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1. Campus P–16 STEM Education Outreach

CAREER: Bayesian Models for Lexicalized Grammars

National Science Foundation Award #1053856
Julia Hockenmaier
Computer Science
Dates: February 1, 2011–January 31, 2016 (estimated)

Natural language processing (NLP) is a key technology for the digital age. At the core of most NLP systems is a parser, a program which identifies the grammatical structure of sentences. Parsing is an essential prerequisite for language understanding. But despite significant progress in recent decades, accurate wide-coverage parsing for any genre or language remains an unsolved problem. This project will advance the state of art in NLP technology through the development of more accurate statistical parsing models.

Since language is highly ambiguous, parsers require a statistical model which assigns the highest probability to the correct structure of each sentence. The accuracy of current parsers is limited by the amount of available training data on which their models can be trained, and by the amount of information the models take into account. This project aims to advance parsing by developing novel methods of indirect supervision to overcome the lack of labeled training data, as well as new kinds of models which incorporate information about the prior linguistic context in which sentences appear. It employs Bayesian techniques, which give robust estimates and allow rich parametrization, and applies them to lexicalized grammars, which provide a compact representation of the syntactic properties of a language.

Education Component: This project will also train graduate students in NLP and develop materials that can be used to teach middle and high school students about NLP and to inspire them to pursue an education in computer science.

CAREER: Investigation of DNA-Binding Protein Dynamics With High-Resolution Optical Traps

National Science Foundation Award #0952442
Yann Chemla
Dates: February 15, 2010–January 31, 2015 (estimated)

A broad class of DNA-binding protein interacts with the genome in a non-sequence-specific manner. These proteins act mechanically on their substrates, altering DNA conformation by bending, twisting, or stretching the molecule, and oligomerizing to form long filaments. These nucleoprotein complexes often serve as substrates upon which genome maintenance processes occur. Thus, they are involved in all aspects of DNA metabolism, in replication, recombination, and repair, and are important regulators of cellular processes. Single-stranded DNA binding proteins (SSB) serve as a model system for features common to this class of proteins. This project will use a synthesis of techniques from traditional biochemistry and molecular biology, in combination with single-molecule biophysics and computational biology to investigate: (1) how SSBs induce conformational rearrangement of nucleic acids, (2) how they oligomerize into nucleoprotein filaments, and (3) how these protein clusters recruit and modulate the activity of other proteins involved in nucleic acid processing. Specifically, high-resolution optical trapping in combination with single-molecule fluorescence techniques will be used to reveal dynamic protein-DNA interactions, going beyond the limitations of current methods. This work will shed light on fundamental aspects of genome maintenance.

Education Component: The PI has a deep commitment to interdisciplinary education of young scientists and outreach towards underrepresented groups. In particular, he sees in biophysics a unique opportunity to recruit women, who have traditionally been drawn to biology over physics, into the quantitative sciences. The outreach and education components of the project synthesize these themes into a broad plan targeting middle and high school, undergraduate, and graduate education. Specifically, the PI will: (1) develop a lab camp for a girls' summer program to teach middle and high school girls about physics and its impact on biological problems and to provide hands-on experience with biophysics, (2) improve the teaching of an introductory undergraduate physics course for life science students (the majority of whom are women) to better connect physics concepts with biology and medicine, (3) develop a lab course devoted to the training of the next generation of biophysicists in advanced technologies as part of the NSF Center for the Physics of the Living Cells (CPLC), and (4) participate in yearly minority conferences. This project is jointly supported by the Genes and Genome Systems Cluster and the Biomolecular Systems Cluster in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences.

CAREER: Large-Scale Recognition Using Shared Structures, Flexible Learning, and Efficient Search

National Science Foundation Award #1053768
Derek Hoiem
Computer Science
Dates: May 1, 2011–April 30, 2016 (estimated)

This research investigates shared representations, flexible learning techniques, and efficient multi-category inference methods that are suitable for large-scale visual recognition. The goal is to produce visual systems that can accurately describe a wide range of objects with varying precision, rather than being limited to identifying objects within a few pre-defined categories. The main approach is to design object representations that enable new objects to be understood in terms of existing ones, which enables learning with fewer examples and faster and more robust recognition.

The research has three main components: (1) Designing appearance and spatial models for objects that are shared across basic categories; (2) Investigating algorithms to learn from a mixture of detailed and loose annotations and from human feedback; and (3) Designing efficient search algorithms that take advantage of shared representations.

The research provides more detailed, flexible, and accurate recognition algorithms that are suitable for high-impact applications, such as vehicle safety, security, assistance to the blind, household robotics, and multimedia search and organization. For example, if a vehicle encounters a cow in the road, the vision system would localize the cow and its head and legs and report "four-legged animal, walking left," even if it has not seen cows during training.

Education Component/Dissemination: The research also provides a unique opportunity to involve undergraduates in research, promote interdisciplinary learning and collaboration, and engage in outreach. Research ideas and results are disseminated through scientific publications, released code and datasets, public talks, and demonstrations for high school students.

CAREER: Theory and Application of Reflective Microring Resonators

National Science Foundation Award #1055941
Lynford Goddard
Electrical and Computer Engineering
Dates: March 1, 2011–February 29, 2016 (estimated)

The objectives of this program are to characterize, model, and utilize reflective microring reflectors. The PI proposes engineering novel device functionality by integrating a Bragg reflector in a microring resonator. The microring amplifies grating reflection, creating a compact mirror with high reflectivity, narrow linewidth, and no side lobe ripple. These benefits would reduce channel crosstalk and potentially result in lower power, higher data rate communication systems.

The research will advance scientific understanding of the device and demonstrate its potential as a fundamental element to the photonics community. The PI proposes to leverage his preliminary results in device theory, experience in lasers, sensors, and nanofabrication, and experimental capabilities and resources. This potentially transformative research may unlock new lines of research (new devices and models) and enable diverse applications (interferometry, metrology, RF photonics, and communications). Two specific applications will be explored: as cavities for on-chip absorption spectroscopy and as mirrors for tunable lasers.

The broader impacts will be to create novel devices for next generation communications and consumer electronics.

Education Component: Research and teaching will be integrated through the development of two courses: Principles of Experimental Research and Modeling of Photonic Devices. Recruitment, retention, and participation of students from underrepresented groups will be addressed through mentoring, REU internships, and a new electrical engineering summer camp for 10th-12th grade girls. Results from both research and teaching will be published to enhance the current understanding of reflective microring devices and engineering education/outreach methodologies.

Center for Advanced Materials for Water Purification

National Science Foundation Award # 0120978
Mark Shannon, Paul Bohn, John Georgiadis, David Cahill
Materials Science and Engineering, Mechanical Science and Engineering
Dates: August 1, 2002–July 31, 2014 (estimated)

The U.S. and the world are facing the very real dangers of depleted aquifers, inadequate surface water supplies, and contamination from a variety of sources including agricultural runoff, industrial discharges, acid rain, and ground-water pollutants. Waterborne pathogens are also a growing threat for water supplies. These dangers are expected to increase as populations continue to grow. Numerous technologies are being implemented to purify water, but current membrane and adsorbent materials used in water purification are not sufficient to solve all contamination problems and meet increasingly stringent new standards being proposed to protect health.

The best state-of-the-art materials have well-known shortcomings that are due to shortfalls in the current understanding of the underlying science. Indeed, to develop the revolutionary new materials and systems for safe and economical water-purification technology needed to counter the impending water crisis requires a coordinated, intensive, multi-year effort of scientists and engineers. The vision of this Center is to forge multi-disciplinary groups of researchers, educators, and practitioners into a cohesive team with the overarching goal of developing new functional materials and systems to purify water for the peoples of the United States and the world.

This Science and Technology Center (STC) has several distinguishing features. First and foremost, it provides coordinated participation of researchers in the following areas: water quality at Stanford and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), material science at UIUC, basic physical science (chemistry and physics) at the University of California at Berkeley, Clark Atlanta University, Stanford, and UIUC, and system-level experts at Stanford and UIUC. Furthermore, the Center facilitates the technology transfer and feedback from practitioners in water treatment through linkages with the UIUC Waste Management Research Center, and the Orange County (CA )Water District, as well as other water-quality organizations.

Another distinguishing feature of the STC is its establishment of a collaborative laboratory (collaboratory) for its education, research, and outreach functions, to ensure the integration of the activities. In this multi-disciplinary collaboratory, chemists, material scientists, physicists, biologists, and engineers will work together with library and information-science experts in the Center to disseminate information and research results showing how to synthesize, characterize, and understand new material systems designed to separate compounds from water and/or transform them.

The premise of this STC is that advanced, selective and efficient water-treatment technologies will be based on membrane filters, adsorbents, and catalytic surfaces. Rational development of the required materials requires a firm grasp of the basic science of the aqueous interface. The key issue is to observe and to manipulate on the Angstrom to nanometer scale interactions between the aqueous solution and the solid substrate. The goals of the STC are: (i) to advance the basic understanding of these interactions; (ii) to use the results to radically improve membranes, filters, adsorbents, and ion-exchange materials through the synthesis of new materials that are able to separate selectively and/or transform compounds in water; (iii) to integrate these new materials into viable water purification systems; and (iv) to integrate the human and knowledge infrastructure with the research mission to implement effectively the science and technology.

To accomplish these goals, the STC is organized in four core teams: (i) Interfacial Processes and Molecular Characterization, (ii) Materials Synthesis and Development, (iii) System Analysis and Integration, and (iv) Collaboratory Education and Outreach.

The Center supports education and outreach activities for: (i) K-12 teachers and students to learn why clean water is important and how fundamental research and sound engineering can help make water cleaner; (ii) underrepresented groups in science and engineering, encouraging members of such groups to pursue careers related to water purification, material science, and engineering; (iii) citizen groups, water industry professionals, and local governments to help formulate, debate, and implement policies related to water quality control; and (iv) the general public to understand the need for basic research on water purification. All constituent groups are supported by a web-based collaborative laboratory to support knowledge dissemination, mentoring, learning, public debate, and discussion. The main tool used for the collaboratory is the INQUIRY-based learning and research environment developed in the UIUC School of Library and Information Science, which allows two-way research and education to be conducted between the partners and all the participants and constituent groups of the Center.

The STC seeks aggressively to increase diversity in education, research, and outreach.

Diversity is essential for increasing the numbers of under-represented groups in science and technology. The STC can make the greatest impact if the knowledge and technologies developed are implemented throughout the U.S. and the world by diverse educators and researchers. To achieve this impact, the proposed STC has partnered with the Environmental Technology Consortium (ETC) of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority institutions (MIs) to increase minority participation. In addition, CAU is an active water-treatment research partner, which supports the training of a diverse group of students in water purification research.

Due to the critical need for improved materials and processes for water purification, this STC has an immediate opportunity to transfer the knowledge gained from basic science and engineering research to the practitioners in the field. In addition to the usual modes of dissemination in conferences, proceedings, journal articles, and courses, the collaboratory two-way learning and research tools developed through the STC quickly transmit knowledge between the academic partners and the partner organizations.

Collaborative Research: Variability-Aware Software for Efficient Computing with Nanoscale Devices

National Science Foundation Award #1028888
Rakesh Kumar
Electrical and Computer Engineering
Dates: September 1, 2010–August 31, 2015 (estimated)

As semiconductor manufacturers build ever smaller components, circuits and chips at the nano scale become less reliable and more expensive to produce, no longer behaving like precisely chiseled machines with tight tolerances. Modern computing is effectively ignorant of the variability in behavior of underlying system components from device to device, their wear-out over time, or the environment in which the computing system is placed. This makes them expensive, fragile and vulnerable to even the smallest changes in the environment or component failures. We envision a computing world where system components—led by proactive software— routinely monitor, predict, and adapt to the variability of manufactured systems. Changing the way software interacts with hardware offers the best hope for perpetuating the fundamental gains in computing performance at lower cost. The Variability Expedition fundamentally rethinks the rigid, deterministic hardware-software interface to propose a new class of adaptive, highly energy efficient computing machines which will be able to discover the nature and extent of variation in hardware, develop abstractions to capture these variations, and drive adaptations in the software stack from compilers, runtime to applications. The resulting computer systems will continue working though components vary in performance or grow less reliable over time and across technology generations. A fluid software-hardware interface will mitigate the variability of manufactured systems and make machines robust, reliable and responsive to changing operating conditions.

The Variability Expedition marshals resources of researchers at Illinois and other universities. With expertise in process technology, architecture, and design tools on the hardware side, and in operating systems, compilers and languages on the software side, the team also has the system implementation and applications expertise needed to drive and evaluate the research as well as transition research accomplishments into practice via application drivers in wireless sensing, software radio and mobile platforms.

A successful Expedition will dramatically change the computing landscape. Re-architecting software to work in a world where monitoring and adaptation are the norm will achieve more robust, efficient and affordable systems able to predict and withstand hardware failures, software bugs, and even attacks. The new paradigm will apply across the entire spectrum of embedded, mobile, desktop and server-class computing machines, yielding particular gains in sensor information processing, multimedia rendering, software radios, search, medical imaging and other important applications.

Education Component: Transforming the relationship between hardware and software presents valuable opportunities to integrate research and education, and this Expedition will build on established collaborations with educator-partners in formal and informal arenas to promote interdisciplinary teaching, training, learning and research. Strong industrial and community outreach ties will ensure success and outreach to high-school students through a combination of tutoring and summer school programs. The Expedition will engage undergraduate and graduate students in software, hardware, and systems research, while promoting participation by underrepresented groups at all levels and broadly disseminating results within academia and industry.

G.A.M.E.S. participants working in lab.
Girls Adventures in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science (G.A.M.E.S.)

Abbott Laboratories
Caterpillar Foundation
John Deere Foundation
Motorola Foundation Innovation Generation Grants
Shell Oil Company
Women in Engineering

University of Illinois / Urbana, Illinois – Girls Adventures in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science (G.A.M.E.S) Summer Camp is an annual week-long residential camp designed to give academically talented middle school girls an opportunity to explore math, science, and engineering careers through demonstrations, classroom presentations, hands-on activities, and contact with women in these technical fields.


GOALI: Validated Multiscale Simulations of Ceramic Matrix Composites for Power Generation

National Science Foundation Award #1030569
Carlos Armando Duarte; Alireza Namazifard
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Dates: September 15, 2010–August 31, 2014 (estimated)

The objectives of this Grant Opportunity for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI) research project are to improve the understanding and to model the failure mechanisms of CMCs using an integrated approach based on novel multiscale computational methods and experimental validation. Revolutionary design of future power generation systems, rockets, and most recently, hypersonic missiles and flight vehicles are contingent on the development of advanced materials like ceramic matrix composites (CMCs), able to operate at high temperatures. A major challenge in the design of CMC components is the determination of the fracture behavior of these materials at relevant crack sizes for ceramic materials. Fracture of CMCs involves phenomena spanning several spatial scales from micron-size fibers to meter-size structural components. Illinois will collaborate with researchers and engineers from General Electric Company to vigorously expand fundamental knowledge and modeling of damage mechanisms in CMCs.

This research offers an alternative for the difficult and costly fracture experiments needed to determine the fracture behavior of CMCs. If successful, it will allow validated simulations and improve the understanding of complex multiscale phenomena. This will pave the way for the solution of important engineering and scientific problems. While the focus of his research is on the problem of failure of CMCs, this multiscale framework may also have a direct impact on the modeling and understanding of other material systems and problems where existing multiscale methods are not applicable. This research program will enable the education and training of graduate and undergraduate students from Illinois. These students will be involved in a multidisciplinary research topic that will foster critical interactions with researchers and engineers from General Electric Company. Another objective of this program is to motivate K-12 students to pursue an engineering degree. This will be achieved through the hands-on seminar Computational Mechanics, Engineering and Simulation Showcase (COME-&-SEE), showcasing the environmental and economical impact of computational engineering sciences.

NSEC: Center for Nano-Chemical-Electrical-Mechanical Manufacturing Systems\Nano-CEMMS

National Science Foundation Award # 0749028
Placid Ferreira, John Rogers, Paul Kenis, Lizanne DeStefano
Mechanical Science and Engineering, Educational Psychology
Dates: October 1, 2008–September 30, 2014 (estimated)

micro/nano structure
Illinois worker with micro/nano structure.

The Nanoscale Chemical-Electrical-Mechanical-Manufacturing Systems (Nano-CEMMS) Science and Engineering Center, a collaboration between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the California Institute of Technology, and the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, aims to revolutionize the nation's nanomanufacturing capabilities to position the nation at the forefront of high technology manufacturing. The Nano-CEMMS Center's research builds on two key breakthroughs made by members of the Center's research team, molecular gate technology and Very Large Scale Integrated (VLSI) fluidic circuits, to directly manufacture nanoscale structures and systems. The molecular gate can be digitally switched to deliver and control incredibly tiny attoliter (0.000 ,000,000,000,000,001 liter) amounts of material, a billion times smaller than the nanoliter switches of today. Molecular gates also are akin to transistors that deliver and control electrons, but with increased functionality since diverse and dissimilar materials can be delivered and molecules can undergo chemical reactions. The capability to build large arrays of addressable molecular gates through VLSI fluidic circuits coupled with other advances in micro-fluidics, nanoelectronics and optical sensing, and nanopositioning carves out a pathway for developing truly novel, scalable and robust manufacturing processes for constructing 3-D nano-structured multi-material devices.

Fully realizing that nanotechnology cannot be successful without a well-trained workforce, an extensive education and outreach program has been planned to enhance the scientific research, education, and industrial nanotechnology workforce of our nation. The program, spanning K-12 education and professional training, will build on existing successful K-12 outreach and education programs and will be centered on an extensive web-based Collaboratory that will allow for the dissemination of materials across the nation and the participation of its students, teachers, scientists and industry professionals. A comprehensive assessment component will help the Center track its broader impact and continuously improve its programs for increased effectiveness.

Project NEURON (Novel Education for Understanding Research on Neuroscience)

National Institutes of Health Award #1R25RR024251
Barbara Hug
Neuroscience Program, Curriculum and Instruction, Office for Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education
Dates: September 29, 2009–June 30, 2014 (estimated)

Project NEURON (Novel Education for Understanding Research On Neuroscience) will bring together scientists, science educators, teachers, and students to develop and disseminate curriculum materials that connect frontier science with national and state science standards. The wide-ranging research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will allow Project NEURON to link NIH-funded neuroscience research with educational research that examines how teachers and students learn. Project NEURON will also help teachers integrate the newly developed materials into existing state curriculum frameworks. Project NEURON will a) develop and disseminate curriculum modules for use in secondary science classrooms; b) improve instructional practices of secondary science teachers; and c) improve student engagement and learning of key science concepts. In addition to developing curriculum modules, the project will 1) create an ongoing series of professional development opportunities for teachers and graduate students; 2) perform a formative and summative evaluation; and 3) provide a dissemination mechanism for the modules, including presentations at science and science education conferences and article submissions to peer-reviewed journals.

Understanding and Enhancing Post-Combustion Multi-Pollutant Control with Carbon-Based Materials

National Science Foundation Award #1034470
Mark Rood
Civil and Environmental Engineering
Dates: August 1, 2010–July 31, 2014 (estimated)

The research, educational, and outreach components of this project will allow for the development of unique carbon materials that allow for reduction in emissions of several high and low concentration gas phase pollutants with continuous dissemination of results to all levels of education. NOx, mercury (Hgo/Hg2+), and dioxins/furans (PCDD/F) are emitted from a wide range of sources, including emissions from coal-fired power plants. NOx contributes to acid rain and secondary aerosol formation resulting in ozone, which causes health effects and visibility degradation. Mercury leads to enriched concentrations and heightened toxicity in lake sediments, animals, and humans, while PCDD/Fs are known to be excessively toxic and carcinogenic. Stricter air quality regulations strive to protect human health and welfare. This research will develop new technologies to enhance our ability to consume less toxic materials, prevent the emission of these pollutants to the environment, and provide for a more sustainable existence.

The intellectual merit of achieving multi-pollutant control involves an international research team at Illinois, URS, Inc., and National Central University, Taiwan, uniquely qualified to study the ability of custom and commercially available carbons to achieve multi-pollutant transformations and removal of toxic air pollutants from flue gas streams. Results will be interpreted and disseminated through national/international collaborations and conferences, educational programs at Illinois, peer-reviewed literature, and K-12 educational programs.

Broader impacts of this research will effectively integrate research results with K-12 and college undergraduate/graduate education. The key K-12 component is to make students aware of and more interested in engineering solutions to solve environmental issues. Results will be disseminated not only through conventional research conferences and manuscripts, but also via classroom demonstration modules, web-based modules, and in collaboration with The STEM Education Coalition, supported by the Illinois Board of Higher Education. Underrepresented research assistants at the undergraduate level will be recruited through NSF’s supplemental REU Program, and collaboration is planned with college students abroad.