Campus News

Grant projects highlight interdisciplinary research

(Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA taken in 2019)

What can computer science tell researchers about the transmission of tuberculosis? The comprehensive data collected about TB transmission and infection can be aggregated and analyzed to help predict how the lung disease will spread.

That’s just one of the projects researchers are taking on thanks to funding from a second round of Presidential Interdisciplinary Seed Grants.

“I am pleased to provide this additional opportunity for UGA faculty to learn from one another and inspire new ways to approach complex problems,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “The Presidential Interdisciplinary Seed Grants program is proving to be an effective means to strengthen our university’s research enterprise and greatly expand our faculty’s impact.”

Seven faculty teams were awarded funds for projects that span 15 colleges, schools and other units at the University of Georgia. When the first Presidential Interdisciplinary Seed Grants were awarded in 2017, 12 faculty teams received funds totaling some $1.37 million. The work enabled by those seed grants supported subsequent applications for external funding that have brought nearly $13 million in new grants to UGA to date, a 10-to-1 return on investment.

A total of 72 proposals were submitted for the second round of grants, which is part of the Great Commitments Initiative launched by the president in 2019. They were reviewed by a team of faculty and administrators led by Vice President for Research David Lee and Vice President for Public Service and Outreach Jennifer Frum.

Researchers were asked to frame proposals around one or more of UGA’s Great Commitments—Healthier People, A More Secure Future and Stronger Communities—and the projects could include original research, strong public service and outreach components, or both.

Fred Quinn is seeking to learn more about how TB is transmitted with his project, “Establishing a New Animal Model to Assess Influenza-Tuberculosis Co-Infection and Vaccination.”

“These are complicated questions,” said Quinn, UGA Athletic Association Professor of Infectious Diseases, head of the infectious diseases department in the College of Veterinary Medicine and adjunct professor in the microbiology department of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “Because we are not making sufficient progress in our efforts to control TB transmission, you’ve got to look at it from a much broader perspective. The only way to make this work is to have hands in the mix from different disciplines.”

To do that, researchers are looking at the newly identified connection between influenza and the transmission of TB with the hope that the research could lead to a vaccine geared toward stopping the spread of TB. The project will take approximately a year, and the researchers are getting ready to start testing in February.

Quinn will be working with his son, Shannon, an assistant professor of computer science in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, to analyze ciliary motion in respiratory tracts. The research team also includes Steve Divers, Ankita Garg, Tuhina Gupta, Russ Karls, Balazs Rada, Ted Ross and Kaori Sakamoto (College of Veterinary Medicine); Steve Harvey (Office of Research); Christopher Whalen (College of Public Health) and external collaborators.

Brian Bledsoe’s project, “Building a National Center of Excellence for Nature-Based Infrastructure Solutions,” is an expansion of the already interdisciplinary work of the Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems. The goal of the project is to advance the science of using “natural infrastructure” to protect communities and ecosystems. Examples include marshes that protect coastlines from storms, river floodplains that reduce damage to downstream communities during floods, and forests that purify drinking water. The researchers are hosting three workshops that they hope will lead to partnerships with municipalities and industry and then to policies and protocols for effective implementation of nature-based solutions to floods, droughts and other disruptions.

“We are trying to bring together the scattered pieces of information about natural infrastructure and turn them into knowledge,” said Bledsoe, UGA Athletic Association Professor in Resilient Infrastructure in the College of Engineering.

Bledsoe is working with Jon Calabria and Brian Orland (College of Environment and Design), Susana Ferreira and Craig Landry (College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences), Rhett Jackson and Nathan Nibbelink (Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources), Shana Jones and Scott Pippin (Carl Vinson Institute of Government, a Public Service and Outreach unit), Don Nelson and Marshall Shepherd (Franklin College of Arts and Sciences), Mark Risse (Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, a Public Service and Outreach unit), Amy Rosemond (Odum School of Ecology) and Meredith Welch-Divine (Graduate School).

The research team aims to further establish UGA as a national leader in this area by creating a Center of Excellence for Nature-Based Infrastructure Solutions and is pursuing grants in cooperative research, coastal resilience and water infrastructure.

“Mitigating Emerging Disease Impacts in Fisheries: Adaptive Strategies to Ensure a Safe, Healthy Seafood Supply,” led by Jeb Byers, is bringing researchers together to organize a series of workshops to synthesize the existing literature on fisheries diseases, develop flexible modeling approaches for predicting and managing disease outbreaks in fisheries and then use the data and theories collected as a prompt for additional research. The second phase of their work aims to develop a predictive model to provide a new tool for studying black gill disease in shrimp.

“It’s been very valuable to pull on the outside expertise of the others in the group and broaden the way we’re thinking about things,” said Byers, Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Odum School of Ecology.

The research team also includes Thomas Bliss (Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, a Public Service and Outreach unit), Al Camus (College of Veterinary Medicine), Marc Frischer (Franklin College of Arts and Sciences), Richard Hall and Pej Rohani (College of Veterinary Medicine and Odum School of Ecology), Brian Irwin (Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources), Erin Lipp (College of Public Health), Craig Osenberg (Odum School of Ecology), John Wares (Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and Odum School of Ecology) and graduate student Megan Tomamichel (Odum School of Ecology).

The project already has led to a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The team plans to submit another grant application to NOAA and two more to the National Science Foundation, one of which is already in review with the NSF.

Additional proposals that received Presidential Interdisciplinary Seed Grant funding include:

• “Overcoming Physical Distances with the Virtual Family Room: Virtual and Augmented Reality Communication Platforms for Deployed Military Families”. Sun Joo “Grace” Ahn (primary investigator, Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication), Kyle Johnson (College of Engineering), Catherine O’Neal (College of Family and Consumer Sciences) and Dawn Robinson (Franklin College of Arts and Sciences).

• “Creating a Healthier Georgia through Diabetes Prevention”. Alison Berg (primary investigator) and Joan Koonce (College of Family and Consumer Sciences) and Ellen Evans (College of Education).

• “Anticipating the Regional and Global Impacts of Next-Generation Vehicle Engine Technologies”. Rawad Saleh (primary investigator) and Brandon Rotavera (College of Engineering); Amanda Frossard, Gabriel Kooperman and Geoffrey Smith (Franklin College of Arts and Sciences).

• “Impact of the School and Surrounding Environment on Implementation of Georgia’s Statewide Childhood Obesity Policy”. Janani Thapa (primary investigator), Marsha Davis, Jennifer Gay, Justin Ingles and Donglan “Stacy” Zhang (College of Public Health); Lan Mu (Franklin College of Arts and Sciences); Michael Schmidt (College of Education); Chen Zhen (College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences) and external collaborators.