Annual Report Fiscal Year 2013: Selected major projects

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NSF Engineering Research Center for Revolutionizing Metallic Biomaterials

  • Continued research funding and equipment
  • Principal investigator: Dr. Jagannathan Sankar, Department of Mechanical Engineering
  • $5 million
  • Funder: National Science Foundation
  • Website

The Center's objective is to create technology to transform current medical and surgical treatments by creating "smart" implants to improve care for orthopedic, craniofacial and cardiovascular ailments. It also will create a vibrant, diverse workforce well-prepared for the multidisciplinary and global challenges and opportunities of the new millennium.

The ERC is conducting research in biomedical engineering and nanobio applications. It is developing the technology for biocompatible and biodegradable implants for reconstruction and regeneration. These implants could include such devices as screws, wires, and plates with the capability for controlled degradation and emission from the body when they've served their purpose. A device now in testing is a cage to immobilize vertebrae after spinal fusion operations.

North Carolina A&T is the ERC’s lead institution. Partners include the University of Pittsburgh, University of Cincinnati, and Hannover Medical School.

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NSF CREST Biofuels Center

  • New project
  • Principal investigator: Dr. Abolghasem Shahbazi, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Design
  • Co-investigators: Dr. Debasish Kuila, Dr. Divi Venkateswarlu, Dr. Jianzhong Lou, Dr. Keith Schimmel, Dr. Lijun Wang, Dr. Lyubov Kurkalova, Dr. Shamsuddin Ilias, Dr. Vinayak Kabadi, Dr. Yevgeniy Rastigeyev.
  • $2 million
  • Funder: National Science Foundation
  • Website

The Bioenergy Center at N.C. A&T State University conducts fundamental research toward the development of advanced thermochemical biomass conversion technology for the efficient, economic production of liquid transportation fuels and hydrogen.

The center’s goal is to make biomass a more viable source of renewable energy by developing the basic science and technology that will make energy conversions more efficient and costs more affordable.

Its research is divided into three thrust areas.

  • Thrust Area I deals with gasification of biomass (lignocelluloses).  The research team will investigate improved production of quality syngas through achieving a more thorough understanding of the gasification chemistry of various biomass feedstocks.
  • Thrust Area II is directed toward developing specific catalytic materials and processes for clean biofuels (alkanes and alcohols) and for hydrogen production with industrial applications.
  • Thrust Area III is geared toward fuel processing and reforming technologies for hydrogen production and separation as H2-fuel with applications in proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) technology. High-purity H2 is the fuel of choice in PEMFCs.

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Director of National Intelligence Science and Technology Center of Excellence in Advanced Biometrics Technology Research

  • Continued research funding
  • Principal investigator: Dr. Gerry Dozier, Department of Computer Science
  • $1 million
  • Funder: Army Research Laboratory
  • Website

The center operates as the Center for Advanced Studies in Identity Sciences. It performs research in a variety of identity security issues (biometrics, face recognition, age progression, age estimation, and ocular recognition), while increasing the pool of professionals in the biometric workforce. North Carolina A&T is the lead institution; partners are Clemson University, the University of North Carolina Charlotte, and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Funded by an $8.93 million, five-year grant to create the first Director of National Intelligence Science and Technology Center of Academic Excellence.

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Center for Aviation Safety

  • Continued research funding
  • Principal investigator: Dr. Kunigal Shivakumar, Department of Mechanical Engineering
  • Co-investigators: Dr. Mannur Sundaresan, Dr. Vinayak Kabadi
  • $950,000
  • Funder: NASA

The vision of the Center for Aviation Safety (CAS) is to establish a strong aerospace engineering research and education program by bringing together highly competent and dedicated faculty members at North Carolina A&T State University (A&T) through the NASA funding to address the challenges of Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate’s Fundamental Aeronautics and Aviation Safety Programs.

Research objectives of the CAS are a clear understanding of science and engineering to develop materials, tools, models, and technologies that support the safe operation of aerospace vehicles. Research objectives are accomplished through three tasks:

  • Advanced composites and structures,
  • Integrated vehicle health management, and
  • Aeromechanics and propulsion.

The educational objective is to develop a high quality aerospace engineering graduate program within the Department of Mechanical Engineering (first among the HBCUs) to produce world-class engineers and workforce through outreach activities. The Chair of ME department has committed to add new faculty, provide release and research support for aerospace engineering that is consistent with the vision and goals of UNC Tomorrow.

The CAS plans to accomplish these goals through partnership with NASA (Glenn Research Center & Langley Research Center), major aerospace industries, academic advisors, small business, and the A&T administration. A letter of support is included in the proposal.

Utilizing the current research facilities and the existing activities of the team, CAS will quickly start-off and become productive with the new NASA funds. After three to four years of research performance and partnership building, CAS will be able to solicit additional funding and continue to grow well beyond the initial five years of NASA’s funding.

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Greensboro Child Response Initiative

  • New project
  • Principal investigator: Dr. Kelly Graves, Center for Behavioral Health and Wellness
  • $750,000
  • Funder: Office of Justice Programs

The Greensboro Child Response Initiative focuses on providing specialized mental health advocacy services to improve response to children who witness or experience violence in order to minimize the traumatic impact of violent crime among children.
The purpose of the Greensboro Child Response Initiative (G-CRI) is to address the mental health consequences of violence and trauma among children exposed to violence in the home or in the community. Children within the Eastern and Southern districts of Greensboro are the focus given that these districts have the highest volume of calls where children were witnesses or victims of violence. For example, in 2009 in the Eastern District there were 514 cases where children either experienced or witnessed a violent crime, representing a 40% increase from the previous year. Eighty percent of these families access community resources through G-CRI, addressing a full range of needs, with approximately 25% of referred children receiving mental health assessment and/or counseling through our network of experienced trauma providers.  Of those served, 87% of  families report feeling safer after receiving services through G-CRI.

Primary activities include:

  • Direct specialized mental health advocacy services for child victims,
  • Enhanced coordination of victim response across multiple victim-serving agencies, and
  • Monthly advocacy outreach activities to identity child victims to both the Eastern and Southern Districts in Greensboro.

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Nano to Continuum Multi-Scale Modeling Techniques and Analysis for Cementitious Materials Under Dynamic Loading

  • Continued research funding
  • Principal investigator: Dr. Ram Mohan, Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering
  • Co-investigators: Dr. Ajit Kelkar, Dr. Miguel Picornell-Darder, Dr. Sameer Hamoush, and Dr. Won-Chang Choi
  • $556,000
  • Funder: Army Research Office

Advanced cementitious materials such as mortar and concrete both in original construction and as a protective retrofitted quick pore concrete panels combining traditional cementitious mortar or concrete with additional functional materials (including nanomaterial fillers, fibers, etc) have a potential to provide effective protection against deadly force and insurgent attacks that include direct projectiles and shock from blast waves.

Further enhancement to the design, development and understanding of the shock and impact resistant properties of cementitious materials would require “Materials by Design” techniques/concepts instead of a trail-and-error approach in material processing. Macroscopic constitutive models, both empirical and mechanistic models, fail to quantify the effects of various nanostructures on blast- and ballistic-resistant characteristics of advanced concrete. Advanced computational algorithms and appropriate physics-based simulations that effectively include the representative material constitutive behaviors at each length scale, from the lowest length scale and building and bridging to the next length scale levels for the macroscopic structural configurations, are desperately needed.

The proposed research and technical vision is to evolve a multi-scale nano to continuum modeling methodology that links and transcends across the different length scales from nano length scale material constituents to macroscopic deformation and failure behavior through appropriate length-scale models and their coupling that will impact the multi-scale modeling, design and development of advanced cement material for force and materiel protection from direct, ballistic and shock threats in theater, homeland security coupled with the research education and training of graduate students in these technological areas.

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High Performance Reconfigurable Computing: Research and Education

  • New project
  • Principal investigator: Dr. Clay Gloster, Department of Computer Systems Technology
  • $478,000
  • Funder: Army Research Office

Reconfigurable computing (RC), also known as adaptive computing, is a new technology that has shown considerable promise in being employed in military systems. Not only does this technology offer 10X to 1000X speedup of computation-intensive applications executing on high-end workstations at a fraction of the cost, but it also offers complete hardware reprogrammability. In fact, with RC systems, new military application end-products can be developed that utilize the same rack of processing boards, once installed in the fleet.

Frequently, applications that require several hours to a few weeks to execute on typical desktop computers are ported to supercomputers. Not only is this option costly, but often times, the entire program must be rewritten to effectively utilize multiple processors and other resources available on these systems. RC systems can offer an advantage over this option since RC systems have been demonstrated that deliver performance approaching that of a supercomputer at a fraction of the cost. However, not only could it take several months to complete an RC system design, but RC system developers must be trained in both hardware design and software development.

This proposal directly addresses the full gamut of problems associated with developing applications for deployment in military RC systems. The researchers propose the development of a compiler that reads algorithm descriptions written in C, C++, or Java. With the aid of the compiler, large RC systems can be developed in a short period of time to simulate more complex military system models. The compiler will produce many of the hardware and software components required for an RC implementation while significantly reducing application execution time.

The proposed research project also seeks to develop the Remote And Reconfigurable computing Environment (RARE), housed at North Carolina A&T State University, that will assist scientists and engineers in solving problems that require excessive execution time when solved on typical desktop computers. The project will integrate new reconfigurable computing (RC) compilation technology with a client/server program to speedup local and remote versions of scientific data processing applications by orders of magnitude at reduced costs. Users of the system need only call a local or remote procedure that executes the application on the reconfigurable computing resource.

Data is sent to the resource, processed, and results are sent back to the user via the Internet.  Recent experiments conducted by the principal investigator verify that REMOTE HARDWARE versions of several algorithms (implemented on a reconfigurable computer) can complete execution significantly faster than LOCAL SOFTWARE versions of the same algorithm (implemented on a typical desktop computer). This statement is true in spite of the communication overhead that is present due to data transmission via the Internet. This project is built upon this premise and offers a novel distributed reconfigurable computing resource to users that can access the Internet.

This research will promote a dramatic increase in available computing resources for solving compute intensive engineering problems at a fraction of the cost of supercomputers. By taking advantage of this resource, users need not become experts in reconfigurable computing to benefit from the performance gains offered by the technology.

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Center for Outreach in Aging and Community Health: Supporting Health Aging and the Elimination of Health Disparities among Vulnerable Populations

  • New project
  • Principal investigator: Dr. Goldie Byrd, Department of Biology
  • $400,000
  • Funder: Merck Foundation

The proposed Aging Center project is important in that it will significantly expand North Carolina A&T's capacity to impact health improvement in the elderly among underrepresented communities. It will be the University's first formal Outreach Center and the state's first Center on a historically Black University's campus specifically dedicated to the improvement of aging health in vulnerable populations. While it is not a research center, the proposed Center will facilitate the development of students and faculty in aging, who will in time win external funding to answer major questions in aging research and community engagement that improves health.

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Bioactive food compounds with applications in prevention/management of diabetes

  • New project
  • Principal investigator: Dr. Shengmin Sang, Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies
  • $350,000
  • Funder: Qatar University
  • Details

This is a collaborative research project between Dr. Mohamad Ahmedna and his research team at Qatar University and Dr. Shengmin Sang and his research team at North Carolina A&T State University. The following covers the research that will be conducted by Dr. Sang’s research group.

  • Specific Aim 1: Study the trapping effects of reactive dicarbonyl compounds by the major components in apple, tea, and ginger in vitro. The primary aim of this section is to determine the trapping effects of MGO and GO by the major components in apple, tea, and ginger, to identify the structures of related carbonyl adducts, and to elucidate the formation mechanisms involved.
  • Aim 2: Determine the antiglycation effects of the major components in apple, tea, and ginger on diabetic retinopathy in retinal cells (ARPE-19).
  • Aim 3: Determine the antiglycation and antidiabetic effects of the major active components in apple, tea, and ginger in a high fat diet-induced diabetic mouse model. The mouse study will be conducted in Qatar University. Dr. Sang’s group will analyze the results.

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ENGAGE 2BE Engineers: Engaging the Next Generation of African-American Graduates Entering Biomedical, Biological and Environmental Engineering Careers

  • New project
  • Principal investigator: Dr. Stephanie Luster-Teasley, Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering
  • Co-investigators: Dr. Clay Gloster, Dr. Leotis Parrish, Dr. Matthew McCullough, and Dr. Ronnie Bailey
  • $240,000
  • Funder: U.S. Department of Education

ENGAGE 2BE Engineers is focused on:

  • Increasing the number of minority students who persist and complete college and are academically prepared to pursue graduate degrees in biomedical, biological, and environmental engineering.
  • Provide support, mentoring and on-campus resources to increase retention and persistence of non-traditional and high-needs students who may have additional challenges – such as students with disabilities, students from low-income families, students from immigrant and migrant-worker families, and students with children –enrolled in the departments of Chemical and Bioengineering (CBEN) and Civil, Architectural, Agricultural and Environmental Engineering (CAAE). This support will be in the form of academic mentoring, motivation, and advisement to assist their progression and acclimation at A&T and in the CBEN or CAAE Departments.
  • Implement data management methods to increase real-time advising and mentoring. North Carolina A&T as a minority serving institution (MSI) plays an important role in contributing to the number of African American students earning BS-level degrees. ENGAGE 2BE will form a learning community of students with common interests in biomedical, biological and environmental engineering. We will use the strength-based model to help our under-represented minority population excel in their undergraduate studies and prepare them for success in undergraduate and graduate school. Our goal is to produce students who will become leaders in bioengineering and environmental engineering fields.

The objectives for ENGAGE 2BE Engineers are to:

  • Provide academic and social integration by forming a community of students (freshman through senior level) interested in bioengineering and environmental engineering;
  • Provide knowledge/skills development and support and motivation for ENGAGE 2BE engineering students to enable them to Excel academically as undergraduates through mentoring, professional development workshops, and undergraduate research;
  • Use “cloud” computing methods to interact, track, advise, and disseminate information in real-time and remain in contact with students after completing their undergraduate studies and measure their future career paths; and
  • Develop a strengths-based model for students (minority and high-needs students) in bioengineering and environmental engineering that can be sustained in within our department and used as a model for other departments, colleges, and universities.

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BIGDATA: Mid-Scale: ESCE: DCM: Collaborative Research: DataBridge – A Sociometric System for Long-tail Science Data Collections

  • New project
  • Principal investigator: Dr. Justin Zhan, Department of Computer Science
  • $178,000
  • Funder: National Science Foundation

At a time when thousands of scientists are creating millions of data sets describing an increasingly diverse matrix of social and physical phenomena, the chances of an individual unaided scientist finding all of the data relevant to a particular line of investigation are shrinking every day. At the same time, this rapid increase in the amount and diversity of stored data implies a corresponding increase in the potential of these data sets to empower important new collaborative research. Maximizing the realization of this potential will require tools specifically created to assist scientists in their search for relevant data sets and collaborators. DataBridge is an E-science collaboration environment tool designed specifically for this purpose.

We propose to explore a rich set of socio-metric tools, the space of relevance algorithms and adapt them for defining different types of semantic bridges that link datasets and for semantically linking large number of diverse data into a socio-mapping network. We will develop a software tool –  Data Bridge System (DBS) – that will apply data from several large NSF projects to provide relevance-based discovery for collaborating scientists.

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