. First target market (business and Ag team).  Evaluate dairy as well as beef cattle markets. 
  8. Price target (business and Ag team).  Validate with customers pricing, product packaging, service, and business model options. 
  9. Minimal Viable Product (business and Ag team).  Given customer feedback and results from our prototype define the requirements for the first commercial product. 
  10. Estimate of Cost-of-goods at Scale (Eng and business team).  Use MVP and customer interviews to estimate COGs at scale.

Benefit to Students:
Students will gain firsthand experience in customer discovery, value proposition development, economic cost analysis, industry research, conducting customer interviews, and communication skills using the lean startup methodology.  Engineering students will get first-hand experience at building prototype designs and Agile development.  Nutrition students will work directly with animals collecting data and learn about USDA regulations and requirements. In addition, cross functional teamwork between business, agriculture, and engineering teams will be a requirement.  Understanding the value that each team member plays will be critical for success.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
Fall Semester 2021 [14 Weeks]

  • Project Manager, Biomedical Engineer Master of Engineering and MBA Student: 1 student * [ up to 4 hours/week]
  • Engineering Team, Undergraduate Electrical Engineering Students: 2 students * [up to 8 hours/week]
  • Ag Team, Graduate/Undergrad students: 2 students * [up to 4 hours/week]
  • Business Team, Undergrad students: 2 students * [up to 4 hours/week]
  • Budget: 7 students working 32 hours/week * $13/hour = $384*14 è $5824

Spring Semester 2022 [14 Weeks] (grow teams with electronics test and animal experiments)

  • Project Manager, Biomedical Engineer Master of Engineering and MBA Student: 1 student * [ up to 8 hours/week]
  • Engineering Team, Undergraduate Electrical Engineering Students: 2- 3 students * [up to 6 hours/week]
  • Ag Team, Undergrad students: 2-3 students * [up to 4 hours/week]
  • Business Team, Undergrad students: 2-3 students * [up to 4 hours/week]
  • Budget: 10 Students working 46 hours/week * $13/hour * 14 weeks è $7728

Will the project require travel?
No travel is required.

Read the Full Proposal

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