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magazine home > archives > fall 2005 > features

Federal grants are boosting research at the Herff College of Engineering to new heights.

Engineering the possibilities

Keeping a calculator handy might be the only way to keep up with the avalanche of research grants awarded to the Herff College of Engineering. Since January 2005, Herff faculty members have received awards of more than $4.5 million. And in addition to these recently announced federal grants, engineering faculty led the efforts to obtain U.S. Department of Transportation funding for the Center for Advanced Intermodal Transportation Technologies ($5 million over four years) and the University Transportation Institute ($2 million over four years).

"There has literarily been an explosion of research and scholarly activity by our faculty over the past several years," says Herff Dean Richard Warder. "I believe this reflects a commitment by our faculty to provide excellent classroom instruction for our students as well as providing them with opportunities to participate in research at the frontiers of modern-day technology."

The increased funding comes after a concerted effort to tap more federal funding, according to Dr. Warder.

"About 10 years ago, between 85 and 90 percent of the Herff College's research funding came from city, county and state governments and industry," says Warder. "At that time, we were not taking advantage, to any significant extent, of funding opportunities available from federal agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Transportation, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, EPA and others."

A large portion — $1.2 million to be exact — of recent federal funding went to Herff to establish a Center for Advanced Sensors. The new center will be helpful to the U.S. military in fighting terrorism as Herff professors work to develop new imaging devices.

"We may now be able to light up the target with an active source to see things that perhaps we haven't been able to see before and operate at a safe wavelength where we can't be seen," says Dr. Carl Halford, professor of electrical and computer engineering and principal investigator on the project.

Halford and other U of M researchers will be working with scientists at Vanderbilt University and University of Alabama-Huntsville to develop the technology.

A second hefty federal grant to Herff may eventually help save thousands of lives per year and help reduce annual U.S. healthcare costs by as much as $6 billion. The National Institutes of Health awarded $1.6 million to Herff for electrochemical immunoassays for cardiac protein. Translated into simpler English, Herff professors will be looking for ways to improve existing diagnostic evaluations of cardiac patients.

"We proposed the development of a simple system for the determination of the biochemical markers of cardiac injury," says Dr. Erno Lindner, professor of biomedical engineering. "We are doing this because the triage of patients presenting with chest pain at emergency rooms is one of the most difficult challenges emergency room physicians face." Lindner will collaborate on the project with U of M chemistry researchers as well as partners at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and North Carolina State University.

The U of M's Ground Water Institute also is benefiting from a federal grant — it received $500,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency to study ways to better understand the long-term sustainability and quality of the region's unique groundwater.

"This is a major step toward answering many questions about our aquifer systems," says Dr. Jerry Anderson, director of the institute.

The GWI also received $310,000, including $125,000 from both Shelby County government and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, to remap water levels in the shallow aquifer that runs beneath Shelby County. Cargill has donated $10,000 to the project and Velsicol Chemical, Premier Environmental Services and Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division is providing in-kind support. An additional $50,000 is coming from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Foundations also have contributed to Herff's recent boon. For the past two summers, the Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis has sponsored the highly successful Girls Experiencing Engineering (GEE) program at the University. GEE exposes pre-college age girls to the many opportunities careers in engineering offer.

Warder says the collaborations with various universities on the projects are important for several reasons.

"The Herff faculty has engaged other institutions such as Vanderbilt, Alabama-Huntsville, Arkansas-Little Rock, Mississippi and Arkansas State to form strategic partnerships to address problems of critical regional and national importance," says Warder. "In doing so, they not only provided educational opportunities for our students, but they most definitely increase the national awareness of the University of Memphis and the Herff College of Engineering."

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