Composite image with four areas of Next Level Research: solar panels, wildfire, cells, and an air taxi

Next Level Research Startup Awards

Seed Funding for Bold, Interdisciplinary Research

The College of Engineering has launched the Next Level Research Awards to fund near-term research, conferences, symposia, and planning for bold ideas that align with our strategic research vision. Funded projects must be interdisciplinary, have the potential to advance national leadership and secure extramural funding, and articulate clear near, mid, and long-term goals. Ten projects received funding in the 2022 cycle, with PIs representing seven departments and co-investigators from throughout the college and beyond. 

A second round of funding will be available in 2023. A request for proposals will be announced in early winter quarter, with pitches taking place late winter or early spring. 

2022 Funded Projects

Funds were awarded to the following projects to advance the strategic research vision's impact areas -- Advancing Human Health, Revolutionizing Energy SystemsStrengthening Climate Resilience and Transforming Mobility -- and cross-cutting technologies relevant to multiple areas. 

Advancing Human Health

Extracellular Vesicle Theranostics in the Central Nervous System 

PIs: Steve George, Randy Carney, Biomedical Engineering | Co-Investigators

Extracellular vesicles, or EVs, are biologically active nanoparticles with enormous potential for diagnostic and therapeutic medicine. They hold particular promise for engineering solutions to diseases that impact the brain because of their ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. Biomedical engineers Steven George and Randy Carney are at the forefront of this rapidly emerging technology, leading an interdisciplinary team of UC Davis engineers and researchers from the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Veterinary Medicine. Their long-term goals include launching a national center, establishing a translational pipeline, and building a core facility for EV characterization and acquisition. Next Level funding is supporting pilot data acquisition as well as a team workshop with national thought leaders held on October 3, 2022. 

Assistant Professor Randy Carney describes Next Level research plans for extracellular vesicles for diagnostic and therapeutic medicine

Biomanufacturing for Pandemic Preparedness and Beyond

PI: Priya Shah, Chemical Engineering | Co-Investigators

The last two years have taught us that we need to be prepared for the next pandemic, including the ability to rapidly and globally mobilize technologies to produce diagnostics, therapies, and vaccines. This project aims to advance collaborative research with a focus on UC Davis’s strategic strength in biomanufacturing for pandemic preparedness and beyond, with the goal of catalyzing “pandemic engineering” research in the College. The team will innovate in distributed manufacturing and biosensing technologies to create new vaccines, diagnostics, and therapies that could be used to prevent or mitigate future pandemics. The team hosted a Pandemic Engineering for Accessibility and Community Engagement (PEACE) Conference in October 2022. Next Level funding is advancing pilot research and supporting connections with campus-level pandemic research.

Image of Heather Bischell and Priya Shah at the PEACE Conference
Associate Professor Heather Bischel and Assistant Professor Priya Shah at the Pandemic Engineering for Accessibility and Community Engagement (PEACE) Workshop

Accessible Health via Innovation in Smart Devices and Artificial Intelligence

PI: Chen-Nee Chuah, Electrical and Computer Engineering | Co-Investigators 

Developments in artificial intelligence-powered smart devices and sensors can revolutionize equitable health service delivery. The use of nano-enabled, miniaturized sensors in combination with security and privacy-preserving technologies can advance human health for in-hospital critical care as well as next-level tele-health, mobile clinics, and healthy living and aging. An interdisciplinary collaboration between several departments from the College of Engineering and the Health campus is breaking new ground in this area. Next Level funding supported a 2-day workshop on Advancing Smart Health Technology held September 7-8, 2022, and will also support research coordination and grant-writing activities.

Dr. Jeong giving a presentation in front of a large slide image with graphs for respiration, heart rate, motion tracking, and other metrics.
Assistant Professor Hyoyoung Jeong presents at the Next Level Research Forum on Accessible Smart Health Technologies

Revolutionizing Energy Systems 

 

Global Scale Energy Storage of Intermittent Alternative Power Sources

PI: Adam Moule, Chemical Engineering | Co-Investigators

Because most renewable energy sources are intermittent and the lithium used in current battery technology is insufficiently abundant, reaching a fully sustainable global energy future will require new forms of storage. This project will unite faculty engaged in energy storage research around living-lab demonstration projects with the long-term goal of bringing storage products to market. One technology in development is latent heat batteries that can store solar energy in liquid form during the day, and recover the stored heat as it cools and solidifies at night. The project will launch demos through a collaboration with the Energy Efficiency Institute and the Western Cooling Efficiency Center. Biogas and Biofuels are storable high-density fuels that could mitigate winter/summer intermittency. The goal of this project is to scale up research on bio-fuels at the UC Davis campus. The group will host an annual California Energy Storage workshop on campus to promote government and industry participation and investment. 

Professor Adam Moulé discusses the importance of sustainable storage for intermittent power, and two relevant projects in progress
​​​​

From Petrochemicals to Agriculture-Based Feedstocks: A Center for Agri-Chemical Engineering 

PI: Ambaresh Kulkarni, Chemical Engineering | Co-Investigators

While advances in renewable energy sources offer a variety of promising alternatives to fossil fuels, we need a sustainable replacement for the manufacture of petroleum-derived end products, from plastics to aspirin. The emerging chemienzymatic industry is developing technologies to convert renewable biomass-derived sugars into valuable chemicals using enzymes and chemical catalysts. An interdisciplinary team of engineers and researchers from Viticulture and Enology and Animal Science is focusing on converting California-relevant bio-waste streams from industries including dairy farming, winemaking, almonds, and kelp into sustainable alternatives, which sets their work apart from other institutions doing similar research. Next Level funding supports initial research and a symposium planned for April 2023. 


Sustainable mycelium/bamboo composites for wind turbine blades and other structures

PI: Valeria La Saponara, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering | Co-Investigators

Wind energy is an important component of California’s plan to produce 60% of its energy needs from renewable resources. But wind turbine blades are currently made from fossil-based plastics and balsa wood, creating massive landfill waste on the one hand and Amazon deforestation on the other. Aerospace engineer Valeria LaSaponara is leading the development of a composite model that uses bamboo and repurposed agricultural biomass – mycelium grown in almond shells – to create sustainable, fully biodegradable wind turbine blades. LaSaponara aims to build and test a prototype at UC Davis during winter quarter 2023. Her long-term vision is national or even global adoption of the sustainable blades. Next Level funding will advance the near-term goal of prototyping and testing.

Professor Valeria La Saponara describes her project to design sustainable composition wind turbine blades made from bamboo and mycelium

Strengthening Climate Resilience

3D printing of earthen buildings for affordable, sustainable, and safe construction in extreme environments

PI: Michele Barbato, Civil and Environmental Engineering | Co-Investigators

More than 2 billion new homes will be needed in the next 50-80 years as a result of population growth and improved living standards. With 40% of the annual global CO₂ production coming from the construction industry, technologies to build housing that is sustainable, affordable, and resilient in the face of wildfire, tornadoes, and hurricanes is a critical need. 

3D-printed homes using locally sourced soil can offer safe, sustainable construction even in extreme and remote environments. While pioneering models exist, they are not yet affordable or scalable to meet the projected global need. Led by civil engineer Michele Barbato, this project’s long-term goal is large-scale, affordable implementation of 3D-printed earthen homes. Next Level funding is supporting the purchase of a large-scale printer, a feasibility study, and capacity-building toward a mid-term goal of prototyping.

Professor Michele Barbato describes his research on 3D printing earthen buildings for sustainability, affordability, and resilience
​​​​​​

Cross-Cutting Projects

QuIST-Quantum Information Science and Technology

PI: Marina Radulaski, Electrical and Computer Engineering | Co-Investigators

UC Davis is an emerging national Quantum Information Science and Technology (QuIST) leader, from early impactful research to the ongoing NSF partnerships. A collaboration of 16 faculty in the Colleges of Engineering and Letters & Science seek to establish a QuIST Center that responds to the national initiatives in building quantum technological dominance through experimental and theoretical research, academic and industry partners, quantum workforce training, and DEI initiatives for building an equitable QuIST pipeline. Next Level funding supports the QuIST Colloquium.


Next Generation Imaging Devices: Pressing the Limits of Speed, Resolution, and Sensitivity

PI: Klaus Van Benthem, Materials Science and Engineering | Co-Investigators

An interdisciplinary team of engineers, with partners in industry and national labs, is developing next-generation imagers for ultra-fast high spatial resolution imaging envisioned for a variety of LiDAR applications. Working to bring proof of concept to a viable product, the technology has applications ranging from mobility to defense to climate change, across all of our research impact areas. Next Level funding will support travel for expanding collaboration. 


MSE Mini-Symposia Series to Build Next Level Research Collaborations

PI: Yayoi Takamura, Materials Science and Engineering

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering will host three mini-symposia with other departments in the college to advance collaborations likely to generate research relevant to the  Next Level strategic impact areas.


Project Co-Investigators, Teams, and Centers

Extracellular Vesicles for Theranostics
  • Steven George Biomedical Engineering 
  • Randy Carney, Biomedical Engineering 
  • Cheemeng Tan, Biomedical Engineering
  • Aijun Wang, Biomedical Engineering, Surgery (School of Medicine)
  • Ilias Tagkopolous, Computer Science
  • Erkin Seker, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Sebastian Gomez-Diaz, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Orin Bloch, Neurosurgery (School of Medicine)
  • Angela Gelli, Cell and Molecular Biology (School of Medicine)
  • Lee-Way Jin, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
  • Chai-Fei Li, Neurosurgery (School of Veterinary Medicine)
  • Christine Toedebusch, Surgical and Radiological Sciences (School of Veterinary Medicine)
Biomanufacturing for Pandemic Preparedness and Beyond
  • Priya Shah, Chemical Engineering
  • Karen A Mc Donald Chemical Engineering
  • Somen Nandi, Chemical Engineering
  • Cheemeng Tan, Biomedical Engineering
  • Erkin Seker, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Heather Bischel, Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Cristina Davis, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Accessible Health via Innovation in Smart Devices and Artificial Intelligence
  • Chen-Nee Chuah, Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE)
  • Vladimir Filkov, Computer Science
  • Xin Liu, Computer Science
  • Soheil Ghiasi, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Nick Anderson, Public Health
  • Weijian Yang, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Hyoyoung Jeong, Electrical and Computer Engineering 
  • Erkin Seker,  Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Samson Cheung,  Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Houman Homayoun,  Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Sean Peisert, Computer Science 
  • Jinyi Qi, Biomedical Engineering
  • Iman Soltani, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Global Scale Energy Storage of Intermittent Alternative Power Sources
  • Adam Moule, Chemical Engineering
  • Matt Ellis, Chemical Engineering 
  • Jerry Woodall, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Jeremy Munday, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Alissa Kendall, Civil and Environmental Engineering 
  • Bryan Jenkins, Biological and Agricultural Engineering 
  • Julia Fan, Biological and Agricultural Engineering 
  • Vinod Narayanan, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering 
  • Jae Wan Park, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
  • Majdi Abou Najm, Land, Air, and Water Resources

Centers:

  • Western Cooling Efficiency Center
  • Energy and Efficiency Institute 
 
From Petrochemicals to Agriculture-Based Feedstocks: A Center for Agri-Chemical Engineering 
  • Ambar Kulkarni, Chemical Engineering
  • Coleman Kronawitter, Chemical Engineering
  • Ron Runnebaum, Chemical Engineering; Viticulture and Enology
  • Vinod Narayanan, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
  • Frank Mitloehner, Animal Science, Extension Specialist
  • Karen McDonald, Chemical Engineering
 
Sustainable mycelium/bamboo composites for wind turbine blades and other structures
  • Valeria La Saponara, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
  • Michele Barbato, Civil and Environmental Engineering
 
3D printing of earthen buildings for affordable, sustainable, and safe construction in extreme environments
  • Michele Barbato, Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Valeria La Saponara, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
 
QuIST-Quantum Information Science and Technology
  • Marina Radulaski, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Isaac Kim, Computer Science
  • Greg Kuperberg, Computer Science, Mathematics
 
Next Generation Imaging Devices: Pressing the Limits of Speed, Resolution, and Sensitivity
  • Klaus van Benthem, Materials Science and Engineering
  • Charles Hunt, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Francis Assadian, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
 
MSE Mini-Symposia Series to Build Next Level Research Collaborations
  • Yayoi Takamura, Materials Science and Engineering