4 Rice teams awarded IDEA grants

Four teams were awarded $75,000 each through Rice University’s InterDisclipinary Excellence Awards (IDEA) to promote the development of new research or academic partnerships that extend across multiple schools to engage faculty in new and creative scholarship. This fall marks the second round of IDEA grants, which require a team of at least three faculty extending across a minimum of two schools.

“The quality and diversity of the ideas we supported in this last round of IDEA grants are just spectacular,” said Vice Provost for Research Yousif Shamoo.

Students gathered near Willy's Statue.

Rice is committed to supporting and amplifying faculty’s creative scholarship and research.

2-D materials as a novel platform for magnetism

A team headed by Douglas Natelson is examining 2-D magnetic materials to understand their properties with an eye toward materials by design and eventual applications in information technology.

“In recent years, there has been a major realization that materials with a layered structure can be thinned down or grown directly as single layers, such as graphite and single-layer graphene,” said Natelson, a professor of physics and astronomy, of electrical and computer engineering and of materials science and nanoengineering. “In this nanoscale-thickness limit, the electronic, optical and magnetic properties of these materials can change dramatically from their bulk counterparts, and their 2-D geometry provides new opportunities for controlling their properties.”

Natelson is collaborating on this project with Jun Lou, a professor of materials science and nanoengineering, and Gustavo Scuseria, the Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistry, of physics and astronomy and of materials science and nanoengineering.

Rice Archaeological Field School   

A team headed by John Hopkins will use the grant to reshape the Rice Archaeological Field School with two new major excavation opportunities in the Roman Forum in Italy and Basanga in southwest Zambia. The creation of a new research and educational virtual lab will ensure multidisciplinary research across fields and departments.

“Our goal with the Rice Archaeological Field School is to unite anthropological and classical archaeological methods and theories in a range of educational and research outputs at the highest levels,” said Hopkins, an assistant professor of art history and classical studies. “Our research projects harness Rice’s strengths in digital and spatial data creation and visualization, scientific analysis and anthropological and humanistic study of past cultures in a cross-disciplinary effort to better understand our shared and variegated human history.”

Hopkins is collaborating on this project with Fares el-Dahdah, professor of humanities and director of the Humanities Research Center; Jeffrey Fleisher, associate professor of anthropology; and Xiaodong Gao, a research scientist in Earth, environmental and planetary sciences.

Toward experience-guided design of effective assistive devices 

A team headed by Marcia O’Malley aims to join robotics and human factors to design and increase the use of hand assistive devices to patients with disabilities stemming from neurological injury.

“The research goal of this project is to examine assistive devices, and in particular, an assistive glove developed in the Mechatronics and Haptic Interfaces Lab, from the perspectives of medical anthropology, human factors and psychology,” said Chad Rose, a mechanical engineering graduate student who conceived the project. “Bringing together perspectives from engineering, anthropology and psychology will improve the development of current assistive projects at Rice and is a first step toward experienced-guided design of effective assistive devices.”

O’Malley, a professor of mechanical engineering and of electrical and computer engineering, is collaborating on this project with Philip Kortum, an associate professor of psychology, and Zoe Wool, an assistant professor of anthropology.

Urban food waste: From disposal to value  

A team headed by Lauren Stadler is working on converting food waste into high-value products, such as alcohols or esters, using anaerobic microorganisms.

“We will examine and characterize the microbial communities responsible for converting food waste into valuable products and investigate opportunities for engineering their metabolic capabilities to enhance product formation and yield,” said Stadler, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. “Ultimately, we hope that this research will incentivize communities to focus on recovery and recycling steps that could not only be environmentally beneficial but also contribute economically by generating income from waste.”

Stadler is collaborating on this project with George Bennett, the E. Dell Butcher Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, and Ka-Yiu San, the E.D. Butcher Professor of Bioengineering and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

Proposals for next year’s awards are due by Oct. 16. For more information, visit creativeventures.rice.edu/content/interdisplinary-excellence-awards-idea.

About Kendall Schoemann

Kendall Schoemann is a staff writer in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.