- UC Davis leads 4 of 21 projects sharing $16.4 million
- MRPI topics include air quality and reproductive justice
- CITRIS: 8 interdisciplinary projects, 4 led by UC Davis
Two UC funding programs recently awarded nearly $17 million to 29 multicampus, multidisciplinary projects, eight of them with UC Davis researchers as the lead principal investigators.
The bulk of the money, $16.4 million, went to Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives, or MRPI, with UC announcing Jan. 9 that it had selected 21 projects for funding in 2023. UC Davis researchers are the lead PIs on four of the projects — on the topics of reproductive justice, quantum information, diabetic retinopathy screening in underserved populations and air quality in low-income communities of color — and are involved in 12 of the 21 projects overall.
The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute, known as CITRIS, awarded seed grants of up to $60,000 each to eight projects for 2022, as announced Dec. 14. Half of the projects have UC Davis researchers as the lead PIs. One project will build a remote platform for the monitoring of patients with Alzheimer’s Disease, while the others seek to improve upon electric-powered heavy-duty construction equipment, to lessen carbon emissions; restore speech communication with a multimodal decoder-synthesizer; and build remote sensing tools to assess ecosystem resilience after wildfires. UC Davis researchers, including some with the UC Davis Natural Reserve System, are involved in six of the eight projects.
The university’s grants for Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives are awarded every two years through a highly competitive application process — this year’s 21 winning projects emerged from 96 applications. To be eligible, proposals must draw on multidisciplinary academic expertise from at least three campuses, thus leveraging the renowned research capabilities of the UC system to develop real world solutions to significant problems facing California and the world.
The university has awarded more than 120 MRPI grants totaling more than $155 million since 2009, involving more than 730 UC faculty members.
Many of the projects funded this year bring into sharp focus the overlap between climate change and health equity and prioritize research projects designed to benefit vulnerable or historically marginalized communities.
UC Davis participants are listed here, by project:
- Advancing Knowledge and Reproductive Justice: The UC Community Research Hub — Brittany Chambers (lead PI), assistant professor, Department of Human Ecology, CA&ES; in partnership with UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco. Grant: $1.3 million. The project will take a participatory approach to authentically engage community members as researchers and partners.
- CIRQIT: Collaborative Interdisciplinary Research in Quantum Information Topics — Marina Radulaski (lead PI), assistant professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, College of Engineering, in collaboration with UC Berkeley, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz. Grant: $300,000. The project will contribute to the development of quantum internet and distributed quantum computing, while engaging a diverse group of students in education and hands-on research.
- The Collaborative UC Teleophthalmology Initiative for Diabetic Retinopathy Screening — Glenn Yiu (lead PI), professor of ophthalmology, UC Davis Health, in partnership with medical centers at UC San Diego, UC San Francisco and UC Los Angeles. Grant: $2 million. The goal is to expand eye care access for diabetics, particularly in underserved populations, for early detection and treatment of eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness in adults. The project will use digital medical equipment for teleophthalmology, or remote ophthalmology. Read more about Yiu's project in this news release from UC Davis Health.
- Toxic Air Pollutants in California Environmental Justice Communities — Clare Cannon (lead PI), assistant professor, Community and Regional Development, Department of Human Ecology, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, collaborating with UC Davis’ Anthony Wexler, a distinguished professor in two engineering departments and the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, CA&ES, and researchers from UC Irvine and UC Merced. Grant: $1.1 million. Wexler, co-PI on this proposal, received separate funding from the California Air Resources Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop relatively inexpensive instruments to measure toxic metals and volatile organic compounds in the air. The MRPI grant will support researchers in bringing these tools to low-income communities of color where concentrations of hazardous air pollutants tend to be highest, and collaborating with residents and government agencies on efforts to improve air quality.
UC Davis researchers also are involved in MRPI-funded projects dealing with anti-Asian violence, dust storms, green buildings and the use of satellites for efficient water use and yield forecasting.
Neelanjana Gautam, communications specialist, UC Davis Office of Research, contributed to this report.
Eleven UC Davis and UC Davis Health researchers are involved in six of the eight projects that received funding from the CITRIS Seed Award Program, in which each proposal must involve at least two of the five CITRIS campuses — UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Davis Health, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz — and have at least two PIs representing different CITRIS campuses.
The seed award program supports innovative, early-stage research in the information technology sector, with funds going to more than 240 projects since 2008 — projects that show promise to shape the future of their fields and attain larger-scale funding from diverse sources. CITRIS asks researchers to show results within a year of receiving their seed grants.
The eight most recently funded projects, each receiving $40,000 to $60,000, address various challenges in such areas as aviation, climate resilience, digital health and robotics. Sustainability proved to be a common area of interest, as half of the selected projects aim to make advances in energy storage or wildfire mitigation. Three projects will use unmanned aerial systems, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, or drones, to collect data and monitor terrain.
The awardees represent a diverse array of backgrounds, with 88 percent of the research teams including women or people of color. Over half of the research teams include a pretenure faculty member, and 75 percent of the PIs are new CITRIS Seed Award recipients.
UC Davis participants are listed here, by project:
- Activity Monitoring to Improve Caregiver Connection and Care for Older Adults Living Alone With Alzheimer’s Disease — Alyssa Weakley (lead PI), assistant professor, Department of Neurology, UC Davis Health; and Hao-Chuan Wang, acting associate professor, Department of Computer Science, College of Engineering. Partner campus: UC Merced. This project intends to create a digital platform to help long-distance caregivers monitor their loved ones’ everyday activities, such as eating, cleaning and taking medication, and to communicate with them about the data.
- Battery Health Degradation for Electric Off-Road Vehicles — Shima Nazari (lead PI), assistant professor, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, College of Engineering. Partner campus: UC Berkeley. This project will develop system-level models to study electric-powered heavy-duty construction equipment and battery design, aiming to improve performance and lifespan, and lower the cost. The researchers are striving for a more viable alternative to nonelectric equipment, which produces about half of the carbon emissions from construction operations — emissions that disproportionately affect dense, low-income communities of color.
- Joint UAV- and Robot-Optimized Approach to Quantify Methane Emissions and Energy Losses From Landfills — Stavros Vougioukas, professor, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, College of Engineering. Partner campus: UC Berkeley. This project will use unmanned aerial vehicles, autonomous ground robots and topographical models to create a constantly updating map of landfill methane concentrations, pavi.ng the way for “smart landfills” where methane leaks can be easily detected and captured to generate sustainable energy.
- Restoring Speech Communication With a Multimodal Decoder-Synthesizer — Lee Miller (lead PI), professor, Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, College of Biological Sciences; and Daniel Cates, assistant professor, Department of Otolaryngology, UC Davis Health. Partner campus: UC Merced. This project will develop an assistive device that combines recordings of a person’s facial expressions and muscle movements and uses neural networks to synthesize and produce fluent speech in their own voice.
- Toolkit for the Assessment of Ecosystem Resilience and Functional Diversity in Fire-Affected Landscapes, Using Remote Sensing Data — Gary Bucciarelli (lead PI), director, Lassen Field Station, UC Davis Natural Reserve System; Andrew Latimer, professor, Department of Plant Sciences, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and faculty director, UC Davis Natural Reserve System; Shane Waddell, associate director, UC Davis Natural Reserve System; and Derek Young, assistant professional researcher, Department of Plant Sciences. Partner campus: UC Berkeley. This project will create new drone- and satellite-based remote sensing tools to collect data about vegetation at six sites in the UC Natural Reserve System that were damaged by wildfires in 2020.
- Trust Aware Human-Machine Teaming Using Real-Time Neurophysiological Data — Zhaodan Kong, associate professor, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Partner campus: UC Berkeley. This project will develop a real-time measurement of human-machine trust by recording physiological signals in the brains of experiment participants as they interact with high- and low-performing robots in a tool-sorting task.