At the heart of the research effort at the Center for Global Public Safety are seed grant projects geared toward inter-disciplinary collaboration and innovative approaches to addressing safety concerns on a local and global scale.
By definition, seed grants are small investments to support faculty research teams as they flesh out ideas for viability and look for additional sustainable funding sources.
WPI Takes on Football Concussions with Real-time Detection
As nationwide concerns about football concussions grow, Songbai Ji, an associate professor in biomedical engineering at WPI, is developing a new tool to immediately detect concussions in football players while they are still on the field. Creating a method to detect concussions in real-time is critical to reducing the risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease often found in athletes with a history of repetitive brain trauma. Having successfully completed NIH R21-funded preliminary work, Ji and his team are proposing to recruit 20 WPI football players to take part in a study that will compare Ji’s “brain strain maps” with traditional concussion detection tools in what would be the nation’s first on-field concussion study to use a sophisticated head injury model and detailed strain maps for concussion detection. The proposed work will rely on strong collaborations with the WPI athletic department and faculty at the UMASS medical school.
Making Waste Burning Cleaner and Faster
Sometimes the best way to deal with getting rid of waste, like hazardous oil spills, and agricultural and military waste, is to burn it. The problem with open air burning, however, is that it can produce toxins, like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide, along with fine particulate matter, which can cause heart and lung problems. Albert Simeoni and Ali S. Rangwala, both professors in fire protection engineering at WPI, are looking into a faster, safer, and environmental-friendly alternative to open burning of hazardous waste, using a patented technology, dubbed Flame Refluxer, which transfers heat from the flame back to the fuel bed, creating a loop effect that sustains hotter, faster and cleaner combustion.
WPI Sets Up Research Collaboration with Tsinghua University on Global Public Safety
WPI has entered into a partnership with Tsinghua University, a world-renowned Beijing-based research university, to advance research and knowledge about global public safety issues, particularly around the Internet of Things and cloud computing, along with the need for new thinking around city designs based on growing urbanization demands. In what WPI President Laurie Leshin has called one of the school’s most important global academic partnerships, the two world-leading universities are establishing the WPI-Tsinghua Center for Global Public Safety to better set up joint research and educational programs to train the next generation of world leaders in global public safety. A collaborative research team is expected to work with the likes of the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs and the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Autonomous Robots to the Rescue
When large buildings are on fire, there are a host of critical problems that fire fighters and rescue personnel face. They have to clearly map out complex structures, identify particularly dangerous zones and, of course, find victims who need to be rescued. Project leader Carlo Pinciroli, an assistant professor in computer science at WPI, is working with Albert Simeoni, professor of fire protection engineering, and David Cyganski, professor of electrical and computer engineering, on a research project aimed at developing heterogeneous swarms of autonomous robots that can initially aid, and then eventually replace, human emergency responders. The research will focus on how to best deploy swarms of robots carrying sensing devices through complex buildings; how to create 3D maps of structures in real time, and how to effectively get this information to human responders on the fly.
New Battery Center to Move Industry Forward
WPI is developing a battery center that will not only train students but will help industry develop technologies needed to take on key issues with battery technology, like safety issues, energy and power density, as well as life cycle. Batteries are critical pieces of increasingly ubiquitous technologies, such as smartphones, tablets, and hybrid and electric vehicles. Renewable energy also is dependent on batteries. And although battery performance has improved in recent years, and many mid-size and start-up companies in Massachusetts and beyond are working on solving battery problems, they need help. The effort at WPI will be the first battery center in Massachusetts.
WPI & Tsinghua Researchers Focus on Smart Fire Trucks
WPI is working with Tsinghua University to advance global public safety, specifically in the area of fire truck technology. Using robotics, mobility and data science, researchers are focused on creating a new generation of fire trucks that take advantage of autonomy for navigation and collision avoidance, real-time aerial fire monitoring, and emergency Wi-Fi systems for communications and personnel tracking. Researchers also want the new fire trucks, which haven’t been significantly updated since the 1970s, to act as a mothership for a swarm of drones that will aid in search and rescue situations.
Equipping Firefighters with Soft Robotics
WPI researchers are hoping to battle the unpredictable and dangerous job of fighting fires by creating soft robotics that can be deployed to navigate, map, and send back information about complex and changing structures, as well as robotic gloves that can enable teleoperation of robots, while giving the user the sense of touch. The research will focus on developing manufacturing techniques for integrated soft robotic systems and wearable interfaces, as well as enabling production of soft and hard components, like power sources, circuits, and sensors. The research will extend beyond firefighting and be useful in space exploration, developing smart clothing and biomedical devices. The project is expected to pull together researchers from mechanical engineering, to robotics engineering, materials science and technology, fire protection engineering, civil engineering, computer science, and biomedical engineering.
Studying Fire Vulnerabilities at the Wildland-Urban Interface
After the recent devastating wildfires in California, the Midwest and Tennessee, it’s clearer than ever that more needs to be understood about the risk of fires in the delicate area where wildlands and urban areas meet. And because of climate change creating worse and more frequent wildfire conditions, the risk of catastrophic fires is increasing in many regions of the world. That’s why WPI researchers are investigating the vulnerabilities that exist at the wildland-urban interface, focusing on structural vulnerabilities and how fire spreads between structures. WPI researchers expect to reach out to scientists at Tsinghua University once the project has met its preliminary goals and see if there’s an opportunity to work together to advance the ideas even further.
WPI Researchers Detecting Lead in Drinking Water
Inspired by the water crisis in Flint, MI, students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute are developing sensitive, easy-to-use biosensors that can detect and indicate the range of lead present in a sample of drinking water. Natalie Farny, an associate teaching professor of biology and biotechnology at WPI, is the primary investigator and team mentor for the project. A WPI team began working on the research project for a summer research competition —the International Genetically Engineered Machines challenge -- in synthetic biology. A 2018 competition team will continue the research, working on quantitative or semi-quantitative biosensors, as well as the development of novel, low-cost, open-source hardware and software interfaces for the biosensors.