Francis College of Engineering: Research and Innovation Updates

FCE Guest Piece – Distributed April 2, 2021

Gu recieves 5-year NSF CAREER Award
Mechanical Engineering Department Asst. Prof. Yan Gu (PI) has won a five-year NSF (National Science Foundation) CAREER award in the amount of $564,702. This CAREER project, titled “CAREER: A Hybrid Filtering and Robust Control Framework for Legged Robot Locomotion on Dynamic Rigid Surfaces”, will create a model-based control framework that could empower legged robots to negotiate complex, dynamic human environments (that are prohibitively challenging for wheeled or tracked robots) to allow them to aid in numerous critical high-risk applications, such as shipboard firefighting and fire suppression as well as cleaning/disinfection of public transportation vehicles to contain the spread of infectious diseases.

Assistant Prof. Yan Gu joined UMass Lowell in September 2017. Gu’s group research interests are modeling, analysis, and control of robot locomotion, especially legged robot locomotion. Her research goal is to achieve versatile, stable, agile, and energy-efficient robot locomotion in unknown complex environments. She is also interested in applying robotics knowledge and skills to revealing the fundamental principles of human and animal locomotion biomechanics as well as investigating robot-assisted human walking.

The CAREER research program seeks to solve fundamental problems in legged locomotion control so as to lay a foundation for the development of next-generation legged robot systems capable of autonomous navigation on nonstationary surfaces.

The CAREER education program will enhance the robotics curriculum at the University of Massachusetts Lowell while engaging diverse groups, including underrepresented undergraduate and graduate students, K-12 students, and the general public, in robotics education and research.
Maiaru receives 3-year NASA Award
Assistant Professor Marianna Maiaru recently received a three-year, $750k NASA Program titled “ICME Optimization of Advanced Composite Components of the Aurora D8 Aircraft”. 

Within this project, Dr. Maiaru will lead a team of experts from government, industry, and other universities including, NASA, Aurora Flight Sciences, HyperSizer, and Michigan Technological University. This highly specialized award is the second project ever sponsored on Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME) of Composites and sets UML as a leader in the new field of ICME of composites. 

Assistant Professor Maiaru joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UMass Lowell in the fall of 2016. Her doctoral work, performed as a collaboration between the Turin Polytechnic Institute and the University of Michigan, resulted in the development of computationally light multi-scale approaches for the progressive failure analysis of fiber-reinforced composite structures using higher-order Finite Element Methods. Before joining the faculty at UMass Lowell, Maiaru was a Research Associate in the William E. Boeing Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics at the University of Washington and, before that, a Research Associate in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan. 

UMass Lowell Researchers Work Toward a Greener Economy

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded UMass Lowell researchers $1.8 million to develop recyclable plastics and manufacturing technologies to help the country reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and improving its environmental sustainability.

The grant is funded through the REMADE Institute, a public-private partnership created by the DOE to help the U.S. move toward what’s known as a “circular economy,” in which waste is eliminated as much as possible by continually reusing and recycling resources.

The UMass Lowell project will seek ways to improve the recycling of plastic films from industrial and consumer goods that typically end up in landfills. The research aims to create new uses for plastic waste and possibilities for the re-manufacturing of sustainable products. Innovative plastics-processing technologies developed by the researchers and industrial partners would create opportunities for manufacturers across the country. Davide Masato, assistant professor of plastics engineering, is leading the project with Margaret Sobkowicz-Kline, associate professor of plastics engineering.

“UMass Lowell has been a partner with REMADE since the institute’s founding in 2017. As a nationally recognized research university for plastics engineering and manufacturing, UMass Lowell leads the way in advocating and promoting increased efforts by the U.S. plastics industry to adopt more sustainable manufacturing practices,” said Prof. Sobkowicz-Kline.

Industry partners working with UMass Lowell on the project include SER North America LLC, a material supplier which focuses on sustainable plastics, along with iMFLUX Inc., a P&G company that develops injection molding innovations in support of sustainable manufacturing. This research collaboration will provide UMass Lowell engineering students opportunities to work closely with engineers at the partner companies.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, manufacturing accounts for 25% of U.S. energy consumption at a cost of approximately $150 billion. The industry is the third-largest contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions in the nation at 22%, according to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. REMADE and its partners are working to reduce those numbers, while creating new, clean-economy jobs, according to REMADE Chief Executive Officer Nabil Nasr, who said the UMass Lowell project will move the U.S. closer to achieving the nation’s environmental and manufacturing targets.

“Our mission is to reduce energy consumption and decrease emissions while increasing the country’s manufacturing competitiveness. Our experts are working diligently to reach these critically important goals and, in the process, accelerate the U.S.’s transition to a circular economy,” Nasr said.
Stapleton Receives NASA TTT Project Award
Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor, Scott Stapleton, Ph.D.,and Computer Science Assistant Professor Farhad Pourkamali, Ph.D.,recently received a three-year, $518k project award entitled “Multi-Scale models based on Machine Learning and a Fiber Network Model”, funded through the NASA “Transformational Tools and Technologies (TTT)” project, Subtopic: “Ultra Efficient Multiscale Methods and Methodologies”.

Dr. Stapleton joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell as an Assistant Professor in the Fall of 2015. Before joining the faculty at UMass Lowell, Dr. Stapleton was first exposed to composites research while he was earning his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah, as well as a Masters and Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan, funded by NASA Glenn Research Center to create a novel finite element tool to predict the behavior of adhesively bonded joints. After graduating, he worked for two years at the Institute of Textile Technology at RWTH Aachen University in Germany as the head of the Simulation of Composites research group. He then spent a year at the Institute of Applied Mechanics at RWTH Aachen University where his research focused on modeling textile-reinforced tissue-engineered heart valves.

Students Make Big Moves for UMOVE

There’s no sophomore slump for the annual UMOVE Student Research Symposium. The UMass Movement Research Center (UMOVE) recently held its 2nd annual symposium and welcomed more than double the number of participants that attended the inaugural event. Students, faculty, staff and experts from the university and in the region gathered to share and discuss innovations in biological movement, and more importantly, to learn about the research conducted by students.

Julia Schneider, a graduate student pursing a master’s degree in Biotechnology, was the graduate poster winner of the day. She presented her project studying a protein which is involved in heart muscle contraction. Alterations in this protein are responsible for heart diseases such as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) which is the leading cause of heart transplants in the United States. “With increased knowledge and understanding of heart function and alterations, it is my hope that new therapies can be developed for people suffering from heart diseases such as DCM,” says Schneider.

Other students are also focusing on understanding proteins and their role in human health and performance. Colleen Kelly, a PhD student in Chemistry at UMass Lowell and winner of the symposium’s student talk competition, is conducting research on immunoglobulin domains in the muscle protein, titin, and the correlation between its mechanical and chemical unfolding. Proteins must take shape in order to function properly, and if they do not fold correctly, medical complications may develop. Kelly uses magnetic tweezers to study the mechanical folding of domains in muscle protein which helps determine the parallels between mechanical behaviors and chemical manipulations derived from previous studies.

In addition to presentations, students were also tasked with planning and managing the entire symposium. From coordinating the keynote speaker, Michael Previs, assistant professor of molecular physiology and biophysics from the University of Vermont, to managing sponsors such as the Biophysical Society, a team of students made the event a true success. Matthew Gage, associate professor of chemistry and director of UMOVE, intentionally relies on student leaders of the center, offering a unique professional development opportunity in addition to the students’ technical science-based learning.

Keynote Speaker: Michael Previs, assistant professor of molecular physiology and biophysics, University of Vermont

Gage looks forward to continuing the UMOVE Student Research Symposium: “I believe it is important to provide as many opportunities as possible for students to present their work and to get feedback on what they are doing, especially from their peers. We are starting to see students have a broader perspective in their understanding of how their research impacts more than their specific field, and we anticipate that will grow in the future.”

As evidenced by the symposium, UMOVE is not only living up to its promise to engage, train and support the next generation of scientists, but the center is poised to expand in its other values. UMOVE was recently designated as an official UMass Lowell research seed center with its strong potential for increased research funding, synergistic activities and interdisciplinary work.

Gage hopes to build upon and increase collaborations among faculty across the university in the future. By applying a strong interdisciplinary approach combining comparative biology, nutrition and public health, UMOVE already transcends the capabilities and offerings of traditional biomechanical centers. With an array of expertise and perspectives from UMOVE members, the Center is making strides in its goal of understanding the principles of movement and ultimately translating basic discovery into clinical applications that address movement related issues in health, injury rehabilitation and injury prevention. It’s safe to say UMOVE is moving in the right direction.

Center for Program Evaluation Celebrates Five Years of Improving Institutions

Co-directors of the Center for Program Evaluation, Jason Rydberg (left) and Jill Hendrickson Lohmeier (right)

“Educational research and evaluation is applicable to all fields,” says Jill Hendrickson Lohmeier, associate professor of education and co-director of the Center for Program Evaluation (CPE) at UMass Lowell. Reflecting on the last half-decade of progress at CPE’s recent 5-year anniversary celebration, Lohmeier recounted the extensive interdisciplinary work the center has completed with at least 50 faculty members representing all six colleges on campus.

Since becoming an official research seed center in 2013, the Center for Program Evaluation has supported not only the university but also the regional community in improving programs and services. From its project work on 24 grants and contracts representing more than $900,000 in funding to completing 57 evaluation reports, the CPE has evaluated programs for an array of institutions including higher education, K-12 education, and government agencies.

Program evaluation is critical to education and any organization seeking to strengthen the quality of its programs. Evaluation offers a close examination, in a systematic and structured approach, of program effectiveness in practice. With an inquiry-based, data-driven method, structural, programmatic and policy changes are made to improve outcomes, a reality which the CPE has proudly seen and influenced among many of its partners.

Center for Program Evaluation staff, students, and supporters from left to right: Siffat Sharmin, Graduate Research Assistant; Bangsil Oh, Post-Doc Researcher; Shanna Rose Thompson, Center for Program Evaluation Manager; Sarah Elizabeth McDermott, Undergraduate Research Assistant; and Stacy Penna, NVivo Community Director, QSR International (Americas) Inc.

As program evaluation becomes more widely adopted and with increases in demand, the Center for Program Evaluation affords its students hands-on, experiential training with the opportunity to work on real projects. Over the years, the CPE has employed a total of 27 graduate, undergraduate and even high school students. Truly interdisciplinary in nature, these students come from a variety of majors including education, global studies, criminal justice, psychology, history, chemistry and engineering. With real-world experience in hand, 10 of these students have earned a PhD or EdD, many have contributed to the more than 50 conference presentations by CPE, and five students have won an award at the annual Student Research and Community Engagement Symposium.

In addition to training students, the Center for Program Evaluation offers monthly brown bags and interdisciplinary workshops to the public.

“There is a holistic approach to program evaluation at this center. Not only do they practice program evaluation, but they also train student and faculty researchers and they focus heavily on evaluation research. The uniqueness of this center is that all three of those work in coordination, which puts them in a position to take a national leadership role,” says Anne Maglia, associate vice chancellor for research at UMass Lowell.

While encouraged by the center’s accomplishments throughout the years, Jason Rydberg, the newly appointed co-director of the Center for Program Evaluation and assistant professor in the School of Criminology and Justice Studies, is enthusiastic about the next five years. With eyes set on becoming a full research center, creating an advisory board, enhancing future workshops, and continuing to contribute impactful research and theory to the field, the Center for Program Evaluation is rapidly growing and improving alongside the partners it supports.

Welcome to the UMass Lowell Research Blog

UMass Lowell researchers in a laboratory in 1894 vs. 2019

UMass Lowell is a nationally ranked public research university at the forefront of cutting-edge, applied research. With a multidisciplinary, visionary approach, our faculty and students translate discoveries into practical solutions that solve the world’s greatest challenges.

Join us as we share an insider look at the groundbreaking research conducted at the university. As we ring in the new year with a new blog, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate the highlights from 2019, a year that marked the 125th anniversary of our storied history.

Looking back at a full year of accomplishments, we are energized and eager for a bright 2020.

Review the research highlights from 2019