ICTAS: With new funding, faculty teams create interdisciplinary research opportunities for undergraduates

With new funding, faculty teams create interdisciplinary research opportunities for undergraduates

March 13, 2017

Nine teams of faculty have won seed grants to engage more Virginia Tech undergraduates in interdisciplinary science and turn their labs into hubs for undergrad research that will attract talented students from around the country.

The grants, awarded by the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, will increase applications from Virginia Tech to two of the National Science Foundation’s flagship student-research programs, Research Experiences for Undergraduates Sites and International Research Experiences for Students.

The new projects add to an impressive slate of opportunities for the university’s undergrads, who have designed a high-speed Hyperloop pod and helped uncover the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, on their way to bachelor’s degrees.

“This is an important program in ICTAS’ growing experiential learning portfolio,” said Vinod Lohani, a professor of engineering education and the faculty director for education and global initiatives at the institute. “I’m excited about the potential of the program for undergraduates participating in research at Virginia Tech and with our international collaborators.”

The nine newly funded projects support 25 undergraduates and involve faculty and students from the College of Engineering, the College of Science, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and the Pamplin College of Business.

The following research groups received funding:

  • Carl Dietrich, a research associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, leads a project entitled “Efficient radio spectrum access, management, regulation, and enforcement.”

  • Ehren Hill, a program manager at the Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology, leads “Space communications.”

  • Denise Simmons, an assistant professor at the Myers-Lawson school of construction, leads “Human safety, health, and wellness aligned with intelligent infrastructure for human-centered communities.”

  • Eli Tilevich, an associate professor of computer science, leads “Computational Exploration of Music Composition and Performance.”

  • David Schmale, a professor of plant pathology and weed science, leads “Interdisciplinary education and research to transform biology and engineering (INTERTUBE).”

  • Cheng Chen, a professor of mining and minerals engineering, leads “Combining big computer and big data technologies with ICTAS’ nanoscale imaging capabilities for undergraduate research.”

  • Amy Pruden and Peter Vikesland, professors of civil and environmental engineering, lead “International perspectives on nanotechnology and antibiotic resistance.”

  • Scott Verbridge, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics, leads “Micro-engineered tissue platforms for host-pathogen interactions.”

  • Ryan Williams, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, leads “Autonomy at scale.”

The undergraduates participating in these projects will get a taste for what it’s like to work in a lab at a major research university, racking up valuable scientific and professional skills; meanwhile, the professors and graduate students advising them get additional experience in teaching and mentorship.

The seed funding from ICTAS contributes to student support, materials, and travel to conferences where the undergraduates will share their research and build connections with students and faculty from other universities. With this framework in place for supporting and mentoring Virginia Tech undergraduates, faculty will strengthen their applications for REU or IRES funding, bringing students from around the country to the university and giving Virginia Tech students the opportunity to study internationally.

The program is also designed to increase research participation by students from underrepresented groups, who make up more than half of the undergraduate participants in this program year.

The 25 students’ research will be showcased at an ICTAS workshop April 21, where faculty applying for REU or IRES funding will get advice from researchers already running successful programs.

Virginia Tech currently hosts three REU sites, on automotive engineering, biomechanics, and interdisciplinary water sciences, and three active IRES programs, on electric transportation systems, interdisciplinary water sciences, and bioinspired science and technology. 

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