Four Ivan Allen College Teams Awarded Seed Grants for Advancing Multidisciplinary Team Research
Many faculty are experts in one field, but the most innovative solutions to complex problems often require expertise in multiple fields. To drive interdisciplinary research forward at Georgia Tech, the Office of the Executive Vice President for Research has awarded a second round of grants meant to foster the growth of cross-disciplinary teams needed to tackle some of society’s greatest challenges.
Four Ivan Allen College teams received grants to explore their multidisciplinary research:
- Brian Woodall, professor in the School of International Affairs, for the project “Critical Infrastructure, Disaster Resilience, and Megaregion Sustainability”
- Laura Taylor, chair and professor in the School of Economics, for the project “The Health Effects of Air Pollution: An Interdisciplinary Research Program”
- Yanni Loukissas, associate professor of digital media in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, for the project “Planning for a Media Arts Residency at Georgia Tech”
- Rachel Whitlark, assistant professor, and Margaret E. Kosal, associate professor, both in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, for the project “Navigating the Nexus: Climate Change, Clean Energy, and Nuclear Nonproliferation”
“Cutting-edge science increasingly requires a team approach,” said Rob Butera, vice president for Research Development and Operations, and professor in the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech. “The Seed Grant Program is making that happen with a biannual cycle, injecting millions of dollars of funding into our research enterprise so we can solve the tough problems.”
According to Butera, faculty typically start out in their careers by establishing modest research programs, in which they are the sole principal investigator. Their research tends to target relatively narrow goals that can be addressed within their discipline.
Formation of an effective research team can be challenging. “It takes time to develop the right team of contributors,” said Rebecca Terns, director of Research Development at Georgia Tech. “That’s where the Seed Grant Program comes in. It provides the opportunity for faculty to identify the right partners to help them address a problem and develop the skills to be effective together.”
Research sponsors like the National Science Foundation are increasingly providing opportunities to pursue more complex problems through large-scale projects with multidisciplinary teams. These funding opportunities provide multi-million-dollar budgets to support integrated teams of researchers and practitioners from diverse fields across engineering, science, liberal arts, design, and business. These projects often go beyond multidisciplinary research to include related education, community and industry engagement, and workforce development activities. The recently awarded NSF Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Institutes being led by Georgia Tech investigators are large, multidisciplinary projects that include intensive programs in these types of related areas.
Putting together projects of this scope is a huge undertaking. “That's a level of project management complexity and proposal development that faculty are [traditionally] not prepared for,” said Butera. “Our Seed Grant Program prepares them for what’s ahead.”
These larger complex team efforts are supported by the Office of Research Development, formed in April 2020 and led by Terns. The Office provides strategic and practical support to faculty developing proposals for large-scale research programs, such as the JANUS Space Technology Research Institute, which is led by Mitchell Walker, professor in the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering. The goal of the JANUS STRI is to improve testing and development of high-power electric propulsion systems for space flight.
Butera hopes the Seed Grant Program will provide much-needed assistance for faculty who aim to develop proposals and win funding for these sorts of large, multidisciplinary research projects.
However, Butera and Terns emphasize that in addition to larger projects, the seed grants are also meant to support teams in tackling smaller projects that simply require more collaboration than is typical. “We learned from the workshops we held for the 2020 Seed Grant Program that seeking the right collaborators and putting a complete initial team together was an effort that needed support.”
“Larger teams are not a requirement for effective multidisciplinary research,” said Terns. “You want the right size team for the job.”
The Seed Grant Program provides two different types of awards. The first, titled “Forming Teams and Establishing Collaborative Expertise,” aims to support forming new research collaborations. The second award, “Moving Teams Forward,” focuses on advancing collaborations that already exist. For the 2021 funding round, 17 different proposals were awarded a total of approximately $1 million. For the 2022 funding round, 14 proposals were awarded nearly $900,000 total.
The deadline to apply for the next round of funding is March 19, 2022.
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