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Engineering faculty lead 3 new TIPs projects that tackle big challenges


Build and use microscope systems that do not exist commercially to unlock deeper insights in biomedicine. Design and develop a space-based platform to study Earth’s evolving ecology from an elevated vantage point. Create a research hub for development and testing of durable, sustainable infrastructure materials.

All big ideas with widespread impact. And School of Engineering will lead the way.

Three of 15 impressive interdisciplinary concepts to be explored by Vanderbilt University’s Trans-Institutional Programs (TIPs) initiative will have engineering faculty at the helm.

“This innovative, cross-campus approach that creates unique teaching and learning opportunities has become a hallmark of Vanderbilt University,” Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said. “We tackle broad challenges facing society, using our zeal for discovery to help affect real change that will improve people’s lives. Our TIPs projects are an important component of our efforts.”

In all, the 15 projects receiving 2017 TIPs awards bring together more than 140 faculty members with graduate and undergraduate students from all 10 schools and colleges, creating multifaceted teams to approach complex challenges. Engineering faculty are involved with 11 of the projects.

Some details on the three engineering-led efforts:

Biomedical Microscopy – Immersion, Innovation, Discovery (BioMIID)

Orrin H. Ingram Professor of Biomedical Engineering Anita Mahadevan-Jansen, professor of biomedical engineeringwill lead the effort across three schools to develop next-generation microscopes that exceed the limits of what is available commercially.

The combination of light and instrumentation allows scientists to see deeper, smaller and faster, pushing the boundaries of what can be observed and measured to diagnose serious health conditions more quickly. The project, which includes the School of Medicine and the College of Arts & Science, aims to develop cohort of trainees who can identify pressing questions in biomedical research.

Materials Durability and Environmental Research Facilities Hub

Florence Sanchez, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, will spearhead a research hub for studying natural and engineered materials used in infrastructure that are exposed to a wide range of environmental conditions.

The hub will leverage and build on the university’s position as a global leader in environmental sustainability, materials assessment and related fields. Example applications include development of advanced materials for infrastructure, new techniques for leaching environmental assessment, understanding the transport, and innovations in water desalination and photovoltaic films. Additionally, researchers will examine biological effects of nutrients and contaminants in natural and built environments, providing abilities for trace contaminant measurements, thermodynamics, micromechanical and tribological characterization.

Experts from the College of Arts & Science and the School of Medicine are involved as well.

VUSAT Initiative

Amrutur Anilkumar, professor of the practice of mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering, is the lead on a project that will challenge undergraduate and graduate students to plan, design and execute novel science and society-based satellite missions.

The big-picture goal is developing a space-based platform to study Earth’s evolving ecology and learn more about climate change and man-made effects on it from a wide range of campus experts. VUSAT brings together the advanced resources of engineering, anthropology, earth & environmental sciences, and astronomy. Anilkumar also is director of the Vanderbilt Aerospace Design Laboratory (VADL).

Engineering faculty also are involved in the following TIPs projects:

  • Adaptive eBooks for Building Children’s Language Skills
  • Addressing the Epidemic of HPV-Associated Cancers
  • Center for Autism and Innovation
  • Data Science Visions
  • Enhancing the Research and Educational Missions of the Vanderbilt Brain
  • A Reinvestment in Cryo-Electron Microscopy at Vanderbilt
  • Understanding the Complexity of Life One Cell at a Time
  • Vanderbilt Pre3 Initiative: Preventing Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes and Prematurity

The 2017 awards mark the midpoint of the $50 million TIPs initiative, launched by Zeppos in 2015. The five-year enterprise supports trans-institutional research and teaching, a foundation of the university’s Academic Strategic Plan. The grants are meant to seed and expand research and teaching collaborations across disciplines.

The awards also support projects and groups that collectively aim to answer big questions and address grand challenges.

“TIPs investments are designed to help faculty take existing centers and institutes, as well as emerging ones, to the next level as they position Vanderbilt as a world leader in given areas,” Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan R. Wente said. “In addition, these unique multidisciplinary projects create one-of-a-kind research opportunities for our graduate students and immersion experiences for undergraduates, helping them discover their passion.”

Funding for this year’s initiatives was made available July 1. Download the full listing, which includes project descriptions and collaborating faculty.