College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Engineering forms interdisciplinary research teams aiming for major grants

Three new interdisciplinary research initiatives have been announced by the Iowa State University College of Engineering as part of an innovative program designed to compete for and win multi-million dollar grants, spur economic development, and drive technologies that benefit Iowa and the nation.

The Dean’s Research Initiatives build public-private teams in the areas of the bioeconomy, wind energy, and computational biology. The teams are partnering with faculty and researchers from other colleges, universities, federal laboratories, and industry.

“Large, collaborative research centers are playing an increasingly prominent role in today’s interdisciplinary competitive research environment,” said Sharron Quisenberry, Iowa State’s vice president for research and economic development. “This strategic interdisciplinary center approach is groundbreaking and will benefit the entire university by facilitating the development of innovative technology that will be better able to address complex issues facing society.”

The funded projects are:

  • High Throughput Computational Biology. Lead: Srinivas Aluru (electrical and computer engineering), Mehl Professor of Computer Engineering. Key external partners: Georgia Tech, IBM, Illumina, Monsanto, Pacific Biosciences, and Roche.
  • Envisioning a Carbon-Negative Economy. Lead: Robert Brown (mechanical engineering), Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering and Anson Marston Distinguished Professor. Key external partners: Argonne National Lab, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, MIT, Colorado State, University of Nebraska, Cornell, Harvard, Stanford, and Cal-Berkeley.
  • Wind Energy Institute. Lead: Sri Sritharan (civil, construction and environmental engineering), Wilson Professor of Engineering. Key external partners: University of Maine, Sandia National Lab, Michigan State University.

The topics are aligned with the college’s and the university’s 2011-2016 strategic research plans. Faculty from all eight engineering departments and five of Iowa State’s seven colleges are participating in these initiatives. The research fields were identified through a competitive external review process of proposals submitted to the college by faculty researchers.

The Dean’s Research Initiatives blend private and public funding sources from the Engineering Venture Fund, which includes philanthropy and corporate sponsorship. From these sources, the college will grant each team $500,000 in “pursuit funding” over a three-year period to develop proposals to a variety of federal agencies and compete at a high level.

Jonathan Wickert, dean of the College of Engineering, said that these research initiatives are important investments in the college’s future. “Last year, engineering faculty conducted over $70 million in externally-funded research. Their work addresses the important technological issues facing our society, and it helps to strengthen Iowa’s economy,” Wickert said. He noted in particular generous gifts from the Boeing Company, Richard and Genevieve Stoufer, Whitworth Ferguson, and the estates of Roger and Carla Wilkinson, Charles Schafer, and Chester Sorflaten. “The Dean’s Research Initiatives will advance the engineering college’s research mission in areas where we have a comparative advantage, and we are grateful to have such wide-ranging support,” Wickert said.

According to Balaji Narasimhan, associate dean for research in the College of Engineering, “Research drives excellence in the College of Engineering by serving as a magnet to attract and retain outstanding faculty and students. These initiatives will significantly grow our research portfolio by supporting faculty-led efforts to create large-scale programs. The pursuit funds will enable the teams to nucleate and grow partnerships and to successfully compete for significant extramural funding.”

Large research programs can have far-reaching impacts across campus, including a broadening of learning opportunities for students. For example, the NSF Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals, funded by an $18.5 million, five-year award from the National Science Foundation, provides hands-on research experiences to undergraduates and offers project-specific graduate curricula for students in a variety of related fields. The center’s outreach also includes pre-college outreach that connects K-12 students to new technologies while building their awareness of engineering and its processes.

Jonathan Wickert
, College of Engineering, 515 294-9988
Balaji Narasimhan
College of Engineering, 515 294-8019
Eric Dieterle
, Engineering College Relations, 515 294-4881