Dean’s Catalyst Awards Boost Four Innovative Projects

Associate Professor Glynn Holt (ME) and Assistant Professor Catherine Klapperich’s (ME,BME) award will enable them to advance a novel acoustic method that exploits Faraday waves (shown here in water) to form a micro-patterned scaffold for use in the growth of artificial skin or other biological tissue.
Associate Professor Glynn Holt (ME) and Assistant Professor Catherine Klapperich’s (ME,BME) award will enable them to advance a novel acoustic method that exploits Faraday waves (shown here in water) to form a micro-patterned scaffold for use in the growth of artificial skin or other biological tissue.

College of Engineering research in green computing, tissue scaffold engineering, solar-grade silicon manufacturing and cell traction forces just received a boost, thanks to the Dean’s Catalyst Awards (DCA) grant program. This year four research teams will each receive up to $50,000 in DCA funding to develop novel techniques to investigate these topics.

Established by Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen in 2007 and organized by a faculty committee, the annual Dean’s Catalyst Awards program encourages early-stage, innovative, interdisciplinary projects that could spark new advances in a variety of engineering fields. By providing each project with seed funding, the awards give full-time faculty the opportunity to generate initial proof-of-concept results that could help secure external funding. 

The 2010 award winners are:

Assistant Professor Ayse Coskun and Associate Professor Martin Herbordt (both ECE) aim to develop widely applicable, inexpensive software methods to reduce energy consumption and enable more efficient cooling in computer systems, which account for more than three percent of U.S. electricity consumption.  Unlike most researchers in green computing (methods to reduce the carbon footprint of computing and communication), who focus on hardware modifications to reduce power consumption, Coskun and Herbordt will investigate and develop software optimizations aimed at simultaneously improving energy efficiency, thermal behavior, and performance that are applicable immediately on existing computer systems.

Aiming to bring about dramatic reductions in the economic and environmental costs of manufacturing solar-grade silicon (a major fraction of the cost of solar cells), Professor Uday Pal and Soumendra Basu (both ME, MSE) will work on developing a one-step reduction and purification process starting from sand (silicon dioxide). By employing a novel method to electrochemically separate sand into silicon and pure oxygen, this carbon and chlorine-free process could avoid the significant greenhouse gas emissions and high operating costs of conventional solar-grade silicon manufacturing.

Assistant Professor Michael Smith and Associate Professor Dimitrije Stamenovic (both BME) will work to simplify traction force microscopy, a cell biology tool previously developed at Boston University that measures the traction forces exerted by cells on their surroundings—forces of critical importance in studies ranging from cancer to regenerative medicine. Using a novel micropatterning technique on soft hydrogels, the researchers seek to simplify how the device measures cell traction forces. Their overarching goal to develop both the patterning approach and the image processing to permit utilization of this tool by a broad spectrum of cell biologists and biomedical engineers.

Associate Professor Glynn Holt (ME) and Assistant Professor Catherine Klapperich (ME, BME) aim to advance a novel acoustic method to form a micro-patterned scaffold for use in the growth of artificial skin or other biological tissue. The method exploits Faraday waves, which, in a thin liquid film, exhibit a variety of patterns and pattern spacings. Through simple adjustments in the acoustic method or scaffold material, the researchers can alter these patterns and spacings to achieve desired specifications. Holt and Klapperich plan to conduct experiments to generate patterned scaffolds using kilohertz-frequency forcing of thin films of tissue scaffold materials. 

“Receiving the DCA is a pivotal event for our idea,” said Holt. “Frankly, without the DCA, we could not proceed on this high-risk (but potentially high-payoff) project.  This funding will allow us to perform a proof-of-concept experiment, whose results, assuming they are successful, will allow us to secure external funding to pursue a long-term research effort.”
 
“We are very excited about the DCA award since it recognizes the merit of this research in an early stage of development, during which we would not be able to secure more traditional forms of funding,” added Smith.