Engineering faculty awarded $20,000 for collaborative research

ShiNung Ching, Nate Huebsch, Ulugbek Kamilov and Rohan Mishra have all been awarded grants to promote collaborative research.

From left: ShiNung Ching, Nate Huebsch, Ulugbek Kamilov and Rohan Mishra

Four assistant professors in the School of Engineering & Applied Science have been awarded $20,000 grants from the School's Collaboration Initiation Grants program, which awards one-year grants to tenure-track faculty to promote collaborative research.

This year's awardees are ShiNung Ching, Nate Huebsch, Ulugbek Kamilov and Rohan Mishra. Each awardee receives funding from the school and must have $5,000 in cost-sharing from their department or collaborators. Ching and Kamilov each received $5,000 from the Institute of Clinical & Translational Sciences at the School of Medicine.

The grants encourage faculty to apply for larger, interdisciplinary grants, to create a more synergistic project than could be achieved by one researcher in one discipline, and to demonstrate the potential to sustain the collaboration and obtain external funding.

Ching, assistant professor of electrical & systems engineering, is collaborating with Rejean Guerriero, assistant professor of neurology and a pediatric neurologist at St. Louis Children's Hospital. They seek to improve signal processing and dynamical systems modeling to provide better explanations of ultraslow network activity in the brain, which they believe is behind a state of unrelenting seizures in critically ill children. They believe this state may be preceded by a novel brain activity pattern that is too slow to be captured on traditional electroencephalogram monitoring devices. Identifying the physiological mechanisms underlying this pattern would allow for intervention and potential treatment of this condition.

Huebsch, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, is collaborating with Guy Genin, the Harold and Kathleen Faught Professor of Mechanical Engineering and professor of neurological surgery. They plan to develop an in vitro model of the effects of afterload on human heart cells using their expertise in human-induced pluripotent stem cell-based tissue engineering and biomaterials. With these models, they will apply forces that mimic the forces applied to heart cells when the heart has to pump blood against increased systemic resistance. They will apply this system to muscle cells in the heart that are genetically predisposed to dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart's ability to pump blood is decreased. The investigators said that by combining physical and genetic causes of cardiomyopathy within their model, they will make more accurate disease-in-a-dish models that can ultimately be used to discover new therapies.

Kamilov, assistant professor of computer science & engineering and of electrical & systems engineering, is collaborating with Hongyu An, associate professor in the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at the School of Medicine and associate director of the Center for Clinical Imaging Research. They plan to develop a novel data-adaptive imaging framework that removes "noise" or errors in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) caused by patient motion. The work will focus on efficient data acquisition and high-quality image reconstruction. Their goal is to create a single, holistic imaging framework that uses available data to generate error-free images from highly dynamic MRI data.

Mishra, assistant professor of mechanical engineering & materials science, is collaborating with Vijay Ramani, the Roma B. and Raymond H. Wittcoff Professor of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering. They plan to rationally design cheap and corrosion-resistant, transition-metal-based electrocatalysts that can be used in automotive fuel cells to promote the oxygen-reduction reaction. Currently, fuel cells use expensive platinum-group-metal-based catalysts. Mishra will predict potential catalysts using high-throughput, quantum-mechanical calculations and material informatics. Once discovered, Ramani will synthesize the materials and measure their catalytic activity, and then the team will characterize them for further optimization. Ultimately, they hope to find a catalyst that could meet the Department of Energy's Fuel Cell Program's 2020 targets for activity and stability.

The McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis promotes independent inquiry and education with an emphasis on scientific excellence, innovation and collaboration without boundaries. McKelvey Engineering has top-ranked research and graduate programs across departments, particularly in biomedical engineering, environmental engineering and computing, and has one of the most selective undergraduate programs in the country. With 140 full-time faculty, 1,387 undergraduate students, 1,448 graduate students and 21,000 living alumni, we are working to solve some of society’s greatest challenges; to prepare students to become leaders and innovate throughout their careers; and to be a catalyst of economic development for the St. Louis region and beyond.