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Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

EECS Awarded NSF Science and Technology Center

Published on December 2nd, 2005 by David Hageman

The National Science Foundation announced April 11 it will establish a prestigious multimillion-dollar research center at the University of Kansas. The new NSF Science and Technology Center will research polar ice and its potential effect on global climate change. This is the second time since 2003 that the NSF has established a major research center at KU.

The five-year award for $19 million is the largest single federal research grant received by KU or any university in Kansas. KU is one of only two universities in the nation to be granted a Science and Technology Center this year.

"The University of Kansas is honored to receive this award from the National Science Foundation," said KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway. "These centers are awarded on a very competitive basis, and only to the top research institutions in the nation. This is confirmation of the research strength of KU."

The Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets - or CReSIS - will be a multidisciplinary, multi-institution research center led by KU, with Elizabeth City (N.C.) State University, Haskell Indian Nations University, the University of Maine, The Ohio State University and Pennsylvania State University as core partners.

Prasad Gogineni, Deane Ackers distinguished professor of electrical engineering and computer science at KU, will serve as the director of CReSIS. David Braaten, associate professor of geography, will be the deputy director.

Gogineni led the effort to win the center for KU. He stressed the importance of the program and the growing need for new research and technologies for polar research.

"The changes taking place in the polar regions are unprecedented," Gogineni said. "Climate change is a major issue. The CReSIS team draws upon the expertise available at KU and world-renowned centers in polar research at partner institutions. In addition, a number of international universities will be drawn in to collaborate. KU has developed an outstanding group in polar research and is collaborating with some of the top polar researchers in the world. KU will be a major player in the coming decades in global research."

The center also is expected to prompt economic and educational improvements throughout the region.

"The University of Kansas is honored to lead this international effort to better understand the role of polar ice in climate change," said Jim Roberts, vice provost for research and president of the KU Center for Research. "CReSIS research will have an impact on Kansas, our nation and the world.

"Just as important, this center will develop new technologies that will spur Kansas industries, teach our children the importance of the global climate system and encourage college students from diverse ethnic backgrounds to pursue careers in engineering and science."

Researchers believe sea level rise associated with melting of polar ice sheets could affect more than 100 million people from all economic levels and decimate coastal areas - some of the most expensive property in the world, Braaten said.

"The polar regions also affect weather systems worldwide, even inland areas such as Kansas," Braaten said.

Using a multidisciplinary approach, CReSIS will work to create new technologies for studying polar ice and new means of interpreting the data. The effort will center on remote sensing technology and integrate expertise in electrical engineering, information technology, aerospace engineering, glaciology and geophysics.

Experts in aerospace engineering will be called upon to develop unmanned air vehicles, or UAVs, for the project, Gogineni said. These new aircraft will play a key role in the program, allowing the research team to gather more complete data from the vast geographic region represented by the ice sheets. The center also will work to develop sensors that acquire data within selected ice drainage basins. Researchers will look for several variables such as surface melt rates, ice thickness and internal layering, ice velocities and ice basal characteristics (temperature, wetness and bed properties, for example). A key innovation of the center will be the ability to design field campaigns to collect a full suite of geophysical and glaciological measurements, guided by satellite measurements and ice-sheet modeling.

The long-term goals of the center are to provide predictions of the future mass balance of the polar ice sheets under a range of possible climate conditions and to increase the number of students and professionals who are contributing to polar research, Gogineni said. Center researchers will analyze the data and develop models to further understanding of ice-sheet change among the broader research community, as well as policy-makers and the general public. The center will develop programs to take the information to students at all educational levels.

Outreach efforts will enhance understanding of the polar regions among K-12 students and their teachers. CReSIS also will develop hands-on opportunities for the next generation of engineers and scientists at both the undergraduate and graduate student level.

The center has a stated goal of developing a highly diverse group of student participants. In addition, undergraduates will have new opportunities to conduct research projects under the guidance of some of the nation's top researchers. The center's governmental and industrial partners will provide students with internship positions. To prepare graduate researchers for academic careers, the center will enlist the assistance of the KU Center for Teaching Excellence. KU CTE will conduct workshops to help doctoral candidates become more effective teachers and educators. Four new teaching fellowships will be created by KU CTE and the KU Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. The goals of the Science and Technology Center program include developing an effective means for long-term scientific and technological research and education. The STC program encourages proposals it considers a high-quality, important investigation at the interface of disciplines.

CReSIS expects to receive almost $19 million from NSF during an initial five-year period. The award will be renewed for an additional five years if the center shows adequate progress. In addition to the funding, KU is creating four new faculty positions - two in engineering and two in the sciences - to take part in CReSIS research and educational activities. The center will draw upon the talents of approximately 40 faculty and staff from the partner institutions at its inception. The center will be housed in Nichols Hall on KU's West Campus.

Learn more about CReSIS at http://cresis.ku.edu.

Story by Jill Hummels