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4-VA awards 2020-21 collaborative research grants

October 20, 2020   /   by Elizabeth Gillooly

Through a unique statewide program designed to encourage collaboration among Virginia universities, nine George Mason University faculty members were awarded 4-VA funding for research projects spanning colleges throughout Mason. Each of the lead researchers plan to collaborate with at least one of the other 4-VA schools in the commonwealth—James Madison University (JMU), University of Virginia (UVA), Virginia Tech (VT), Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), the College of William and Mary, and Virginia Military Institute. 

“The 4-VA@Mason Collaborative Research Grants provide opportunities for our faculty to work in conjunction with colleagues at other schools to advance their study of a particular issue,” said Janette Muir, associate provost for academic initiatives and services and the 4-VA @ Mason Campus Coordinator. “These grants capitalize on the importance of partnerships and help researchers avoid working in silos. What’s more, 4-VA collaborative efforts offer the ability to leverage the strengths of each partner university in order to accomplish more than any individual university could achieve alone.”

Recipients of the 2020-21 grants are:

Sabine Doebel, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Applied Developmental Psychology
Does Social Understanding Support the Development of Executive Function in Early Childhood?
(with UVA)

This project will examine “executive function” in children—the ability to regulate thoughts and actions in the service of various goals. Because much remains unknown about how the change in executive function occurs, this team will test the hypothesis that as children become aware that others evaluate them (a form of self-awareness), they become increasingly capable of engaging executive function to accomplish goals. The team plans to identify promising ways to support executive function in preschoolers.

Pei Dong, Volgenau School of Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering
A study on the ultrahigh salt adsorption capacity of an energy-efficiency water desalination technology
(with UVA)

To relieve a growing water crisis worldwide, much emphasis has been placed on the effective desalination of salt water, as 97% of the earth’s water is held by the oceans. The goal of this collaborative research grant is to design next-generation electrode materials to advance the energy-efficient capacitive deionization technology.

Olga Gkountouna, College of Science, Department of Computational and Data Sciences
Is AI capable of identifying meaningful patterns in the temporal behavior of solvated macromolecules?
(with JMU)

This team will investigate artificial intelligence (AI) methodologies that enhance the analysis of solvated macromolecules time evolution. They plan to implement a convergence system bridging the temporal and spatial evolution of molecules and macromolecules in liquid environments to visible patterns of behavior, aggregation, and networking evidenced by data analysis. The resulting information will be fundamental for finding solutions for drug delivery at the nanoscale, environmental pollution, skin and nerve remediation, among other applications of nanoscience.

Wenying Ji,  Volgenau School of Engineering, Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering
Modeling of Stakeholder Communication Network in Disaster Response
(with UVA and VT)

Effective communication among stakeholders is necessary to facilitate efficient coordination and targeted planning following disasters, thereby enhancing community resilience. The research objective of this proposal is to derive a quantitative model to represent stakeholder communication networks and evaluate communication efficiency among all parties.

Laura Lukes, Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning
Energizing Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Production in Virginia through the Development of a Regional Community of Practice for SoTL Faculty Developers
(with UVA, JMU, VT and VCU)

Through this grant, a community of practice model of support for faculty developers engaging faculty in Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) will be established and produce open access planning resources for faculty developers. The goal is to ultimately improve the research competitiveness and dissemination success of faculty at Virginia institutions in the area of SoTL research projects.

Kelly Schrum, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Higher Education Program
Reimagining the History of Higher Education in The Digital Age
(with VT)

The objective of this grant is to redesign a core course on the history of higher education in the United States to include a focus on historical thinking, digital literacy and research skills. The team will also create an open educational resource on the history of higher education.

Xiaoyan Tan, College of Science, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Accelerating the Discovery of Novel Polar Thermoelectric Materials with Density Functional Theory Calculations
(with UVA and JMU)

This project will study polar thermoelectric materials, which transform heat into electricity. Because the fundamental mechanisms that govern the thermoelectric properties are not fully understood, the team hopes to identify a series of materials to better predict novel polar thermoelectrics with tailored properties. This could lead to turning large sources of waste—released by spacecraft, motor vehicles and industrial plants—into electricity.

Girum Urgessa, Volgenau School of Engineering, Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering
Scaled Testing of Projectile Penetration in Conventional and High-Performance Concrete Targets
(with VT)

This team will design and conduct small-scale testing of projectiles penetrating high-performance concrete targets. The outcomes of the experiments will allow the ability to model/predict projectile penetration depths across a variety of concrete strengths and types, and address questions surrounding the underlying penetration mechanics in next generation cementitious materials. This information will be valuable for military analysts and decision makers responsible for infrastructure vulnerability assessment.

Monique van Hoek, College of Science, National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases
Computationally designed antimicrobial peptides against antibiotic-resistant bacteria
(with UVA)

Through years of excessive use or misuse of antibiotics in humans and livestock, bacteria have developed many resistance mechanisms. There is an urgent need to identify new compounds to kill these antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antimicrobial peptides are small strings of protein that target bacteria by binding to the bacterial membranes, and then kill the bacteria. The objective of this research is to computationally design and then test novel antimicrobial peptides for antibacterial activity against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Each of the 4-VA @ Mason Advisory Board members who reviewed and approved the grants noted the breadth and depth of the timely proposals.

“Our board was clearly impressed with the value of the research being put forth,” said Muir.  “Thanks to 4-VA, we’re advancing some important research in a thoughtful and efficient manner.”

Established in 2010 upon the recommendation of the Governor’s Higher Education Commission and the Governor’s Commission on Economic Development and Job Creation, 4-VA grants are offered in four broad areas—collaborative research, course redesign, shared courses and degree completion.

For more information on 4-VA@Mason, visit 4va.gmu.edu or visit us on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/4vaMason.