Research Highlights

The Lee College of Engineering had numerous successes in its efforts to advance research in the past two years. Examples include the establishment of several collaborative research centers with other universities and private industry, and the winning of a record number of research grants. In 2015, the college’s external funding climbed by 26 percent to $13 million in expenditures. The college also submitted 240 proposals, representing 31 percent of all proposals submitted by UNC Charlotte.

In December, 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation named UNC Charlotte as the lead on a five-year $7.7-million project to establish the Center for Advanced Multimodal Mobility Solutions and Education (CAMMSE). Civil and Environmental Engineering faculty will lead this multi-institution center that includes Texas Southern University, the University of Connecticut, the University of Texas at Austin and Washington State University. The new center will conduct multi-disciplinary, multi-modal research, education and workforce development, and technology transfer. Research priority areas include reducing congestion, promoting safety, improving the durability and extending the life of transportation infrastructure, preserving the environment and preserving the existing transportation system.

Electrical and Computer Engineering researchers established the new I/UCRC Metamaterials Center along with Clarkson University, City University of New York and Western Carolina University. The center is working with industry and government laboratories to design, model, fabricate and test artificial materials, known as metamaterials. Materials with unusual electromagnetic properties such as a negative index, zero permittivity or very high permittivities are being studied for microwave up to visible frequencies. Researchers are studying novel patterns of meta-atoms to develop components and devices useful for manipulating microwaves.

Mechanical Engineering researchers provided the metrology infrastructure for a joint Industry-Government-University cooperative research Center for Freeform Optics, with the University of Rochester as the lead. Freeform optics involve an optical element that has no axis of symmetry. Such parts and surfaces can decrease the size of optical instruments and increase efficiency, but are very difficult to manufacture. The Freeform Optics Center was created to launch the permanent introduction of freeform surfaces into the manufacturing infrastructure for optical systems worldwide. Its stated mission is to advance research and education in the science, engineering, and applications of systems based on freeform optics through a dedicated, continuing industrial partnership based on shared value, and promotion of technical advantage leading to a competitive economic advantage for members. A number of affiliates have already joined the program, contributing $48,000 a year towards research projects and graduate students.

The Systems Engineering and Engineering Management Department won a grant from NASA to do computational drawings for a Mars mission space station. The $220,000 three-year project will take into account the psychological and cultural aspects of extended space travel.

Fire Safety Engineering Technology led a multi-institutional study designed to reduce wildfires and mitigate damages due to ignition or fire spread by wind-blown fire embers. Sponsored by the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP), the $420,000 “Fire Ember Production from Wildland and Structural Fuels” project brought together researchers from seven institutions, including the Institute for Business and Home Safety. The purpose of the project is to investigate fire ember production from selected burning wildland and structural (construction materials) fuels under a range of environmental conditions through full-, intermediate- and small-scale laboratory experiments.

The Civil and Environmental Department continued to accelerate its research and involvement in solving the challenges of the storage and use of power plant coal ash waste. The department has more faculty experts involved in coal ash research than any other department in the country, with specializations in disposal, reuse and policy. CEE’s research into the containment and reuse of fly ash accounted for more than $1 million in projects in the past two years. Projects included the physical testing of fly ash and wastewater to optimize stabilization, ground water modeling for areas around ash basins, and the development, waterproofing and application of coal ash concrete. Coal ash efforts in the last year also included the formation of the Coal Ash and Liquid Management (CALM) Office. A partnership between Electrical Engineering and EPIC, CALM is funded through an affiliate program of members. Research is looking at the liquid side of coal ash, including ponds and groundwater, and applications related to fracking.

With the dual purpose of teaching the science and engineering of solar energy and partnering with industry to research methods for producing more-efficient and lower-cost solar cells, the college opened the new Photovoltaic Technology Research Laboratory. Located in EPIC, the new photovoltaic lab contains state-of-the-art equipment donated by TP Solar, a U.S. company based in California.

Engineering Technology research into pavement improvements included development of performance curves for composite pavements, setting appropriate benefit condition jumps for pavement treatments, inclusion of maintenance in life-cycle costs of flexible and rigid pavements, and development and validation of pavement deterioration models and analysis weight factors.

Electrical Engineering faculty in collaboration with the EPRI formed a university-industry consortium known as Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment (GEARED) within the Department of Energy's SunShot program. The objective of the initiative is to develop, train and empower students to become competent and well-informed engineers and influence major technological, social and policy decisions that address critical global challenges of the future electrical grid.

The Systems Modeling and Analytics Research and Teaching (SMART) lab was established on campus with the state-of-the-art software and hardware for energy forecasting.

Civil Engineering researchers completed blast testing for a $247,012 project for the National Institute of Justice. The research will create post-blast investigation tools for structural forensics by developing three-dimensional scene reconstruction and advanced simulations.

Electrical Engineering investigated the coupling of dynamic line ratings systems and temperature-dependent electric power transmission line models. The NSF project developed models that take into account available information on ambient conditions to produce more accurate network operating conditions.

Mechanical Engineering performed research to study functional materials in forms of thin films and nanostructures for electronic and photonic applications, ranging from material synthesis and characterization to device fabrication. The research work focused on metal oxide and metal-based materials for energy harvesting devices such as solar cells and photo-electrochemical cells, and energy-efficient devices such as smart devices, sensors and light-emitting devices.

Engineering Technology completed work for the NCDOT to develop wetland prediction models and automation to reduce fieldwork for wetlands delineation in the NEPA process for various construction projects. The purpose of the project was to develop procedural automation and mathematical modeling to streamline workflow and automate processes. The prediction models have already saved the state more than $350,000.

Environmental engineering researchers completed a pilot-scale study of processes to remove Cryptosporidium from swimming pools via sand filtration. A new Environmental Microbiology Laboratory space was established within the existing environmental engineering laboratory housed in the EPIC building.

Electrical Engineering won a NSF grant to study fault-tolerant brain-implantable cyber-physical systems. The goal of the project is to create a second-generation brain-implantable sensing and stimulating device (BISSD) to treat episodic brain disorders such as epilepsy-based on emerging CPS principles and practice.

A new industry-university collaborative called the Center for Advanced Power Engineering Research (CAPER) was formed comprising UNC Charlotte, Clemson, NC State, and several industry partners. CAPER's goal is to develop comprehensive and integrated methodology for grid modernization.

Construction Management increased its capabilities in building information and asset management with the addition of new faculty with skills in non-geometric building information systems, big data and taxonomy, data envelopment analysis using CMMS output and 3D scanning.

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