Thayer studies granted $2.5 mil.
By Diana Ming, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Monday, September 26, 2011
Thayer School of Engineering recently secured nearly $2.5 million in grants to fund research projects focusing on sports-related concussions, Arctic sea ice behavior and real-world business skill development, Thayer Dean Joseph Helble said in an interview with The Dartmouth. Thayer’s ability to receive grant funding in such a “competitive environment” is a testament to the creativity and research skills of various faculty members, Helble said.
“This recent record of success shows we have faculty with a range of exciting ideas and they are fortunate to receive due recognition,” he said.
The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment will fund a two-year, $1.3 million research initiative between Thayer, Dartmouth Medical School and the Lebanon-based injury prevention company Simbex to investigate the cause of concussions and mild brain injuries in contact sports, according to co-principal investigator Thomas McAllister, a DMS psychiatry professor. The initiative was announced Sept. 15.
“We are exploring what causes concussions and minor brain injuries in general by using a combination of approaches, including the monitoring of impacts and testing cognition in athletes,” McAllister said.
The grant — which the investigators applied for last winter — will also fund the Bioengineering Research Partnership, a consortium comprised of researchers from the College as well as Brown University and Virginia Tech that was also founded in 2007. Many of the researchers have already studied the effects of head injury impacts, but the consortium aims to bridge many different experiences and findings, according to McAllister.
McAllister will work with two other principal investigators, engineering professor and Simbex president Richard Greenwald and engineering professor Songbai Ji, he said.
The team plans to create “more detailed” computer models of head impacts in order to predict which brain regions are likely to be injured in a collision, he said. They will use a highly specialized form of neuroimaging known as diffusion tensor imaging, McAllister said.
“The hope of our research is that once we know the mechanism of how we can detect brain regions that may have been injured by contact, we can ultimately create a better sports helmet,” he said.
McAllister’s team also hopes to create a database for other scientists interested in their work that would provide all findings on mechanical stress and the amount of strain the brain can withstand, he said.
If the researchers are successful, they hope to use their computational model outputs to spur future investigations, Ji said in an email to The Dartmouth.
“At the end of the funding cycle, we hope that we will generate sufficient new data to allow us to continue our research work,” he said.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement awarded Thayer a three-year contract totaling nearly $500,000 to conduct a study on how Arctic sea ice fractures as it flows in open waters, engineering professor and Director of the College’s Ice Research Laboratory Erland Schulson said. The Ice Research Laboratory is located in Cummings Hall of Thayer.
The contract from BOEMRE’s Technology Assessment and Research program, effective Sept. 21, will fund modeling and experimentation at the Ice Research Laboratory to identify physical characteristics of Arctic ice conditions and quantify the rate at which ice becomes cracked or weakened, according to Schulson. The research team will also investigate what fractured ice does when it pushes against existing structures, he said.
The study of “what the force of ice really is” helps to better predict ice forces on engineered structures and answer questions regarding the production of fossil fuels and other energy resources, according to Schulson.
“The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 13 percent of undiscovered oil and 30 percent of undiscovered gas lies beneath the earth’s surface,” he said. “So often ice is a problem and an obstacle to the production of these resources.”
The research will occur mostly in the laboratory, which Schulson said offers the “same fracture conditions” as actual Arctic sites. The College will contribute $102,909 to the cost of the study, according to a press release.
The Partnerships for Innovation program sponsored by the National Science Foundation has awarded Thayer $600,000 of funding for candidates in Thayer’s PhD Innovation Program, according to a Sept. 15 Thayer press release.
The program is a separate track within the engineering program that provides students the opportunity to develop entrepreneurial skills to enable them to “bring research discoveries into marketable technologies,” Helble said.
The program provides students up to five years of academic support — two years funded by research with an advisor or through a fellowship and up to three years of unrestricted program funding — to develop skills needed for the commercialization of students’ ideas, Helble said.
The grant will allow wireless sensor company Microstrain to work with a PhD candidate to research cognitive signal processing mechanisms and computational platforms as a funded internship opportunity, according to a Thayer press release. This project will help reduce power and increase frequency response technology for next-generation sensing systems, the release said.
Engineering professor Linda Ray, the principal investigator for the PFI-funded project, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Thayer communications director Karen Endicott said receiving funding was essential for promoting research opportunities.
“Research — and research funding — not only advances fundamental knowledge, but also leads to new applications of knowledge, including technical breakthroughs and innovative solutions to the many challenges the world faces,” Endicott said in an email to The Dartmouth.