News and Impact

For the Division of Research and Innovation, success is a measurable goal. We are committed to seeing the University of Memphis achieve R1 Carnegie Classification by 2023; in support of this objective, we are pleased to provide measurable impacts and evidence of the world-class research conducted every day on our campus. In the spirit of transparency, we provide metrics and data that showcase our progress and the efforts of our faculty, students, and administration in achieving this goal.


UofM Research in the News


University of Memphis Herff College of Engineering awarded $1 million grant to establish Mid-South Advanced Automation and Robotics Center

The University of Memphis Herff College of Engineering has been awarded a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to establish the Mid-South Advanced Automation and Robotics Center (AARC), an automation and robotics training center of excellence.

Memphis is home to a high concentration of jobs in sectors like transportation and logistics that are increasingly becoming automated. The AARC will address these concerns while also creating a resource for the wider region to cultivate high-paying jobs for Mid-South citizens and help with re-training to ensure opportunities for all.

The AARC will be a major step forward in the workforce development efforts of the city, and supports recent corporate initiatives addressing workforce needs. Certificate-based training will be provided to local veterans, those looking for new opportunities and students from the UofM, Southwest Tennessee Community College (STCC) and other partner institutions.

Training will be provided across a range of automation technologies that are critical to the continued success of local material handling and manufacturing companies such as FedEx, Hytrol, Nike and Carrier. To support the efforts of the AARC, the center will deploy the training opportunities through collaborative partners including STCC, the Greater Memphis Chamber and the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce.

Altogether, the AARC will service the populations of eight counties in three states. Support will be provided to ensure low or no cost to the trainees for those who qualify.

"The AARC addresses a critical need in our workforce pipeline," said Greater Memphis Chamber President and CEO Beverly Robertson. "The opportunity to bring an automation training solution to our city will help ensure that local residents are able to compete for future jobs in Memphis and guarantee our competitive advantage in attracting top tier technologically-driven corporations to the city."

The AARC will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology to ensure viable training solutions for the next several years. Yaskawa-based robot training and Amatrol Skill Boss Logistics supply chain automation training units will prepare training participants with the necessary skills and certifications to improve their earning potential and provide a pipeline of local talent for companies in need of these skills.

Dr. Kevin Berisso, an associate professor in the Department of Engineering Technology and FedEx Institute of Technology DRONES Research Cluster Fellow, will serve as the lead PI for the project. With a background in warehouse management software, manufacturing and automatic identification (barcodes, RFID, etc.), Berisso joined the UofM in 2013 and has been teaching robotics and automation since 2003.

"The AARC will be a significantly positive addition to not only our University but also our City," said UofM President M. David Rudd. "It will provide vast opportunity for our students, local employers and relevant workforce growth within Memphis. It's a grant we are honored to accept and a mission we very much look forward to executing."

Through this project, the UofM establishes itself as a leader in robotics and workforce development training and research, and helps ensure Memphis is prepared to meet the rising challenges of automation in a way that ensures the continued growth of opportunities for everyone in the city.

The long-term results of this grant will be a local workforce that is certified on the types of equipment being used by local companies, and an improvement in the ability of the UofM and STCC to provide high-quality training to students.


UofM committed to reducing research innovation barriers during COVID-19 pandemic

The University of Memphis has endorsed and committed to the COVID-19 Licensing Guidelines recently released by the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), the global association of technology transfer professionals. The new principles provide global guidance for tech transfer offices, focusing on research intended to develop technologies, treatments and solutions needed during the current pandemic. These recommendations are meant to reduce barriers so researchers and their respective institutions are able to deliver innovations in a timely manner for immediate impact. More than 50 institutions worldwide, as well as the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, have already signed the guidelines published on April 15. See full list here. These guidelines include:

AUTM COVID-19 Licensing Guidelines

1. Technology transfer accelerates innovations that impact society and promotes the broad distribution of public health solutions. We encourage intellectual property (IP) owners to adopt a COVID-19 licensing strategy that facilitates rapid pandemic response by licensees and to make the execution of associated transactions a top priority.

2. For most technologies, where legally possible, this strategy is best accomplished by adopting time-limited, non-exclusive royalty-free licenses, in exchange for the licensees' commitment to rapidly make and broadly distribute products and services to prevent, diagnose, treat and contain COVID-19 and protect healthcare workers during the pandemic (as defined by the World Health Organization).

3. Licenses may subsequently convert to a more typical commercial license as appropriate. Licenses must also preserve the licensor's freedom to publish and use the intellectual property for teaching and research.

"Our Office of Technology Transfer is responsible for transferring scientific findings from the University to industry for further development of useful commercial applications," said Dr. Hai Trieu, director of the Office of Technology Transfer. "I could not think of a better time for us to contribute to society in urgent need of clinical solutions that help solve not only the ongoing health crisis, but also the economic hardship associated with COVID-19."


New app for personal tracking of social distancing in the Memphis area (NSF)

Researchers at the MD2K Center of Excellence, headquartered at the University of Memphis, announce the launch of a free mobile app called mContain to help track social distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak with a goal to reduce community transmission.

mContain uses location and Bluetooth technologies in smartphones to detect proximity encounters (within six feet for several minutes) with other app users. Similar to a step count, the app counts and displays the number of daily proximity encounters with other app users. To reduce the chances of entering crowded places, the app displays the level of crowding at busy places on a map. If a user and their COVID-19 test provider both agree to share the results of their test, the app can notify other users about possible exposures to COVID-19.

"mContain adopts an anonymous unicast approach to preserve the privacy of all app users, while still providing personal alerts," said MD2K's director, Dr. Santosh Kumar. After installing the app, no action is needed from users. The app does not collect or keep any identifying information of app users, such as their names, phone numbers, logins or emails.

"The app minimizes battery consumption by using Bluetooth and location data sporadically," said MD2K's Chief Software Architect Dr. Timothy Hnat, who leads the software development for mContain.

The mContain app builds upon MD2K's successful open-source software platforms used widely in scientific studies. Computer algorithms developed by researchers at the MD2K Center detect encounters and generate anonymous alerts. To increase awareness of social distancing in the community, the mContain public website displays the level of social crowding at busy places. The free mContain app is currently available at the mContain website (www.mContain.org) and via the Google Play Store for Android devices, with iOS and Apple App Store access to come shortly.


UofM 3D-Printing Face Shield Frames for Le Bonheur and State Hospitals

The University of Memphis is fabricating face-shield frames using its 3D printers 24 hours a day in its state-of-the-art Metal Additive Manufacturing Lab at Herff College of Engineering to provide to hospitals in the State of Tennessee, including Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, to aid in combating COVID-19.

Dr. Ebrahim Asadi, the lab's director and assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering, and staff have delivered 135 3D-printed face-shield frames, which is equivalent to more than 2,000 face-shields that are currently used.

Eighty-three frames, which were driven by Asadi to the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Jackson on Tuesday, will be delivered to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA). All hospitals and clinics in need of these emergency PPEs will need to contact their local emergency management agencies. TEMA will receive those requests from local emergency management agencies and distribute PPEs to those local agencies as needed. Asadi delivered 52 frames to Le Bonheur last Friday.

"This is a very special task to me that I can help the health care professionals who are fighting this pandemic on the front line," said Asadi. "This is one of the moments that you would say to yourself you should do something to help. I am sure that many people feel that way, and I was lucky there was something that I could do in addition to social distancing and self-quarantine, which are equally important to keep everybody safer."

Le Bonheur, which currently has enough supplies for its staff, is being proactive for the future. "We appreciate the support of community partners like the University of Memphis during this uncertain time," said Dr. Barry Gilmore, chief medical officer of Le Bonheur Children's. "Their offer of help means so much to our clinical experts who are working around-the-clock to help keep kids healthy and well."

Using five commercial-grade 3D printers, the UofM Metal Additive Manufacturing Lab has been printing around the clock. Each printer has the capability to produce three to four frames at a time, taking two to three hours for each run.The first successful prototypes were completed the weekend of March 20-22. Asadi started activating as many printers as he could on campus to increase the capacity since March 23.

State-wide, universities are printing face-shields in response to a call from Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. A team of five staff members/students led by Asadi have been working around the clock to contribute to the production of the frames. Other staff include Dr. Fatemeh Hejripour, staff scientist; PhD candidates Behzad Fotovvati and Michael Fitzmire; and Matthew Markham, a PhD candidate who has volunteered to work daily.

The University of Memphis celebrated its opening of the Metal Additive Manufacturing Lab in September 2018 with a $2 million commitment for building renovations, equipment and staffing.


UofM Receives $3.4 Million NSF Research Grant to Improve Training in Data Science

The University of Memphis has been awarded a $3,439,035 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for research in learning data science with adaptive learning for future workforce development.

"In the last three years, the demand for data scientists has increased by a factor of 10 in key markets," said Dr. Andrew Olney, principal investigator for the study and professor in the Department of Psychology and the Institute for Intelligent Systems. "If this trend continues, data scientists will be more sought after than software developers in just a few years.

"The problem we face is that while we know how to train people in statistics, programming and machine learning, we know very little about how to train people to integrate these disciplines in order to be effective data scientists. Our grant work will focus on understanding the deep prerequisite knowledge in these fields and how to integrate them in an efficient training program for emerging data scientists across all levels.Our program will leverage adaptive learning technologies and be embedded in the tools data scientists use every day so that workers can learn on the job."

The grant funding will also support summer internships for STEM majors (science, technology,engineering and math) from LeMoyne-Owen College as well as the development of training programs for industry partners.

"More important than the economic multiplier impact of having federal funds expended locally, this award, together with others we have received in the last few months,helps position the University and its Institute of Intelligent Systems as a national leader in data analytics," said Dr. Jasbir Dhaliwal, executive vice president for Research and Innovation. "It's an exciting time for researchers on campus as we continue our march toward the top tier of research institutions in the country."


Silicon Valley Startup Licenses Adaptive Multi-factor Authentication System Patent from UofM

The University of Memphis Research Foundation (UMRF) has signed an agreement to license a U.S. patent for an Adaptive Multi-factor Authentication System invented and developed by a team led by Dr. Dipankar Dasgupta, professor of Computer Science and director of the Center for Information Assurance (CfIA).

The patent is licensed to i2Chain, a San Francisco area cybersecurity startup, which plans to evolve adaptive authentication for its own applications as well as offer the technology as a service to other identity providers.

Ajay Jotwani, co-founder and CEO of i2Chain, is upbeat about engaging the University of Memphis's industry-leading cybersecurity research expertise.

"Digitalization and new privacy laws are forcing companies to enact creative and proven solutions to secure their identity and information," Jotwani said. "This invention allows us to improve the identity defense as well as build research collaboration with Dr. Dasgupta and the Center for Information Assurance at the UofM."

Founded in May 2018, i2Chain focuses on securing information and identity using immutable ledger, access rights and advanced cryptography to empower companies as they securely share and transact identity and information.

"The future of business is defined by creating cybersecurity solutions that use innovative research-driven solutions to reduce a nearly constant stream of data breaches, hacking and cyber threats," said Dasgupta. "Our partnership with i2Chain is a great opportunity to help a rising leader in the cybersecurity landscape accelerate its growth while mitigating the threats faced by businesses of every size."

"The Adaptive-MFA significantly enhances i2Chain's capability to defend identity and enable secure information sharing," adds Sanjay Jain, co-founder and CTO. "In addition,this patent is an indispensable invention in the process of continuous and biometricidentity validation."


Biology Professor Publishes Article on Genomic Basis of Insect Biodiversity in National Academy of Sciences Journal

Dr. Duane McKenna, William Hill Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Memphis, has authored a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). His article "The Evolution and Genomic Basis of Beetle Diversity" details how ancient horizontal transfers of microbial genes to beetle genomes set the stage for beetle diversification.

Beetles, with more than 400,000 species, arguably comprise the most diverse group of animals on Earth. Most beetle species are herbivores and feed on plants. Consequently,some species are pests of agriculture or forestry, or play important roles as pollinatorsor decomposers. In this study, funded in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation,McKenna and his colleagues used genomic data of an unprecedented scale to reconstruct the family tree of beetles and trace the evolution of beetle genes enabling herbivory.

Their analyses resolved the beetle family tree and dated the origin of beetles to more than 300 million years ago, before the first dinosaurs. Moreover, they showed that beetle genes encoding plant cell wall-degrading enzymes were obtained from bacteria and fungi via ancient horizontal gene transfers and were key to the diversification of herbivorous beetles. These genes enabled efficient digestion of plant tissues,facilitating uniquely specialized plant-feeding habits such as wood boring and leaf mining. Their findings underscore the intimacy and complexity of the relationships between insects, plants and microorganisms, and provide a compelling answer to the question of why there are so many beetle species. Their work will aid researchers in combating invasive beetle species, protecting beetles that perform important ecosystem services and understanding how beetles digest wood and other plant tissues.

This paper is the result of a collaboration between the McKenna Lab and researchers from Australia, Austria, China, Germany, Russia and the U.S. (USDA and Oregon State University), working at the leading edge of large-scale genomic data generation, analysis and integration. University of Memphis co-authors included two postdocs, a graduate student and an undergraduate student in McKenna's lab. McKenna is director of the UofM Center for Biodiversity Research and co-director of the Agriculture and Food Technologies Research Cluster at the UofM FedEx Institute of Technology.


UofM and UTHSC Researchers Receive 2019 CORNET Award for Studies on Brain Exploration in Adolescents

Dr. Eraina Schauss, director and founder of the Brain Center at the University of Memphis, and Dr. Khyobeni Mozhui, associate professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC),are recipients of the 2019 UTHSC/UofM CORNET Award in Adverse Childhood Experiences(ACEs) Research for their project "A Combined Environment and Epigenetics Study (ACES):Impact of Neuro feedback Therapy on the Health and Behavior of Adolescents." The research team will receive a total of $100,000 being provided by the research leadership at UTHSC (Dr. Steve Goodman) and the UofM (Dr. Jasbir Dhaliwal).

Schauss and Mozhui will examine the EEG brain wave patterns and functioning of adolescents who have been exposed to adverse childhood events (ACEs) and investigate the impact of neuro feedback training. ACEs are traumatic events before the age of 18, and include various types of abuse and neglect as well as parental mental illness, substance use,divorce, incarceration and domestic violence. The pair is researching whether their innovative brain training can improve physical health, decrease mental health symptoms,improve cognitive functioning and reduce the risk of unfavorable social, emotional and developmental health outcomes in those affected adolescents.

Schauss and Mozhui will enlist the efforts of a team of UTHSC researchers to test levels of environmental toxicants and observe epigenetic and other predetermined biomarkers for their influence on resilience and susceptibility to traumatic childhood experiences.The research team will also investigate to what extent biomarkers can be used to predict successful outcomes for these adolescents. Their work will contribute to nationwide efforts surrounding the impact that ACEs have and their toll on mental and physical health. 

"This is the first of what I hope will be many research collaborations between UTHSC and the UofM which are stimulated by CORNET awards," says Dr. Steven R. Goodman, vice chancellor for Research at UTHSC and founder of the CORNET Awards program. "Our collaborations on the very important and timely subject of ACEs began with the generous support from the State of Tennessee through a $2 million award to the Memphis Research Consortium.There has been wonderful progress made by many UTHSC and UofM investigators. We are helping to continue this momentum with this CORNET Award."

Launched in 2016, the CORNET Awards were created to foster collaborative partnerships between researchers across the City of Memphis, the State of Tennessee, with various academic institutions regionally and globally, and with industry partners. To date,the CORNET Awards program has provided more than $1.7 million in funding to teams of researchers, giving rise to over $14.2 million in extramural funding.

"This collaboration between UTHSC and the UofM is one example of two world-class institutions working together to grow research capabilities and opens the door to future opportunities," says Dr. Jasbir Dhaliwal, executive vice president for Research and Innovation at the UofM and executive director of the FedEx Institute of Technology. "Programs like the CORNET Award showcase stellar research talent, and universities partnering together provides opportunities that benefit not only researchers, but stakeholders at large."


UMRF Ventures Funds Four New Professorships: Honors faculty with achievements in sponsored research

UMRF Ventures, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University of Memphis Research Foundation (UMRF), has awarded four UMRF Ventures Professorships to the University of Memphis. These awards represent UMRF's first dividend investment.

The inaugural recipients, Dr. Anita Boykins, associate professor in the Loewenberg College of Nursing; Dr. Brian Waldron, associate professor in Civil Engineering; Dr. Nate DeYonker, assistant professor in Chemistry; and Dr. Susan Neely-Barnes, professor and chair in Social Work, will hold the UMRF Professorship for two years and will support their research and sponsored programs activities. The honorees were recently awarded these during the fall general faculty meeting held in August.
For more information on UMRF Ventures, visit their website.


University of Memphis Licenses Four New Research Technologies

The Office of Technology Transfer, through the FedEx Institute of Technology, has signed agreements to license four new technologies. These technologies include Engage, Green Living and Caregivers Support, developed by Dr. Susan Elswick, assistant professor in the School of Social Work; and Ultrasonic Dispersion of Cohesive Powders, invented and developed by Dr. Ranga Gopalakrishnan, assistant professor in Mechanical Engineering.

Engage Technology is a cloud-based data collection system that offers real-time data collection capabilities and dynamic reporting opportunities for the user. The Engage system is a data collection tool that allows pedagogical practitioners to gather live data on any student in the classroom for up to three behaviors per student. Numbers can increase based on student needs.

Green Living Technology is an app that allows individuals to plot their green living activities and community concerns on a map so they will be geo-located. This allows for better planning and support of green living along with demonstrating to UofM students, faculty and the surrounding areas how to have sustainable green living practices. The technology is game-based, letting students and faculty receive points for practicing green living and reporting green living issues and activities.

Caregivers Support Technology is a parenting app that answers the many questions parents have about common behaviors such as sleeping, eating and emotional regulation, all provided from a developmental and function-based lens. This app is designed to assists caregivers in improving child behavior, developing healthy social/emotional literacy and enhancing the parent-child bond.
Engage, Green Living and Caregivers Support were licensed to Engage Data System LLC based in Cordova, Tenn. Engage Data Systems is a cutting-edge data collection and reporting company.

The fourth technology, Ultrasonic Dispersion of Cohesive Powders, was licensed to the University of Minnesota. The technology is related to aerosol science and technology, powder technology and spray-based additive manufacturing. It was developed to aid in generating aerosol particles (less than 10 microns in size) of sticky powders such as titanium dioxide and calcium phosphate at high concentration for long periods of time for spray-coating processes. The ultrasonic disperser mechanism was designed at low cost and is able to achieve superior concentration compared to commercially available products and designs.
For more information on these technology license agreements, contact Hai Trieu at hhtrieu@memphis.edu.

Mary Ann Dawson | mdawson@memphis.edu




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