As part of CU Denver’s goal to become internationally known for research and creative activities, five teams were recently awarded $800,000 as part of the university’s Research Grand Challenges initiative.
The program was established in 2021 to identify areas of research that set CU Denver apart, to help guide investment in collaborative research, and to attain national and international prominence as outlined in the 2030 Strategic Plan.
The program was designed to help bring together researchers from across disciplines who together will solve some of the most complex problems facing our local and global communities. A committee of outside experts reviewed researchers’ proposals—a method that is similar to the way proposals are reviewed at the National Science Foundation—and final decisions were made by an internal group composed of deans and research administrators. Two kinds of awards were made this year: development and planning. Development awards were aimed at advancing research with larger teams, scaling collaborations, and developing large grant proposals. Planning awards were focused on providing teams initial funds to organize, plan research, and begin proposal development efforts.
During Round 1 of the initiative, 10 teams submitted proposals, and seven were selected in 2022. Those teams, which represent almost 100 faculty members’ expertise, have been organizing and planning research, collaborating on new ideas for research, and developing grant proposals. This year, as part of Round 2 of the initiative, five teams were awarded. Three teams that received planning grants last year were selected for full development awards. Two new teams will launch their work later this summer.
The projects address many challenges, from developing technology to helping people as they age and lose mobility to testing biodegradable pods that will stimulate the growth of forests that have been decimated by wildfires.
“Many excellent proposals were submitted, and we were thrilled to see so many researchers involved,” said Phillip De Leon, associate vice chancellor for research and chief research officer. “The type of work our faculty are pioneering holds much promise. We are happy to see increased participation and more proposals than were submitted for Round 1 of the Grand Challenges initiative.”
Below is information about the awardees from their proposals.
Development Awards (up to $200,000)
Title: Advancing Research and Innovation for Aging and Disability (ARIAD)
Lead: Cathy Bodine, Associate Professor, College of Engineering, Design, and Computing | Department of Bioengineering, Executive Director of Technology Partners based at CU Anschutz
Team members: Farnoush Banaei-Kashani, Ashis Biswas, Mazen Al Borno
Click here for a complete list
Description: Develop a collaborative network of academic experts, community stakeholders, and local, national, and international industry advisors to explore, develop, and deploy safe, productive, and efficient technologies that support the needs of those living with, or aging with, disabilities.
Title: Engineering Better Medicine by Disruptive Technologies and Conceptual Revolution; a Collaborative Program for Epigenetics
Lead: Xiaojun Ren, Associate Chemistry Professor, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | Department of Chemistry
Team members: Masoud Asadi-Zeydabadi, Farnoush Banaei-kashani, Benjamin Greenwood
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Description: Establish a Center for Applied Genome and Epigenome Science (AGES). Identified several collaborative projects (neuroepigenetics, cancer epigenetics, metabolic epigenetics, architectural epigenetics, signaling epigenetics, adaptive epigenetics, and developmental epigenetics) that integrate molecular methods and computational data and generate the preliminary data necessary for external funding proposals. Seek out publication in journals based on preliminary data to help secure more federal funding. This is the second time this team has been awarded Grand Challenges funding.
Title: Building Democratic Communities (BDC) Collaborative
Lead: Christopher Weible, Professor, School of Public Affairs | Center for Policy and Democracy
Team members: Chris Agree, Masoud Asadi-Zeydabadi, Hamilton Bean, Jody Beck, Michael Berry
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Description: Round 2 funding will support ongoing development and submission of proposals to external funders, writing and submitting interdisciplinary publications, making large-scale asks for donor gifts, and generating a greater sense of belonging among people working at CU Denver. This is the second time this team has been awarded Grand Challenges funding.
Planning Awards (up to $100,000)
Title: Equality as an Economic Performance Multiplier
Lead: Traci Sitzmann, Professor, Business School | Department of Management
Team members: Beth Ahmad, Laura Argys, Cindy Baroway, Gisella Bassani, Ersin Dincelli, Shane Hoon, and Kelly See
Description: The data-driven approach of this project quantifies the effects of wage and demographic equality on labor productivity to provide empirical support for the positive effects of equality on employers’ bottom line. The group seeks to show that equity is an employer issue that impacts the bottom line and not just a challenge or area of concern for underrepresented groups.
Title: Biodegradable Landscape Infrastructure Pods (BLIP)
Lead: Marc Swackhamer, Chair and Professor, College of Architecture and Planning | Department of Architecture
Team Members: Sara Branco, Brian Buma, and Assia Crawford
Description: Aims to increase the success rate of forest regeneration and improve soil stability on burn scar sites by developing 3-D printed biodegradable pods that act like dead trees and distribute resources to new tree saplings. The pods decay over time to nurse sapling trees through the first few critical years of life.