WPI Research is the research magazine of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. It contains news and features about graduate research in the arts and sciences, business, and engineering, along with notes about new grants, books, and faculty achievements.
Issue link: http://wpiresearch.epubxp.com/i/229254
highlights > MAJOR RESEARCH AWARDS Here is a small sample of the many notable awards from federal agencies, corporations, and other entities that have supported research at WPI in recent months. > MEMBRANE BRINGS CLEAN COAL A STEP CLOSER With a $4 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), a team of researchers led by Yi Hua "Ed" Ma, PhD, James Manning Professor of Chemical Engineering, will continue development of a patented palladium membrane system that may be critical to the economic viability of integrated combined cycle gasifcation electric power plants that use coal gas as fuel. The membrane system can convert coal gas to carbon dioxide and hydrogen, and separate out the hydrogen for use as a fuel or a chemical feedstock. Ma's team received an earlier, $1.5 million DOE award for a pilot-scale test. The current grant is funding the development of multimembrane modules for larger-scale tests at the National Carbon Capture Center in Alabama. (See story, page 16.) > AN MRI-GUIDED ROBOT FOR TREATING BRAIN TUMORS A fve-year, $3 million R01 award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), through the National Cancer Institute, is allowing a team of researchers led by Gregory Fischer, PhD, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and robotics engineering and director of WPI's Automation and Interventional Medicine Laboratory, to test a new, minimally invasive approach to treating brain tumors, one that promises to accurately destroy malignant tissue while leaving surrounding tissue unaffected. This approach, which combines a robot developed at WPI that works in an MRI scanner with a probe that can destroy tumors with high-intensity ultrasound, would be a signifcant improvement over current treatments. (See story, page 4.) 42 > wpi.edu/+research > STITCHING STEM CELLS INTO DAMAGED HEARTS > COLLABORATING TO BUILD A BETTER ONLINE MATH TUTOR Introducing human mesenchymal stem cells into cardiac muscle tissue damaged by a heart attack can improve the heart's ability to pump blood. It's diffcult, however, to get large numbers of the cells to take hold and grow. With a fve-year, $1.94 million award from the NIH, a research team led by Glenn Gaudette, PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering at WPI, and including George Pins, PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering, will work to improve upon a novel repair technique that has already shown promising results. The technique involves growing stem cells on biopolymer microthreads and stitching them directly into heart tissue. (See story, page 3.) Neil Heffernan, PhD, associate professor of computer science and co-director of WPI's Learning Sciences and Technologies Program, and Joseph Beck, PhD, assistant professor of computer science, have received a $700,000 award, part of a $1.5 million grant to the University of Massachusetts from the Offce of Naval Research (ONR), to help develop an enhanced open, online tutoring platform for mathematics education. The award is part of the ONR's "grand challenge" program aimed at developing tutoring systems that adapt to individual student needs. Through the award, Heffernan and Beck will work with Beverly Woolf, research professor of computer science at UMass, and Ivon Arroyo, assistant professor of learning sciences and technologies at WPI, to integrate ASSISTments, an award-winning system developed at WPI that combines tutoring with assessment of student progress, with Wayang Outpost, an emotionally perceptive tutoring system developed by Woolf and Arroyo. > EXPLORING THE FIRE SAFETY OF GREEN BUILDING FEATURES In a 2012 report commissioned by the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the research arm of the National Fire Protection Association, a team led by Brian Meacham, PhD, associate professor of fre protection engineering, showed that some building practices and materials touted as green or sustainable have associated fre safety concerns. Now, with a $1 million award from the Department of Homeland Security, Meacham and Nicholas Dembsey, PhD, professor of fre protection engineering, will explore ways to gather more local and national data on fre incidents involving green building features and elements, identify fre safety risks and hazards associated with green building features and elements (and develop tools for assessing and ranking them), and explore ways to help frefghters understand and respond effectively and safely to those risks (See story, page 6.) > CAREER AWARD FUNDS RESEARCH ON POLARIZED CELL GROWTH With a fve-year, $977,000 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the largest such award received by a WPI faculty member, Luis Vidali, PhD, assistant professor of biology and biotechnology, hopes to begin to answer a fundamental question in biology: how are some cells able to grow along a single axis — an ability that is critical to a number of biological functions, including the growth of root hairs in plants and axons in animal neurons. Vidali will use the moss Physcomitrella patens, an emerging plant model, in combination with genetic techniques, advanced microscopy, and computer simulations to explore how certain components of the cell's internal anatomy work together to focus the growth machinery on a single point. Vidali's award brings to 21 the number of current WPI faculty members who have received NSF CAREER Awards.