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2014 News Releases



CEE seed funding fosters new multidisciplinary approaches

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Two projects demonstrating the exciting opportunities that arise by combining the diverse research interests of faculty in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) have been selected to receive inaugural CEE cross-disciplinary seed funding. The program, inspired by the collaborative research connections identified at the CEE Research Speed Dating event, provides a one-year graduate student fellowship for each project selected.

CEE established the program in January to encourage untraditional, interdisciplinary collaborative approaches to solving some of the grand challenges in energy, environment, and sustainable materials, infrastructure and cities, and other areas in civil and environmental engineering. To qualify for the seed funding, projects must represent a new collaboration involving at least two faculty members who had not collaborated before or had collaborated only on fundamentally different research, and who will jointly advise the graduate student working with them. A small committee of senior faculty served as jurors for the proposals.

“The aim is to seed exciting and emerging research activities, which are often non-traditional with respect to conventional groups and disciplines, but which carry high potential for game-changing impact and visibility,” says Professor Markus Buehler, head of CEE. “The proposals selected for funding exemplify the tremendous potential of collaborative work in the department. The seed funding supports amazing research that provides new opportunities for our students to work on cutting-edge projects, feature significant intellectual merit, and add value to our research portfolio.”

The winning teams and projects are Professor Dennis McLaughlin and Professor Saurabh Amin for “Decentralized and Adaptive Environment Resource Management Strategies” and Professor Benjamin Kocar and Professor Martin Polz for “Deciphering Coupled Biogeochemical-Physical Processes Responsible for Methane Emission and Consumption within Structured Soils and Sediments.” Project leaders will choose the graduate students to receive the fellowships.

Decentralized and Adaptive Environment Resource Management Strategies

This project will be led by Professor Dennis McLaughlin, a hydrologist who specializes in water resources and data assimilation for diverse systems, and Assistant Professor Saurabh Amin, who creates robust control algorithms for cyber-physical infrastructures with an emphasis on unreliable and insecure conditions.

The team will investigate the decentralized management of environmental resources, building on game theory and stochastic control descriptions of human decision-making. Resources to be studied include common pool aquifer pumping and procurement strategies for meeting the food needs of the world’s growing population.

Deciphering Coupled Biogeochemical-Physical Processes Responsible for Methane Emission and Consumption within Structured Soils and Sediments

Project leaders are Assistant Professor Benjamin Kocar, a biogeochemist who studies the chemical, physical and biological processes governing the cycling of elements in ecosystems, and Professor Martin Polz, a microbiologist who looks at the community dynamics and mechanisms governing diversification in wild microbial populations.

The team will examine how the physical structure of soils and sediments impacts the production, consumption and metabolism of methane by microbes. The project goal is to quantify the linked effects of soil aggregate size and microbial community dynamics responsible for net methane efflux from soils and wetland sediments. This is an important consideration because methane, as a greenhouse gas, is about 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Pooled aquifer resources are often used for crop irrigation, such as this system in Yuma, Arizona.  Photo / Jeff Vanuga, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Microbes living in wet soils produce, consume and metabolize methane.  Image / Benjamin Kocar