UCLA Engineering gets $7.5M from NSF to create state-of-the-art sustainability labs
The National Science Foundation has awarded the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science $7.5 million to renovate its current infrastructure for use in sustainability research.
Originally published on UCLA Newsroom
By Wileen Wong Kromhout
Core mechanical, electrical and plumbing infrastructure at UCLA's Boelter Hall will be renovated to create state-of-the-art collaborative labs — or "collaboratories" — for research on renewable and alternative energy production and storage, sustainable infrastructure, and environmental engineering. The renovation project is scheduled to begin in August.
Within Boelter Hall, which currently houses UCLA Engineering's departments of chemical and biomolecular engineering, civil and environmental engineering, and computer science, four research collaboratories will be constructed — one for sustainable water systems, a second for energy frontier research, a third for sustainable infrastructures and a fourth for biomolecular engineering–enbaled sustainability.
"Adequate state-of-the-art research infrastructure is very much needed to maintain the excellent upward trajectory of our school," said Vijay K. Dhir, dean of UCLA Engineering. "We are thankful to the NSF, as this is a great opportunity for us to create better and more suitable space for the significant research that our faculty conducts on a daily basis."
Among the research goals for the new laboratories:
- The development of technologies for the biosynthesis of pharmaceuticals, to replace current processes involving organic solvents, and the conversion of renewable resources into pharmaceuticals.
- A study of the effect of biofuel combustion products on mammalian cells.
- The discovery, development and optimization of new methods for designing metabolic pathways, enzymes for biosensors and biodegradable polymers.
- The biotransformation of pollutants, nanoparticles and pathogens to solve hazardous-waste problems and improve public health.
- "The four collaboratories will be designed to the specs with input from the faculty," said Jane Chang, UCLA Engineering's associate dean of research and physical resources. "The end-users will also be monitored by sensors in terms of their energy and utility consumption. This information will then be centralized to enable our fifth, 'virtual' collaboratory on embedded networked sensing.
"Several of our faculty are interested in using this information to study not just how energy and utilities are being utilized in different ways by very different types of research but also how they can disseminate this information and encourage human behavioral change," Chang said. "We are pursuing some very unique ideas here for the first time. It's very exciting."
In addition to providing infrastructure for research, the renovated facilities will be used by undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers for research training. The outcomes of some of these research activities could translate into technologies that industry can commercialize and society can use to provide new energy streams, enhance environmental stewardship and mitigate the adverse consequences of environmental change.
The NSF award was funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. As a direct response to the economic crisis, the Recovery Act's main mission is to create new jobs, save existing ones, spur economic activity and invest in long-term growth.
"What we are doing here will definitely stimulate the local economy through intensive renovation and construction," said Chang, who is also the principal investigator for the project. "By creating state-of-the-art research space for the faculty in the form of a collaboratory, they can consolidate their research activities and establish more collaboration. And as their research program expands, they'll hire more graduate students and postdoctorates."
Another unique aspect of the project is that it is part of a large-scale intra-campus collaboration. The total budget for the renovation approaches $12 million, and both UCLA Engineering and the campus are committed to providing the necessary resources to ensure that the project is successfully completed in three years.
"We received a lot of support across campus. From the former vice chancellor for research, Roberto Peccei, and the vice chancellor for finance, budget and capital programs, Steve Olsen, to the associate vice chancellor for general services, Jack Powazek, all have contributed to making this project a reality. We are very thankful to them," Chang said.
The UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, established in 1945, offers 28 academic and professional degree programs, including an interdepartmental graduate degree program in biomedical engineering. Ranked among the top 10 engineering schools at public universities nationwide, the school is home to eight multimillion-dollar interdisciplinary research centers in wireless sensor systems, nanotechnology, nanomanufacturing and nanoelectronics, all funded by federal and private agencies.
Published: Friday, July 30, 2010