About Eric Si

Research Communications and Events Specialist

Conversation with Anne Maglia, Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation

Anne Maglia was promoted to Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at UMass Lowell in July 2022. Maglia served as the Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Administration and Integrity since 2016 and played a central role in elevating the university’s research enterprise, including increasing total research and development expenditures by more than $26 million.

Prior to joining UMass Lowell, she served at the National Science Foundation as a science advisor and program director for large biological infrastructure such as the $460 million National Ecological Observatory Network.

We recently sat down with Vice Chancellor Maglia to discuss her new role and her plans to elevate UMass Lowell to a top national Research 1 (R1) university.

What are you most excited about starting in your new role?

I’m looking forward to expanding resources and opportunities for our researchers. We have anticipated our growth over the years so we have a solid foundation in place for implementing ideas and initiatives that will propel us to the next stage of research productivity. At the same time, I’m listening to our researchers to learn their needs to ensure we are all able to conduct our work effectively. My new role provides a greater ability to advocate for them.

I am also excited about forming new relationships and cultivating existing ones with academic, industry, government and community partners. We know we can make bigger impacts by aligning with organizations that share our values and goals, and we’re thinking creatively about ways we can collaborate to have real impacts like bringing inventions to market and effecting policy change.

You mentioned anticipating research growth, which has certainly come to fruition. Research activity and expenditures have grown substantially over the past decade. What would you attribute to this success?

We have outstanding faculty, students, and staff who are committed to doing great research. They are creative, smart, pragmatic and incredibly hard working. Our people aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves.

UMass Lowell has also built a culture of truly interdisciplinary approaches to research and innovation, including tackling societal challenges. Our Research and Engagement Centers are a great reflection of this. These centers combine experts from across fields to ensure we’re taking a holistic approach to discovery and viewing challenges from all angles.

We also have a strong (and growing) university commitment to providing resources for researchers such as better start-up packages for new faculty, new CRF equipment, and building and renovating for state-of-the-art buildings and facilities. We’re also growing our “soft” infrastructure of research support including enhancing our central research administration team, adding more college-specific research administrators and providing more proposal support and professional development activities.

How does UMass Lowell become a R1 University?

If we continue to grow (in both research expenditures and Ph.D. graduates) as we have over the last six years, we will likely reach R1 without changing many of our current processes and initiatives. I think the bigger question is how we are going to achieve this goal in a way that benefits the entire campus, is sustainable, and provides new positive opportunities for our faculty and students. We know that will require additional investments in research infrastructure while maintaining our campus culture and teaching excellence.

Are there any new initiatives you are planning to introduce to help UMass Lowell reach R1?

We are in the early stages of strategic planning for our continued research growth, including attaining R1 status. The working groups in our strategic planning committee have been tasked with figuring out how we continue to grow comfortably and sustainably. An early goal for me is to find ways to support Chancellor Chen’s visions of research growth, external partnerships, and student experiential learning. I anticipate that the strategic planning groups will provide many great ideas for how we accomplish these goals.

Student experiential learning is a large part of Chancellor Julie Chen’s visions for UMass Lowell, providing paid career experiences for all students. How do you see the role of research in this endeavor?

I think research can have a great impact here, and I can speak from experience. I’m a first-gen college student and struggled with finding a major that stuck. I eventually quit school and worked in the family restaurant. In my first semester back after deciding to return to college, I took a course that led me to complete a paid independent research experience. I loved it, and I finally found a direction and my passion for biology and research.

Much of my motivation for growing UMass Lowell’s externally sponsored research portfolio is so that we can provide funded research opportunities to any student who wants to participate, especially those for whom a research experience could help them enrich their learning, develop hands-on skills, build self-confidence, and find their career path.

What is the most important thing you have learned or honed that has helped prepare you for your new role?

I think the most important thing for me is to be compassionate and put people first. While it feels great to achieve goals, being kind and helping others succeed is really what makes work feel worthwhile to me. Focusing on people makes other things feel a little less important, and that makes it easier for me not to stress too much over the small stuff.

Celebrating Women Engineers at UMass Lowell

International Women in Engineering Day is celebrated annually on June 23. Learn more about the great work and outstanding accomplishments of just a few of the women engineers at UMass Lowell:

  • Assoc. Dean of Undergraduate Affairs Kavitha Chandra was the first woman to graduate from UMass Lowell with an electrical engineering doctoral degree. Now, Chandra leads the Research, Academic and Mentoring Pathways (RAMP) program which provides incoming first-year female engineering students the chance to get to know the engineering field, the campus and build a network of women in engineering. Learn more about RAMP.
  • Assoc. Prof. Joyita Dutta received a $2.7 million National Institutes of Health grant for her research that aims to build models that predict the progression of tau tangles in the brain, primary markers for Alzheimer’s disease. Read more.
  • Biomedical Engineering Asst. Teaching Prof. Yanfen Li is leading a team of faculty researchers which has been awarded a six-year grant totaling nearly $1.5 million by the National Science Foundation to create a diverse and competitive pool of students who could become future faculty candidates in engineering. Read more.
  • Plastics Engineering Assoc. Prof. Margaret Sobkowicz Kline teamed up with Assoc. Prof. Christopher Hansen to create the Sustainable Water Innovations in Materials – Mentoring, Education, and Research (SWIMMER) program at UMass Lowell. The program aims to protect endangered water resources through training graduate and Ph.D. students to develop sustainable materials and chemicals that will not harm water resources. The program is funded through a five-year $2,998,922 National Science Foundation Research Traineeship award. Read more.
  • Prof. Laura Punnett co-directs the Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace (CPH-NEW) which is a joint initiative between UMass Lowell and the University of Connecticut. Recently, CPH-NEW received a renewal grant of $7 million from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health for their research on safeguarding worker health. Read More.
  • Asst. Prof. Gulden Camci-Unal received a five-year grant worth nearly $2 million from the National Institutes of Health for her research on repairing and regenerating bone. The goal of her research is to design and synthesize novel composite biomaterials to create tiny 3D scaffolds of structures where bone cells can grow in the lab and produce a matrix that gets deposited with minerals to form bone. Read more.
  • Asst. Prof. Marianna Maiaru received a three-year $450,000 Young Investigator Program grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research for her work on process modeling of composite materials. The grant will assist her in advancing the development and processing of high-strength, high-temperature structural materials for the next generation of aerospace vehicles. Read more.
  • Asst. Prof. Yan Gu received a five-year $565,000 National Science Foundation CAREER grant for her research that would develop new methods in modeling, analyzing and controlling the movement of legged robots to keep them stable and upright while walking on nonstationary surfaces. Read more.
  • Asst. Prof. Sheree Pagsuyoin leads the project, Disease Surveillance with Multi-Modal Sensor Network and Data Analytics, also called “DiSenDa.” The project won a $660,000 prize during the inaugural international competition hosted by The Trinity Challenge. “DiSenDa” is a joint research initiative between UMass Lowell and Northeastern University that is creating and testing low-cost automated wireless sensor networks that predict disease outbreaks in the air and in wastewater in real time. Read more.
  • Asst. Prof. Danjue Chen received a five-year $500,000 early-career development award from the National Science Foundation for her research into the complex interactions between self-driving and human-driven cars. Read more.

Rising Researcher: Varun Venoor

“Keep observing and learning,” says Varun Venoor, doctoral student in the Department of Plastics Engineering. Venoor takes this approach in his daily work, and it has served him well. Throughout his educational journey, he has welcomed opportunities to work alongside a variety of mentors, pivoted when necessary and continued to thrive in curiosity, striving always to generate new, unique ideas.

After receiving a Master of Science in Chemical Engineering from The Ohio State University, Venoor jumped at the opportunity to work with his current advisors at UMass Lowell, Prof. David Kazmer and Assoc. Prof. Margaret Sobkowicz-Kline who are both members of the Harnessing Emerging Research Opportunities to Empower Soldiers (HEROES) program.

HEROES is a collaborative research and development center between UMass Lowell and the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center (DEVCOM SC) in Natick, Mass. The center works across disciplines to develop creative and effective solutions related to soldier protection, performance and survivability.

Venoor’s first project with HEROES involved developing composites for transparent ballistic applications. During this project, Venoor had the opportunity to work with Jo Ann Ratto, deputy director of DEVCOM HEROES. From there, Venoor began testing polyamides commonly used in these protective armor applications in order to study how materials respond to adverse conditions such as environmental moisture, processing conditions (temperature, shear rate, etc.) and the concurrent application of several of these factors.

“The way a plastic material interacts with its environment determines how its properties change over time and the rate at which this change occurs. My goal is to understand these complex interactions and material behavior so that such fundamental understanding can be applied towards predicting and controlling manufacturing and material failure in-service,” says Venoor. His fundamental research aids in the understanding of the effect of moisture during the processing of polyamides, which he hopes will inform future product development.

As Venoor continues his work, he is also keen on ensuring sustainability stays at the forefront of his research. He recently had the opportunity to work on a project to understand the processability of biodegradable polymers or bioplastics, and the results were promising.

Recognizing the immense benefit of plastics, Venoor also sees the issue of the amount of plastic waste that is not recycled, and he hopes to help develop a long-term solution. “I want to contribute towards bringing a global change in mindset and awareness on what we consume on a daily basis and how we dispose of them. As a researcher, my goal will be to collaborate with the scientific community to bring about novel technologies to recycle polymers,” says Venoor. By all accounts of his work thus far, he is bound to make the impact he hopes for.

Rising Researcher: Ashley Carey

With the surge of protests against systemic racism coupled with the height of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, Ashley Carey noticed an increasing number of educators participating in antiracist book studies as a part of their professional development. As a former educator and current doctoral student in the Leadership in Education Ph.D. program who has worked with Asst. Prof. Jack Schneider in examining racial segregation and integration in K-12 public schools in Massachusetts, Carey decided to conduct research on the efficacy of these book studies.

We recently sat down with Carey to discuss her work:

Can you tell me about your educational and professional background that led to your journey to UMass Lowell as a doctoral student?

In 2012, I graduated from UMass Lowell with my Bachelor of Fine Arts and went on to teach high school art (drawing and digital photography) in a predominantly Latinx school district. I observed that many of the educational policies designed to help my students, like high stakes standardized testing, were actually negatively impacting their schooling experience.

This experience really sparked my interest in educational policy and I realized the changes I was interested in making couldn’t be made from inside the classroom. So, I made the choice to leave after five years to pursue a doctoral degree.

As a doctoral student, you conduct research for your dissertation. Can you tell me more about your research project and how you became interested in the topic?

During the spring of 2020, as protests in response to anti-Black murders and isolation during the pandemic grew, a lot of white educators I spoke with mentioned that they were participating in antiracist book studies. Book studies include any group of people who are reading a common text and meeting to discuss that text. As a former educator, a white person, and aspiring researcher interested in issues pertaining to racial and social equity in education, this budding phenomenon caught my attention. I started looking into the literature on book studies as antiracist professional development for educators and learned that not a lot of research exists on this topic. So, while it seems really hopeful that educators are actively participating in antiracist book studies, we actually don’t understand if book studies are a suitable means for educator antiracist learning or if antiracist book studies can catalyze deeper change (e.g. in the classroom).

How did you conduct your research? Can you share your preliminary findings?

For this project, we observed a local school district’s antiracist book study sessions. This group of educators voluntarily met over Zoom every other week to discuss a common text they were reading. We observed these sessions with two research questions in mind: 1.) How and to what extent do educators in an antiracist book study engage with conversations about racism? and 2.) How can we use this information to conduct further study of this phenomenon of antiracist teacher reading groups?

One early observation from this project is that participants seemed to block each other’s progress toward discussing racism. We use a traffic metaphor to describe these moments: “red lights,” where conversation diverts from or avoids race and “green lights,” where talk about race is more likely to continue toward a more direct consideration of race that helps educators progress in their own racial identity.

I think there’s an assumption that if there are multiple people who want to learn more about and better understand racism, then it might be helpful to meet in a group. What we know from research is that in predominantly white groups, it is often not helpful because there’s a social pressure to avoid talking about race at all costs.

Can you provide examples of a “red light” and a “green light?”

As an example of a red light, there was one point in the book study where one of the educators had brought up the fact that in their district, a lot of the students enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) classes were white students and that there was a racial disparity in enrollment. Then, another educator reframed the situation as “socioeconomic class issue” suggesting that someone from a lower income might not have the advocacy skills or money to fund test prepping. The idea that one educator started a conversation about race and racial disparity while another reframed it as a socioeconomic issue moved the group away from discussing the direct issue of racism.

In terms of green lights, I can remember a moment where the facilitator showed statistics of demographics of students in their school compared to another regional school. The concrete numbers spurred conversations about differences between the schools and provided a green light opportunity for the participants to engage in a discussion about race, selective admissions and the schools in their community.

What might be the impact of your findings and how might we apply this information to future professional development opportunities?

This study is an important early attempt to understand the strengths and challenges of book studies as an antiracist learning opportunity for educators, especially for our nation’s overwhelmingly white teaching force. In a group setting, educators are not learning solitarily. If the presumed theory of change is that group discussion will enhance and promote antiracist learning, then it is critical to examine how group discussion functions towards that goal. The results from this pilot study can help inform larger future studies on this new addition to the educational landscape. 

Ultimately, my larger goal for this strand of work is to help educators who want to do antiracist work make the most of group sessions by working to avoid “red lights” and promote “green lights” in their book studies. And, to add to the conversation around how professional development opportunities can be harnessed to create meaningful systemic change. 

I know you conducted your observations virtually as the book studies occurred during the pandemic. What types of challenges did you face in this setting and what skills have you learned?

In some ways social interactions take on a different life over Zoom. Do people have screens on or off? Are folks engaged and leaning intently toward their camera? Are there flashes of light across their faces signaling that maybe they are distracted by something else on their computer screen? How do folks react to what their colleagues are saying? There’s a lot of interesting things going on in our little Zoom boxes!  

As researchers we also had to make decisions about when to turn our own cameras on or off. You don’t want to be a little phantom square creeping on the screen, but you also want to be careful not to intrude on the thing you are trying to observe. For me, most of the qualitative research I’ve done has been conducting interviews and focus groups. This was totally different for me because you can’t as questions; you just have to sit, listen and take in as much as you can in this strict observation approach.

Thank you for taking the time to share your work. Before we end this interview, I know you mentioned that you began your studies as a mother to an infant. What type of advice would you give to other moms interested in continuing their education and/or conducting research?

For me, the most important thing has been reframing the relationship between my studies and my family by focusing on what my family is gaining rather than losing by my pursuit of a Ph.D. For example, rather than saying “I’m missing out on family time or failing to fulfill household chores because I’m spending time reading, writing, or working,” I’m careful to remind myself that my daughter is gaining quality time with her grandparents, and she is getting to witness a true partnership when she watches my partner sharing in those household chores. I think for other moms considering an advanced degree, I would urge them to focus on what they are gaining rather than losing or giving up.

Rising Researcher: Alexander Clinton

When Alexander Clinton began studying prejudice and stereotypes as an undergraduate psychology major, he noticed that a majority of research focused on negative empathy when trying to reduce prejudice toward marginalized groups. He wondered if there were any studies that utilized the alternative (positivity) as an intervention. Unable to find sufficient data to answer this question, Clinton is now conducting research as a graduate student in the Applied Psychology and Prevention Science (APPS) program at UMass Lowell to fill the gap.

Negative empathy, as described by Clinton, is an approach whereby people are told why prejudice is bad. When faced with stories of negative historical events or the types of oppression faced by marginalized groups, one might assume that these recounts may change negative perceptions and attitudes. However, Clinton is suggesting the opposite.

“Research has found that telling people about negative events can lead them to feel more negative overall and associate a group with more negativity, and as a result, increase their levels of prejudice for a marginalized group. My current projects attempt to address this problem by trying to foster feelings of positive empathy in the hopes that by associating a marginalized group with more positivity, we may form more positive perceptions,” says Clinton.

Clinton recently published an article entitled “Using Positive Empathy Interventions to Reduce Stigma Toward People Who Inject Drugs” that details his attempts at using positivity as an intervention. In his study, Clinton presented an experimental group of participants with a scenario in which a stranger sits next to the participant and starts a conversation. The stranger compliments the participant and explains that they just started a new job. The stranger also discloses that they are a person who injects drugs and how challenging it was to find employment despite their training and experience in their field. The experimental group also received prompts designed to prime them with positive empathy, such as:

What would you say to the stranger to make him feel better about his current situation? What kind of positive impact do you think your comments will have on the stranger? How can you make a positive impact on other people like the stranger in the future?

All participants answered a questionnaire at the end of the study and the research team determined that those in the experimental group had a lower average stigma score than those groups that did not receive the positive empathy intervention.

Clinton hopes to expand his research in the future by testing long-term effects of these interventions. Rather than simply testing for immediate outcomes, Clinton wants to see if new, positive associations over a course of a longer period of time will result in lasting effects. He also hopes to work with his faculty advisor, Psychology Assoc. Prof. Michelle Haynes-Baratz, an expert in workplace diversity, stereotyping and discrimination, to study how these interventions may be applied to groups that commonly experience bias at work, such as women or people of color.

In addition to his independent research, Clinton also works as a Graduate Student Assistant in the Pediatric Injury Research Lab led by Psychology Asst. Prof. Jiabin Shen, supporting projects related to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) injury prevention and conducting literature reviews for traumatic brain injury (TBI) research.

Next semester, Clinton is also signed up for a practicum with Dr. Robin Toof and the Center for Community Research and Engagement where he is slated work with partner organizations tackling substance abuse. In this field placement, Clinton will engage in quantitative and qualitative data analysis, interviewing, creation of data visualizations and reports, and more.

Being involved in such a diverse set of projects, Clinton is making the most out of his experiences: “Any experience is a good experience. In picking up new topics and researching new things, you start to be able to build different and better skills in your toolbox. You start to be able to help yourself synthesize new knowledge and read research from different fields to learn and grow. All these skills are transferrable to my own research topics,” says Clinton.

Just one year into his studies, Clinton is looking forward to continuing his coursework and hopefully transforming his scholarly work into true impact. “I like the applied nature of the program (APPS) where you can apply research to some tangible, real-world program or service. Being able to work within places, businesses, communities, and organizations is right up my ally,” says Clinton.

Rising Researcher: SaiLavanyaa Sundar

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a heart disease in which the wall of the left ventricle becomes much thinner than that of a normal heart, decreases the blood that is pumped from the heart to other organs and eventually leads to heart failure. DCM affects one in 250 individuals and is known to be the number one cause for heart transplantation in the United States.

“I was interested in conducting research in this area because DCM affects so many people, and the disease often goes unnoticed,” says SaiLavanyaa Sundar, doctoral student in Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology.

Sundar is currently studying protein interactions at the molecular level in order to help understand the molecular mechanisms that may lead to DCM. Cardiac muscles consist of several proteins that interact in a systematic manner to result in contractions that pump blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Previous research has shown that mutations in the proteins, tropomyosin and troponin, lead to alterations in muscle contractility which leads to DCM or other types of cardiomyophathies.

Looking specifically at tropomyosin and troponin, Sundar identified a hydrophobic pocket, a binding site, where specific compounds could be added to counteract the mutations that cause DCM, whereby restoring normal heart function. Working with partners at Boston University, Sundar uses molecular dynamic simulations to screen different naturally identified compounds, such as those derived from plants, to find those that not only have a strong binding affinity to the pocket, but also the ability to affect muscle contractility. So far, a compound commonly found in mulberry trees shows promise.

Sundar continues to screen compounds and to test them in vitro, meaning her project is still very much in its beginning mechanistic stages. Having been recently awarded an American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship worth more than $62,000 over two years, Sundar is grateful to continue her research. With her findings, Sundar hopes to eventually work with partners at Yale University to test the promising compounds in real cells in engineered heart tissue.

Ultimately, by focusing on the molecular scale for diseases such as DCM, Sundar hopes for a future culture shift towards disease prevention rather than treatment. “Right now, most medicine is targeting the symptoms rather than the cause of the disease. What we are trying to do is dial into the molecular level and alter those interactions before the disease progresses. If we can identify the mutations at early stages, then potential drugs could be used as molecular interventions to stop the disease in the first place,” says Sundar.

And though these are lofty goals, Sundar has already shown great success and promise toward contributing to the cause. At such an early stage in her education and career, Sundar has gained invaluable experience working with Prof. Jeffrey Moore in the Department of Biological Science on his project studying hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, has published five papers (two of which she was the first author), and has won multiple UMass Lowell awards including the Graduate Winner in the 2021 Student Research and Community Engagement Symposium, 2020 Outstanding Graduate Student Award in the Department of Biological Sciences, and the 2019 Stephen R. Williams Award for Excellence in Graduate Research.

“The awards and recognition that I have earned at the university level and even at the national level have been a huge boost and validation of my research. Also, as an international student, the support I have received from the members of the Moore Lab and the UMass Lowell community has helped me survive halfway across the globe away from my family,” says Sundar.

Rising Researcher: Ericka Boudreau

As an undergraduate student, Ericka Boudreau found herself in southwestern Oregon collecting samples of sandstone. Boudreau traveled with Asst. Prof. Richard Gaschnig in the Department of Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences to conduct research on the origins and potential movement of rocks along the west coast in North America.

Currently, there is a controversial theory that these rocks were naturally transported thousands of kilometers from south to north between 100 and 50 million years ago in the Mesozoic era. The research team is looking for evidence of this movement (from southern California to southwestern Oregon) through geochemistry, analyzing key element ratios and isotopes in order to find a match in geochemical data to that of other terrains.

In doing so, the team’s study may shed light on what Earth may have looked like millions of years ago. Stemming from evidence of the existence of the supercontinent Pangea, geologists are still piecing together how the supercontinent fragmented into the current continental landmasses. “Our work is based on being able to reconstruct the past, examine what the Earth looks like in the present, and perhaps predict what it may look like in the future,” says Boudreau.

During the three-day hike, the team collected 31 samples of rocks including sandstone, conglomerate and shale, which were eventually shipped back to UMass Lowell for study. In the lab, Boudreau helped prepare the samples for analysis by washing and pulverizing the rocks to look like fine-grain sand. Then, they ran them through a water table to remove clay-sized particles and also through a chemical called iodomethane to concentrate the heavy minerals that contained the information they were looking for. Eventually, a small fraction of the minerals were observed under a microscope and processed through specialized instruments for a set of data including ages and trace elements.

Boudreau, who received her Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science at UMass Lowell, is currently completing her master’s in Environmental Studies with an Environmental Geoscience concentration and analyzing all the data for her thesis. Much of the work involves reading the findings from previous research to make connections to her own collected samples. Boudreau is specifically looking at five minerals (zircon, monazite, titanite, garnet and rutile) and comparing her data with that of others to support a place of origin. For example, rutile is a mineral that records thermal events and metamorphism, so when analyzing her own dataset, she can research metamorphic events that happened during the age bracket of the rocks she collected in order to match a location.

As just one example of a type of analysis among many, Boudreau is grateful to be working with Gaschnig who has access to a large amount of data including multiple types of analyses for each mineral. Boudreau was also able to fund additional data after being awarded the Stephen G. Pollock Student Research Grant by the Northeast Section of the Geological Society of America.

Boudreau enjoys playing this detective work in the lab, but also finds joy in being in the environment. When Boudreau signed up to support Gaschnig in his study, she never thought she would have the opportunity to travel for such hands-on experience.

“Being out in the field, it was exciting to see macroscopic events in person. At one of the sites, you could see these different sedimentary layers that were all folded into a big arc so you could tell a big piece of land crashed into that area at one time and folded these rocks. It was cool to see these ancient processes in real life,” says Boudreau.

As Boudreau lives out her passions, she is grateful for her family, friends and community for supporting her journey. Being a mother of two, Boudreau credits her network for helping her balance her schoolwork, research and personal life. And with no plans to stop, sights set on gaining experience in industry and enrolling in a Ph.D program in the future, Boudreau is also looking forward to sharing her love of geology with her kids by taking them to Iceland to see the volcanoes someday.

Finding Stories of Minority Groups in Video Games

Rebecca Richards, associate professor in the Department of English, wants women, queer folk and people of color to know that there is a space for them in the video game community.

While Richards acknowledges the misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and racism that exists in game culture, she is interested in studying the rhetoric of video games that are telling a different story. When Richards examines video games as a part of her research, she looks at the ways in which players receive and interact with the text, storylines, visuals and modes of play to create meaning.

Currently working on her new book entitled Not Playing Around: Feminist and Queer Rhetorics in Video Games, Richards studies how video games create rhetorical actions that may lead to empathy, learning, and socialization outside of the virtual space. More so, she sees a strong potential for video games to include writing and stories that involve the experiences of minority groups.

For example, in one of her recent articles that her new book will expand upon, Richards details the act of “stealth” in video games as a means to simulate how women must sneak past or around national gender norms and rules, as true in the physical world. When a character in a video game is stealthing, they are hiding from and eluding authorities and systems that are in opposition to the character.

Richards explains that in République, a video game that takes place in a dystopian setting, the female protagonist, Hope, is trying to navigate out of a detention center, and the game player takes on the role of a hacker of the facility’s technology in order to support her escape.

“Stealthing in gameplay requires patience and interpreting different signs, and it’s feminized. It’s not aggro (engaging in violence). Stealthing means knowing that people don’t want you to exist and figuring out a way to exist in spite of that,” says Richards.

Considering the format of the game and role of the player in supporting the protagonist with unique approaches opposite to the overtly violent behaviors in a multitude of games, Richards argues that the player can develop empathy for women, immigrants and detainees in the context of the real world.

In addition to stealthing, Richards is also exploring “indie games,” independent games that are more often known for their ability to employ creative freedoms, and the reasons why queer and feminist rhetoric have found a home in the space. Overall, she is examining the power of whose stories are being told, how they are being told and the ways in which these stories are perceived by the audience.

As Richards continues to conduct research for her book, she is also looking forward to finally arriving on campus to begin teaching in-person classes at UMass Lowell. Richards started in her new position during the global pandemic in June 2020 after almost ten years as a professor at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. She is especially excited to teach her “Writing About Video Games” course in Spring 2022 where her students will have the opportunity to play and analyze video games.

“People often recoil when I ask them if they play video games, especially those in minority groups. I want to encourage all people to have fun and build community with video games as a part of their regular media diet. I would like to demystify how women, queer folk and people of color are playing games and where they are finding inspiration and joy, and helping others find that joy too,” says Richards.

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.