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College of Engineering Introduces Research Initiative

The LSU College of Engineering is working to introduce new research opportunities for faculty members through the Fund for Innovation in Engineering Research.

“The challenge that the College is putting forth to our faculty is to ‘be progressive,’” said W. David Constant, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering. “We want to enable investigators to pursue funding on innovative research by providing them with seed money for their initial research proposals.”

In the spirit of LSU alumni generosity, the family of Harry J. Longwell, through the Longwell Family Foundation, funded this new initiative in the College of Engineering by providing the “seed” money to help launch research projects and allow engineering researchers to build a case for more substantial funding.

“The College of Engineering wants to create a robust and vibrant research program that enhances teaching, so that new ideas – and their inventions, development, and application for industry use –generated by the College naturally fall back into the teaching process to benefit current students,” said Harry J. Longwell. “Ultimately, this will make LSU more attractive for new students and faculty.”

“We want to continue to attract highly qualified students and improve their performance in the College of Engineering,” added Longwell. “Programs such as this will enhance the educational experience students and researchers receive at LSU. As a result, those affected will be able to make better contributions to their specific industry, thus being better contributors to society. As a continual improvement program, we need an injection of funds to make a step-change to be competitive and to continue to enhance the educational process through these ongoing funds.”

When the fund was introduced to College of Engineering faculty in September 2007, the response was overwhelming. A total of 37 proposals were submitted for the new initiative, with four being awarded funding. A committee of six LSU and industry leaders reviewed the proposals and selected these top four to be awarded funding:

Exploratory Research on Nanoscale Biomolecular Machines

Department of Mechanical Engineering faculty members Marcio de Queiroz, associate professor, and Dorel Moldovan, assistant professor, are looking to capitalize on emerging technology. Their work involves machines that will enable a new generation of integrated devices at the nano and micro scale, with important advantages over traditional engineering systems in terms of performance, size, power consumption, efficiency, and ease of fabrication.

These devices are expected to have a significant impact on the future of humanity. Visionary scholars believe intelligent biomolecular machines could one day be utilized to cure diseases, clean the environment, and facilitate space travel. Biomolecular devices are expected to impact a wide range of industries, including medical, biotechnology, materials, energy, and aerospace. The preliminary results of the computations acquired under this grant will improve the department’s chances of obtaining $1 million grants from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and Department of Defense for further research in this area.

“This seed grant will be crucial for jump-starting our research in the emerging and exciting area of biomolecular machines,” said de Queiroz. “We envision it leading in the near future to a long-term, multidisciplinary collaboration between LSU faculty and students from mechanical engineering, biological sciences, and chemistry.

LSU student Josh Menier, a construction management major, works on installing polyurethane to a section of roof that will be part of a low-cost solar roof system.

Integrated Low-Cost Solar Roof Systems

Marwa M. Hassan, assistant professor in the Department of Construction Management & Industrial Engineering (CMIE), proposed research that will support a partnership between the CMIE Department at LSU and the Building Construction Department at Virginia Tech for the construction and final validation of a newly designed, integrated low-cost solar collection system for residential and commercial buildings. Unlike most thermal-solar systems, the new modular integrated roof has year-round benefits that decrease the life-cycle cost of the system when compared to conventional non-solar or add-on solar roof systems. The results of the analysis will also be used to determine the most efficient and cost effective approach in production and installation.

“This seed money helps provide faculty the best opportunity to create a track record of results. Once we can verify the model, we will apply for a patent on the design,” said Hassan. “I believe if we can get our solar roof system patented, it will have additional value for future efficiency.”

Improving Highway Construction Using a Geogrid

Mostafa A Elseifi’s, assistant professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, developed a proposal to improve the efficiency of construction operations on soft soils by investigating the use of a geogrid – an interlayer system made from high-density polypropylene with an open mesh structure that allows interlocking with the surrounding materials – to increase the mechanical resistance of soil.

Results of this analysis and modeling will be used to support a full-scale proposal, which would aim to fully characterize the induced damage by heavy construction equipment using field test sections, instrumentation, and analytical methods.

“I am honored to receive a grant through the Fund for Innovation in Engineering Research from the Longwell Family Foundation,” said Elseifi. “This research project will be one of the first attempts to evaluate the effectiveness of an interlayer system, such as geogrid, in improving subgrade mechanical resistance during construction.  In addition, it will quantify the damage of heavy equipment on weak soil foundations with focus on subgrade materials.  This grant will also allow me to continue my research activities in finite element analysis of pavement systems and my interest in tire-pavement interaction.”

Understanding the Dynamics of a Chemical Oscillator as a New Way to Fight Cancer

In a collaborative effort by Gordon A. and Mary Cain Department of Chemical Engineering designated professors Mike Benton and Martin Hjortsø, yeast models with reporter genes for select proteins will be created and used to fit stochastic models of the yeast cell cycle. Stochastic, or random, models are harder to work with than deterministic models, but stochastic cell cycle models are not beyond the reach of today’s computers.

Hjortso and a senior project student have developed such a model. The eukaryotic cell cycle is controlled by a chemical oscillator, which is very similar among almost all eukaryotes. Understanding the dynamics of this chemical oscillator and how it can malfunction or cause populations of cells to bifurcate into different cell types is critical to understanding phenomena such as the appearance of cancerous cells and apoptosis ­– or programmed cell death, a key process in tissue formation in embryos.

This is an experimental effort to create genetically engineered yeast strains with reporter genes fused to the genes for the key proteins that control the cell cycle and appear in the stochastic cell cycle models. Monitoring the engineered yeast str ains and gathering large amounts of data will enhance the capability of our model to predict cancer formation or apoptosis.  This is part of a projected three-year effort, with the starter funds received through The Fund for Innovation in Engineering allowing enough data to be collected to garner preliminary results so that a proposal may be submitted to the NSF.

“As a new researcher, this support from the Longwell Family Foundation is extremely important to me,” said Benton. “This grant provides us with funds necessary to test our theories through preliminary research, which will make our future research proposals more competitive on a national level.  Better understanding of cell cycle regulation is crucial in helping us understand how cancer develops.  Our model will enhance the current understanding of these complex processes ­– a major step in cancer treatment and prevention.”

Mimi Lavalle | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Spring 2008

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