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Six ME faculty receive seed grants for MCubed projects

On November 28th, 50 interdisciplinary UM research projects were chosen by a lottery to receive funding through the University's new MCubed program. The winners, who were announced in real time on @UmichResearch's Twitter feed, will receive a combined $60,000 in seed grants during the first phase of funding. Six ME faculty members -- Professor Andre Boehman, Associate Professor Nikos Chronis, Professor Karl Grosh, Assistant Professor John Hart, Professor Jwo Pan, and Assistant Professor Donald Siegel -- will be involved as researchers in six respective MCubed projects.

MCubed is a two-year seed-funding program designed to empower interdisciplinary teams of University of Michigan faculty to pursue new initiatives with major societal impact. The program minimizes the time between idea conception and successful research results by providing immediate startup funds for novel, high-risk and transformative research projects. The funds are intended to generate data for groundbreaking, high-impact publications, or preliminary results for new, innovative research proposals. The program also includes high-visibility, campus-wide research symposia to showcase the resulting groundbreaking research.

ME Faculty MCubed Projects

  • Potential health effects of soot nanoparticles from indoor gas stovetops
    Professor Andre Boehman, Project Proposer and Researcher
    About this project: The intention of this MCubed project is to apply extensive characterization of the morphology, nanostructure and surface chemistry of soots from indoor and outdoor sources, to aid in the understanding of how the characteristics of soot potentially influence susceptibility to respiratory illness and cancer. In a first phase of activity, we would apply these techniques to the examination of a major potential source of ultrafine particles in indoor environments – household natural gas appliances and to examine the extent to which these characteristics are predictive of asthma exacerbation, as one example of health impacts of nanoparticulate emissions. In the second phase, we would investigate the impacts of exposures to these particles and their properties on the exacerbation of asthma. Subsequent studies would expand the consideration of health impacts to include cancers related to inhalation of ultrafine particles.

  • Antacid medications as anticancer agents improve patients survival and clinical outcome
    Associate Professor Nikos Chronis, Project Researcher
    About this project: The use of antacids as anti-cancer agents to prevent and treat head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC) is a new approach that holds great promise. We have solid evidence, which demonstrate that HNSCC patients might benefit from antacids medications as part of their cancer treatment at the University of Michigan. An innovative project (Medical School, School of Public Health and Biomedical Engineering) is proposed to confirm associations of the patient outcome with clinical use of antacids in sixty-six thousand patients with HNSCC and to understand their mechanisms of action on pathway modulation, cancer progression, and disease outcome. We seek to develop a point-of-care diagnostic biochip to monitor their effects in patients. This is the first study that evaluates a novel link between the biology of HNSCC and antacids. The outcome of this research will result in a series of clinical trials to further evaluate these novel chemopreventive concepts.

  • Enhancing hearing restoration by improving the condition of the fluid spaces in the cochlea
    Professor Karl Grosh, Project Researcher
    About this project: The cochlear implant prosthesis is the only current therapy for severe or profound deafness. Future therapies under development include completely implantable prostheses that convert vibrations in the cochlear fluids to nerve signals, or cell based therapies that similarly depend on fluid vibrations. As such, it is important to maintain the fluid spaces in the cochlea open. Unfortunately, several medical conditions lead to obliteration of the fluid spaces in deaf ears, thereby compromising therapeutic options. The goal of the experiments is to design therapies based on manipulating gene expression in the cochlea that will prevent the obliteration of the fluid spaces. The outcomes will be tested in deaf ears that will receive current generation cochlear implants or novel transducers. The results will be analyzed using histology (tissue examination) and functional measures.

  • Reconfigurable graphene beams for microscopy and micromanipulation
    Assistant Professor John Hart, Project Researcher
    About this project: Graphene supports strongly confined surface plasmons at infrared frequencies that can be tuned using a gate voltage. In this work, these surface plasmons will be used to generate reconfigurable, TM-polarized Bessel beams for microscopy applications and micromanipulation.

  • Carbon Capture and Storage
    Professor Jwo Pan, Project Researcher
    About this project: In a future carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, carbon dioxide is first captured from either ambient air or stationary sources. The captured carbon dioxide is then released into a high concentration (i.e., >90%) followed by compression into liquid form to be stored “permanently” in geological formations. Aqueous amine solutions are being contemplated as a medium for CO2 capture. A potentially more efficient medium is a solid sorbent, leading to lower energy requirement and less costly operation. In this exploratory work, we plan to try porous carbons (with high surface areas) aided by doping of nitrogen and/or boron to increase the CO2 sorption capacity. Design of mechanical cyclic operation devices (such as pressure/vacuum swing as well as combined temperature swing cycles) will be studied that would enable desorption into >90% CO2. The important issue of societal impact of CCS technology will be critically examined.

  • Data-Mining for Optimal Metal-Organic Frameworks
    Assistant Professor Don Siegel, Project Proposer and Researcher
    About this project: Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) have been identified as promising materials for applications ranging from CO2 capture to the storage of chemical fuels. Despite this promise, additional gains in performance must be realized before MOFs can achieve widespread application. In this regard the vast phase space of possible MOFs emerges as both a blessing and a curse: while there is ample room for the discovery of new MOFs, the systematic testing of existing materials and synthesis of new compounds presents a significant bottleneck. Consequently, a means to quickly screen for optimal MOFs via computation would be of immense value. Data mining will be used to identify correlations between MOF properties and performance, and thereby pinpoint optimized chemistries. Computational and experimental efforts will operate via a feedback mechanism: computation will guide experiments towards promising compounds, and experimental input will be used to refine computational models and identify performance descriptors.

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