Four faculty members receive $25,000 Collaboration Initiation Grants

Matthew Lew, Mark Meacham, Jonathan Silva and Silvia Zhang, all assistant professors in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, have each received $25,000 grants from the school’s Collaboration Initiation Grants program.

The program, in its third year, awards one-year grants to projects that facilitate collaborative research outside of and within Engineering departments for tenure-track faculty. The grants are a pathway for 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. Each awardee receives $20,000 from the school and must have $5,000 in cost-sharing from their department or collaborators.

Lew, in the Department of Electrical & Systems Engineering, will work with James Buckley, professor of physics in Arts & Sciences, to build a single-molecule fluorescence-lifetime imaging nanoscope to view the chemical environments surrounding individual molecules with nanoscale resolution. These fluorescent molecules respond to changes in their chemical environment, such as pH, ionic strength or membrane potential by altering their fluorescence lifetime. Lew and Buckley plan to build an ultrafast camera with high sensitivity and fast frame rate, then integrate the camera with a fluorescence nanoscope to take images of the position and lifetime of fluorescent molecules. Once built, this technology is expected provide researchers with unparalleled resolution and insight into the dynamic chemical environments in living cells.

Meacham, in the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, will work with Mikhail Berezin, assistant professor of radiology at the School of Medicine, to reduce inconsistencies in producing fluorescent tumor-specific antibodies and antibody-drug conjugates through miniaturization and automation of synthetic steps in a microfluidic device. Such a platform would enable cancer researchers to speed development of new antibody conjugates that improve diagnosis or create powerful new targeted therapies to treat cancer patients. Key to this technology is use of acoustics, or ultrasound, to achieve better control over nanoscale synthetic processes, which would improve the consistency of the products that result. By replacing the current manual macroscale process with a more reliable, automated microfluidic approach, researchers would be able to perform process optimization and evaluate drug candidates more quickly to accelerate the pace of cancer research.

Silva, in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, will work with Jonathan McJunkin, MD, in the Department of Otolaryngology at the School of Medicine, to create a 3-D holographic visualization of head and neck anatomy using mixed-reality display. This technology would improve their view of the surgical site and provide the potential to improve surgical outcomes in otolaryngology, which includes the ears and sinuses, where there are complex neurovascular structures.

Zhang, in the Department of Electrical & Systems Engineering, will work with Christopher Gill, professor of computer science & engineering, to focus on efficient and reliable power delivery for autonomous systems, such as self-driving cars, drones and robots. These systems have an uncertain power demand due to unpredictable interactions with the environment. Zhang and Gill plan to design new power modules using synergistic hardware and software approaches to deliver “energy packets” to different components that need power, similar to how data packets are delivered by networking routers in the Internet. In addition, they plan to develop an intelligent control scheme to improve reliability as well as efficiency for power delivery. Their ultimate goal is to build a functional prototype to assess the feasibility of their proposed power orchestration framework.

The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 88 tenured/tenure-track and 28 additional full-time faculty, 1,200 undergraduate students, 1,200 graduate students and 20,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.