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ENG/EFRI FY07 Projects

The EFRI projects announced are as follows:

SYSTEMS THAT MODIFY THEMSELVES: Five grants are awarded in the Autonomously Reconfigurable Engineered Systems Enabled by Cyberinfrastructure (ARES) topic.

An Efficient Air Transportation System
Led by Cynthia Barnhart of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), along with Dimitris Bertsimas (MIT), Constantine Caramanis (University of Texas at Austin), Amedeo Odani (MIT), and Georgia Perakis (MIT Sloan School of Management) and titled, “Theory and Algorithms for Autonomous Reconfigurability of the National Air Transportation System” (grant #0735905).

Recent studies suggest that congestion and delays can render the national air transportation system unstable and limit its growth. The team will work to understand how the system could automatically correct for unplanned disturbances and realize maximum efficiency on a daily basis.

Testing Autonomous Reconfigurability in a Wireless City
Led by Christos Cassandras (Boston University), along with Azer Bestavros (Boston University), Robert X. Gao (University of Massachusetts-Amherst), Weibo Gong (University of Massachusetts-Amherst), and Ioannis Paschalidis (Boston University) and titled, “Event-Driven Sensing for Enterprise Reconfigurability and Optimization” (grant #0735974).

This project seeks a fundamental understanding of how an enterprise, which itself encompasses a number of processes, can be made not only flexible but also responsive to unexpected events. An enterprise here is defined as any organization created to fill a demand for services—an increasingly common type of enterprise in today’s knowledge-based, service economies. A city is an example of such an enterprise. The team will use as a testbed OpenAir Boston, a project to create a public wireless network ensuring wireless access throughout the city.

Foundations for Cyber-Physical Systems
Led by Munther A. Dahleh, Daron Acemoglu, Carlo F. Ratti (MIT), and John Doyle (CalTech) and titled, “Foundations for Reconfigurable and Autonomous Cyber-Physical Systems: Cyber-Cities and Cyber-Universities” (grant #0735956).

This research aims to provide a theoretical foundation that will be useful to many other projects. Cyber-physical systems combine computational systems with physical and engineered systems and can include bionics, automated manufacturing, or systems for monitoring critical infrastructure. This project aims to address the key challenge of realizing a foundational, mathematical understanding of the interaction between the cyber and the physical in these systems in order to both configure a system to respond to unexpected events, and also to quantify the system’s limits in responding.

Innovative Management of Ground Transportation
Led by Michael P. Hunter (Georgia Institute of Technology), along with Christos Alexopoulos, Richard M. Fujimoto, and Randall Guensler (Georgia Institute of Technology), and titled, “Embedded Distributed Simulation for Transportation System Management” (grant #0735991).

Distributed simulation has long been used by the U.S. military to simulate battle by allowing one simulator to interact with others. This project takes distributed simulation to the next level by working to realize the foundational theory and algorithms needed for successful ad hoc distributed simulation. Using a testbed on the Georgia Tech campus, vehicles are embedded so that they are the components of a distributed simulation system, supplying changing information to the system in real-time to which the system must respond. One goal is to understand how ground transportation systems could reconfigure in response to unplanned events ranging from traffic jams to catastrophes such as hurricanes.

Robots that Think and Build
Led by Daniela Rus (MIT), along with Eric Klavins (University of Washington), Hod Lipson (Cornell University), and Mark Yim (University of Pennsylvania) and titled, “Controlling the Autonomously Reconfiguring Factory” (grant #0735953).

This project offers a radical approach to creating autonomous reconfigurability based on the team’s work with small robots. The Rus team proposes a new kind of robotic system for construction in which available materials and the final structure are not clearly known. The robots sense changes and variables, diagnose them, adapt and, together, successfully build themselves into a structure best suited for its environment. Such a system could be a tool not only for future construction challenges, but also for optimizing current construction practices.

HOW CELLS WORK: UNITING BIOLOGY AND ENGINEERING Seven grants are awarded in the Cellular and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) topic.

Using Engineering to Understand How Bacteria Communicate
Led by William E. Bentley (University of Maryland, College Park), along with Reza Ghodssi (University of Maryland, College Park), Gregory F. Payne (University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute), Gary W. Rubloff (University of Maryland, College Park), and titled, “Biofunctionalized Devices: On Chip Signaling and ‘Rewiring’ Bacterial Cell-Cell Communication” (grant #0735987).

The next generation of antimicrobial development will interrupt the cell-to-cell signaling among bacteria that allows them to function as resistive communities. As a first step in creating microdevices that can communicate with bacterial signaling, this team will design microelectrical-mechanical versions of the components of a bacterial cell-to-cell signaling system, and will use electric signals to steer the designed biosynthetic community to toward a specific task, such as forming a biofilm.

Cell Functions and Brain Disease
Led by Michael J. Betenbaugh (Johns Hopkins University), along with Dilipkumar Asthagiri (Johns Hopkins University), Allan Gottschalk (University of Pennsylvania), Karen B. Palter (Temple University), Esperanza Recio-Pinto (New York University), and titled, “An Integrated Computational and Experimental Model for Biochemical and Electrical Interactions in Ion Channels and the Impact of Sialic Acid on Neuronal Function” (grant #0736000).

Sialic acid is the first juncture between the cell and its surroundings. Combining computation and experimentation, this study will investigate how changes in a cell’s environment are related to changes in the cell’s ion channels—how it allows some electric signals to pass through and not others—and in turn related to the formation of neurological defects. This work aims to develop a foundational understanding for the treatment of brain diseases, such as epilepsy and memory and learning loss, at the molecular level.

Simulating and Watching the Growth of Cancer Cells
Led by Karen J. Burg (Clemson University), along with Thomas Boland (Clemson University), Didier Dreau (University of North Carolina-Charlotte), M. Ross Leadbetter (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill), and Jason D. McNeill (Clemson University), and titled, Emerging Frontiers in 3-D Breast Cancer Tissue Test Systems” (grant #0736007).

This team will advance our fundamental understanding of the formation of cancer cells by first building an engineered tissue structure that will duplicate the behavior of the normal and cancerous cells, and that can be manipulated to test environmental parameters and cause-and-effect models. This information will fuel computational simulation of the growth of cancer cells. One goal in understanding disease formation is to quantify the link between oxygen levels and stiffness of tissues and the migration and proliferation of cancer cells in those tissues, which may provide clues to new treatment options.

Finding the Mechanism that Directs Blood Vessel Growth
Led by Roger D. Kamm (MIT), along with Harry Asada and Douglas A. Lauffenburger (MIT), and titled, “A Multifaceted Approach to the Modeling of Angiogenesis” (grant #0735997).

A key area for development in angiogenesis (i.e., blood vessel formation) and regenerative medicine are complete and predictive models of tissue formation. This project will model blood vessel formation based on the role of cell-to-cell communication. Such a model is a gateway to understanding the aggregate effect of cell behavior on capillary formation, and in turn realizing a systems-based approach to angiogenesis.

Regenerating Complex Tissues from the Nanoscale
Led by Cato C. Laurencin (University of Virginia), along with Edward A. Botchwey, Yusef Khan, Lakshmi Nair, and Nathan S. Swami (University of Virginia), and titled, “Biological, Chemical, and Mechanical Surface Cues for Cell Migration, Proliferation, and Differentiation: An Integrated Approach to Regeneration of New Tissues” (grant #0736002).

This team combines several disciplines in order to successfully regenerate tissues having complex structure. The project focuses on the anterior cruciate ligament, a stabilizing knee ligament that connects the thigh bone to the leg bone and rarely heals naturally when torn. The tissue would be constructed from the nanoscale—between the size of an atom and hundreds of molecules. Our ability to manipulate materials at the nanoscale is evolving, and to maximize precision and control over the way the tissue takes shape, the researchers will combine advances in polymer chemistry for synthesizing nanoscale fibers, in using electric fields to group nanoscale fibers, and in using ion beams to control surface chemistry at the nanoscale. The goal is to realize a method for regenerating complex tissues, one that mimics biology and builds the tissue with precision from the nanoscale up. Meeting this goal will require an understanding of the biological, mechanical, chemical, thermal and electrical effects on the tissue’s structure.

To Change or Replicate? Decoding How Cells Grow
Led by Sean P. Palecek (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Nicholas L. Abbott (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Daniel A. Beard (Medical College of Wisconsin), Juan J. De Pablo, and Timothy Kamp (University of Wisconsin-Madison), and titled, “Regulating Human Embryonic Stem Cells Differentiation via the Mechanical Microenvironment” (grant #0735903).

Using Federally approved human embryonic stem cells, this study aims to understand these cells in the environmental context: How do they integrate environmental stimuli and how do these stimuli determine whether a stem cell self-renews or whether it differentiates into a new cell having a different function? How do physical and chemical changes determine what type of cell will result? Answers to these questions can help in designing specific culture systems for embryonic stem cell research, and in providing additional information that will promote the refinement of mathematical models describing the complexity of signals and pathways regulating embryonic stem cell differentiation.

How a Cell’s Environment affects its Development
Led by Beth L. Pruitt (Stanford University), Sarah C. Heilshorn, Ellen Kuhl, Joseph Wu, and Christopher K. Zarins (Stanford University), and titled, “Engineering of Cardiovascular Cellular Interfaces and Tissue Constructs” (grant #0735551).

This study aims to understand how electrical and mechanical stimuli in a stem cell’s environment affect how these cells proliferate and differentiate to form specific types of tissues. The goal is to understand the parameters of the ideal engineered environment for regenerating specific kinds of tissue. This understanding will enhance knowledge of cell signaling and differentiation, which will ultimately enable regenerative therapies for victims of heart disease.