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4. Campus Projects to Shape Policy and Advocate for STEM Education


Engineering Research Center for Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems (POETS)

National Science Foundation Award # 1449548
Andrew Alleyne
Developmental of Mechanical Science & Engineering
Project Dates: August 1, 2015–July 31, 2020 (Estimated)

Nearly all modern electronic systems are hitting a power density wall where further improvements in power density pose significant challenges. The NSF Engineering Research Center for Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems (POETS), aims to enhance or increase the electric power density available in tightly constrained mobile environments by changing the design. The management of high-density electrical and thermal power flows is a safety-critical societal need as recent electrical vehicles and aircraft battery fires illustrate. Engineering education conducted in silos limits systems-level approaches to design and operation. POETS will create the human capital that is explicitly trained to think, communicate, and innovate across the boundaries of technical disciplines. The Engineering Research Center (ERC) will institute curricular reform to train across disciplines using a systems perspective. It will develop pedagogical tools that allow greater stems-level understanding and disseminate these throughout the undergraduate curriculum. POETS will target undergraduate curriculum modifications aimed at early retention and couple it with undergraduate research and K-12 teacher activities. POETS' research will directly benefit its industry stakeholders comprised of power electronics Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and Small to Medium sized businesses in the OEM supply chain. An Industry/Practitioner Advisory Board will help direct efforts towards ready recipients of POETS research developments. POETS will harness the outputs of the ecosystem and drive research across the "valley of death" into commercialization.

POETS uses system level analysis tools to identify barriers to increased power density. Design tools will be used to create optimal system-level and subsystem-level designs. Novel algorithm tools will address the multi-physics nature of the integrated electro-thermal problem via structural optimization. Once barriers are identified, POETS will cultivate enabling technologies to overcome them. The operation of these systems necessitates development of heterogeneous decision tools that exploit multiple time scale hierarchies and are not suitable for real-time use. Implementation of these management approaches requires new 3D power electronics architectures that surpass current 2D designs. The thermal management will be tightly coupled with new 3D electronic systems designs using topology optimization for power electronics, storage, etc. The new designs will tightly interweave elements such as solid state thermal switches and modular multi-length scale elements; i.e. spreaders, storage units, phase change and mass flow system interacting with convection units. Fundamental research advances will support development of the 3D component technologies. New materials systems will be developed by manipulating nanostructures to provide tunable directionality for in plane and out-of-plane thermal power flows. These will be coupled with micro- and nano-scale thermal routing based on new conduction/convection systems. Buffers made from phase change material will be integrated into these systems to augment classes of autonomic materials with directed power flow actuation. Novel tested systems will integrate the system knowledge enabling technologies and fundamental breakthrough into modular demonstrations.


Stress-Related Neural Responses Linking Toddler-Mother Attachment and Adolescent Adjustment

National Science Foundation Award # 1539651
Nancy McElwain , Eva Telzer
Project Dates: August 1, 2015–July 31, 2018 (Estimated)

Early family relationships lay the foundation for children's successful development across the lifespan. One particularly important aspect of early family relationships is child-mother attachment security. A child whose attachment-related bids (e.g., clinging, crying) are consistently met with a timely and sensitive response by the caregiver will likely develop a secure attachment to that caregiver, whereas a child whose bids are met with rejection, hostility, or inconsistent responsiveness will likely form an insecure attachment. Variations in early attachment security play a role in 'sculpting' the brain of the developing child. Yet, we know little about the potential neurobiological mechanisms linking child-mother attachment to children's later adjustment. The goals of this research are twofold: (1) to examine how early child-mother attachment security (measured at age 2.5 years) relates to stress-related neural responses at age 13, and (2) test whether stress-related neural responses are associated with adolescent adjustment at age 14.

To carry out this work, participants will be recruited from an existing longitudinal study, the Children's Social Development Project (CSDP), in which child-mother attachment was assessed at 2.5 years. Ten years later, at age 13, mother-adolescent interactions will be observed and adolescents will be interviewed about current attachment relationships. Adolescents' neural responses in two stress-eliciting tasks will be assessed using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). At ages 13 and 14, adolescent adjustment in multiple domains will be assessed via self, maternal, and paternal reports. The proposed study will be the first of its kind to assess how child-mother attachment security in early childhood relates to stress-related neural processes and, in turn, adjustment in adolescence. Project findings have the potential to shed light on fundamental questions regarding how early experiences set the stage for later adjustment and will provide a much needed window into the extent to which typical variation in early human attachment predicts brain functioning in later development.


The Double Bind of Race and Gender: A Look into the Experiences of Women of Color in Engineering

National Science Foundation Award # 1648454
Jennifer Amos , Kathryn Clancy, Princess Imoukhuede, Ruby Mendenhall, Kelly Cross
Project Dates: September 1, 2016–August 31, 2019 (Estimated)

This project addresses three major project interests of National Science Foundation's Broadening Participation of Engineering program: (a) analyzing and understanding the problem of poorly sustained participation in engineering across underrepresented demographic groups; (b) identifying structural inequalities and biases within educational and workforce systems that may influence engineering persistence; and (c) examining insufficient access to support systems and social networks that raise career awareness about different engineering pathways among underrepresented groups. More importantly, the project has the ability to provide the foundational data to evaluate the cumulative effects of women of color's double bind experience of race and gender in engineering and provide meaningful evidence of how disadvantage accrues over time. Further, the new knowledge generated from this project possess great potential in providing directions to engineering faculty and practitioners on how best to promote diversity and inclusion in engineering, where both diversity and inclusion remain a persistent challenge.

Using intersectionality as the guiding theoretical framework, the project focuses on improving the engineering interests and experiences of women of color for the purpose of broadening participation. A predominantly qualitative research methodology is being used to pinpoint the obstacles that women of color have to overcome in engineering. The investigators are using the data to develop a framework and model that women of color can use to overcome challenges that they might face in engineering and other STEM disciplines.