Huntsville, AL, United States

University of Alabama in Huntsville
Huntsville, AL, United States

The University of Alabama in Huntsville is a state-supported, public, coeducational research university, located in Huntsville, Alabama, United States, is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award baccalaureate, master's and doctoral degrees, and is organized in seven colleges: business administration, education, engineering, honors college, liberal arts, nursing and science.UAH is one of three members of the University of Alabama System, which includes the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Alabama located in Tuscaloosa. All three institutions operate independently, with only the president of each university reporting to the Board of Trustees of the system. The university enrollment is approximately 7,500. Wikipedia.

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Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration | Branch: | Program: STTR | Phase: Phase I | Award Amount: 124.63K | Year: 2016

The technical innovation proposed here is the introduction of torch-augmented spark ignition for high performance liquid oxygen (LOX) / propylene rocket engines now in development for a future two-stage nanosat launch vehicle. Spark ignition is critical for reliably achieving multiple in-flight restarts of NLV upper stage engines. In addition, this new capability will generate immediate R&D benefits through the streamlining of ongoing LOX/propylene engine testing. By replacing pyrotechnic charges that are the current state-of-the-art method for LOX/propylene engine ignition, spark igniters eliminate the need to install fresh units after each test attempt (a manually intensive and tedious process). Additional operational benefits from eliminating a category of pyrotechnics and ordnance will accrue in logistics and safety.

Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration | Branch: | Program: STTR | Phase: Phase II | Award Amount: 749.93K | Year: 2016

High-energy space radiation from Galactic Cosmic Rays and Solar Particle Events (SPEs) pose significant risks to equipment and astronaut health in NASA missions. Energetic particles from SPEs associated with flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) may adversely affect not only beyond-Low-Earth-Orbit missions, but also aircraft avionics, communications, and airline crew/passenger health. It is crucial to develop a capability to forecast SPEs and their effects on systems to guide planning of mission-related tasks and risk mitigation strategies. CFD Research Corporation (CFDRC), University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), and Vanderbilt University (VU) propose to develop a comprehensive forecasting capability - SPE Forecast (SPE4) - comprising state-of-the-art modules integrated within a novel computational framework. SPE4 will include: (a) the MAG4 code for probability forecasts of flares/CMEs, and SPEs, (b) the PATH code for solar particle transport through the heliosphere, (c) Geant4-based transport calculations including geomagnetic modulation and atmospheric interactions (for avionics) to yield spectra of SPE-induced energetic protons/heavy ions, interfaced to (d) the CR?ME96 code for calculation of resulting effects in electronics. In Phase I, we demonstrated the superior capability of MAG4, PATH, and Geant4 for their respective tasks using a prior solar event case. A controller script was developed for automated code execution and data transfer across interfaces. Functionality of the overall event-to-effects capability was demonstrated using the 28-Sep-2012 event. We developed a concept of the final software product for NASA based on client-server architecture. In Phase II, we will collaborate with VU to interface calculated particle spectra with CR?ME96 to determine single-event effects in electronics. We will enhance robustness, accuracy, and execution speed via improved models and procedures, and demonstrate the software for persistent 24x7 SPE monitoring.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: ELECT, PHOTONICS, & MAG DEVICE | Award Amount: 340.31K | Year: 2016

Abstract Title: The Fundamental Limit of Fiber-Optic Sensors in the Infrasonic Region

Nontechnical: Fiber-optic sensors have been widely used in industry and research. However, one of their fundamental properties, the intrinsic limit of sensitivity, has not been fully understood. Specifically, at infrasonic frequencies (below 20 Hz), there has been no direct observation of the inherent noise in fiber-optic sensors, and the available theories remain inconclusive. The proposed project aims to address this problem by devising a set of experiments to probe the sensitivity-limiting noise in optical fibers and supporting the experimental study with advanced theoretical modeling. By uncovering the physics underlying the ultimate limit of sensor performance at low frequencies, the research will substantially deepen the understanding of infrasonic fiber-optic sensing, allowing future sensor designers to exploit the full potential of fiber-optic sensors at an unprecedented level of sensitivity. Moreover, the novel sensor designs used in the experiments will serve as blueprints for future ultra-sensitive distributed infrasound sensors, which are critical for monitoring mass-destruction weapons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, glacial motions, etc. The project will directly fund multiple students at both undergraduate and graduate levels and will generate capstone and summer research opportunities for college and high school students. It will also help create a new research thrust, precision fiber-optic sensing, at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and improve the presence of NSF in the state of Alabama.

Technical: The overarching goal of the planned research is to understand the physics that sets the ultimate limit of fiber sensor sensitivity at low frequencies. The investigation will primarily focus on direct measurement of the spontaneous thermal noise generated by optical fibers in the infrasonic region. A parallel effort will also be dedicated to the development of a three-dimensional visco-elastic model with concentric structures to describe the thermomechanical noise in optical fibers. To address the challenges facing the measurement of the minuscule thermal noise at infrasonic frequencies, a new sensor design based on a Mach-Zehnder-Fabry-Perot hybrid interferometer will be employed. Preliminary theoretical analysis has shown that such a scheme is able to raise the sensor sensitivity by a factor of 104, hence extending the thermal noise-dominated spectral region to well below 1 Hz. The scientific merit of the proposed research rests upon its primary goal toward uncovering the fundamental physical law of fiber thermal noise. The mystery surrounding the 1/f behavior of fiber thermal noise has puzzled researchers for two decades. There is an urgent need within the fiber-optic sensor community for a thorough investigation specifically targeting the low-frequency characteristics of thermal noise. By leveraging new sensing concepts such as hybrid interferometers, the proposed work will completely transform optical sensing for low-frequency signals and open up a new paradigm of infrasonic technologies.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: EarthCube | Award Amount: 145.91K | Year: 2016

While advances in sensing, hardware and wireless communications are permitting for previously unmeasured phenomena to be observed across unprecedented scales, it is the ability to act on these data that promises to transform modern geoscientific experimentation. The importance of real-time scientific data (data that are used as soon as they are collected) is ever increasing, particularly in mission critical scenarios, where informed decisions must be made rapidly. Many of the phenomenon occurring within the geosciences can benefit from better coverage of real-time data. Geosciences phenomenon range from hurricanes and severe weather, to earthquakes, volcano eruptions and floods and real-time data are essential to understand these phenomena and predict their impacts. The National Science Foundation funds many small teams of researchers that reside at Universities whose measurements can be of benefit to a better understanding of these phenomenon in order to ultimately improve forecasts and predictions. This is where Cloud-Hosted Real-time Data Services for the Geosciences, or CHORDS, fits in.

CHORDS makes it simple for small research teams to make their real-time data available to the research community in standard formats. By following a few simple steps, a CHORDS ?portal? can be created for a research team and their data can be streamed into it very easily. CHORDS can also be used to access data from large NSF research platforms like radars, aircraft, ships and operational networks of sophisticated instrumentation. Once these data are ingested by a CHORDS portal, they are exposed in standard formats and are available to complex scientific tools such as prediction models and other analysis or decision-support systems. Since the CHORDS concept will be exposed to small research teams at Universities, this will allow college students to learn about the importance of real-time data and how to incorporate these data into their analysis. By having more and higher quality measurements available thorough CHORDS, models and other tools can make more accurate forecasts and provide better-informed decisions to mitigate the impacts and improve the understanding of these phenomenon.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: ANIMAL BEHAVIOR | Award Amount: 612.00K | Year: 2016

Some of the most fundamental questions in biology pertain to understanding speciation. A strong driving force in speciation is adaptation to the local environment a population resides in, which can lead to splitting gene pools apart. If two populations of the same species living in distinct environments are adapted to their local ecological conditions, offspring between the two populations may not survive as well and ultimately reduce the exchange of genetic information between populations. It is the formation of this genetic isolation that can lead populations to become different species. This study focuses on two populations of a cactus-breeding fly, Drosophila mojavensis, which live in different environments, use different cactus species, and have distinct larval behaviors. In one population the larvae feed on small cactus pads (prickly pear) and dont move much, while the other population feeds on larger cactus (organpipe) and move more and faster. Capitalizing on the rich genetic toolkit for Drosophila this study will identify the genes responsible for these differences and determine how changes at the gene level can lead to different behaviors and population isolation. Information from this research will be shared with the science community through publications and presentations. The investigator will mentor students through research in behavioral genetics and will use the funded techniques in research-focused college courses. Also the investigator will partner with local high schools to expose students to research at the university level.

Understanding the evolution and underlying genetics of alternative larval behaviors could be instrumental in elucidating how adaptation to local ecological conditions can lead to the divergence of populations, speciation, and how genotypes lead to behavioral phenotypes. Ecological adaptation has a significant influence on the variation seen in behavioral strategies. In saprophytic and phytophagous insects the properties of the plant host have been shown to greatly influence the pattern of genomic, metabolomics, physiological, life history and behavioral variation. It is this divergent, ecologically-driven adaptation to a hosts properties that can drive the evolution of reproductive incompatibilities between host populations and lead to the formation of species. This study will focus on the variation of larval activity, and its underlying genetic control, of the cactophilic Drosophila mojavensis. Distinct populations of D. mojavensis have nutritionally and chemically distinct cactus hosts, which are associated with different larval behaviors. The study will examine the physiology and life history consequence of the distinct behaviors and link it to the transcriptional and genomic changes between the distinct cactus host populations of D. mojavensis. A quantitative trait loci analysis will examine the genetic underpinnings of larval behavior. CRISPR-Cas9 knockouts and transgenics will be generated to quantify the functional role of the candidate behavior QTLs in an ecological context and examine the life history consequences of variation at these loci and provide a strong examination of genotype to phenotype level questions.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING | Award Amount: 329.71K | Year: 2016


The stress of rapid population growth, shortage of fresh water sources, a changing climate, and impaired water sources due to industrialization and urbanization presents a major challenge to water treatment technologies. To better insure high quality drinking water, new, innovative, and cost effective processes are needed. This project is potentially a transformative step to enhance catalytic ozonation for the destruction of emerging contaminants of concern. Advanced oxidation processes usually involve generation of hydroxyl radicals and can be used to remove recalcitrant organic contaminants in water and wastewater. However, the current advanced oxidation processes are usually energy intensive and may form undesired byproducts. This project will examine an enhanced advanced oxidation process as an alternative solution.

This project seeks to investigate an innovative advanced water treatment process involving plasmon-enhanced catalytic ozonation to circumvent the limitations of current advanced oxidation processes which fall short of high energy efficiency and low by-product formation. When the frequency of photons (i.e. wavelength of the irradiating light) matches the natural frequency of surface electrons, localized surface plasmon resonance occurs, resulting in strong oscillations of the surface electrons against the positive nuclei background. Plasmonic metals (e.g. Ag, Au, and Cu) support surface plasmon polariton where electromagnetic waves couple to the collective oscillations of valance electrons. It improves solar energy conversion efficiency by enhancing the light absorption in the semiconductor (e.g. TiO2) and directly transferring the plasmonic energy from the metal to the metal oxide support to induce the charge separation. The proposed multidisciplinary research represents one of the first attempts to systematically investigate and utilize the plasmonic effect in advanced water/wastewater treatment. The underlying hypothesis is that the catalytic ozonation of recalcitrant organic compounds can be achieved at a much higher efficiency with minimum by-products formation by using plasmonic effects of copper-based catalysts (earth abundant metal) on metal oxide supports. Irradiating plasmonic nanoparticles with targeted geometric and plasmonic properties with light at their plasmon frequency will facilitate the generation of radical species via ozone decomposition and lead to more complete oxidation of organic contaminants (low organic byproducts formation). The results of the proposed work will provide insights into the novel treatment technology, data for process performance, guidelines for catalyst design and synthesis, and information of fate and transformation of representative emerging contaminants through advanced treatment processes. With LEDs (light emitting diodes) as the light source, this innovative process can be easily implemented in water treatment especially where ozone is used for disinfection. It can also be used in advanced treatment of wastewater for direct/indirect potable reuse. The overarching hypothesis is, that the catalytic ozonation of recalcitrant organic compounds can be achieved at a much higher efficiency with minimum byproducts formation by using plasmonic effects of copper-based catalysts (earth abundant metal) on metal oxide supports. To test this hypothesis the PIs will: (1) Design and synthesize Cu-based catalysts with targeted geometric structure and plasmonic properties using colloidal chemical synthesis as well as atomic layer deposition; (2) Test the catalysts in laboratory plasmon-enhanced catalytic ozonation process focusing on the degree of mineralization, inhibition of bromate formation, and catalyst reusability and stability; (3) Identify the active sites of the catalysts investigate the reaction mechanisms; and, (4) Apply plasmon-enhanced catalytic ozonation in various water matrices including surface water, secondary effluent and reverse osmosis (RO) concentrate produced during water reuse. The PIs have also developed a detailed and comprehensive educational plan that involves graduate and undergraduate students, and high school students working in their laboratories.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: FED CYBER SERV: SCHLAR FOR SER | Award Amount: 500.00K | Year: 2016

The industrial control systems used throughout critical infrastructure are often designed, built, operated, and maintained by engineers from domains related to the physical process being controlled. For example, chemical engineers design refineries, civil engineers design structures, and mechanical engineers design industrial robotic industrial control system. Cybersecurity is a critical concern for these systems. Exploited systems can cause financial and physical harm to society. Engineers and cybersecurity analysts must work together to securely provision, operate and maintain, and protect and defend critical industrial control systems. Chemical, mechanical, and civil engineers design and operate industrial control systems while cybersecurity personnel are tasked with designing, maintaining, and operating cybersecurity controls for the industrial control system. There is a lack of knowledge overlap among these two groups which can lead to misunderstandings among the two groups and slow the adoption of security controls for these critical systems. The objective of this project is to develop educational tools and coursework to narrow the knowledge gap between these groups and result in larger populations of domain engineers with cybersecurity expertise, and likewise, larger populations of cybersecurity analysts with domain engineering expertise.

This project will develop a set of building blocks and methodologies for designing virtual industrial control system test beds. These reusable building blocks will be used to develop 3 virtual industrial control system test beds from civil, mechanical, and chemical engineering respectively; an active mass damper system, an industrial robot, and a distillation tower. Cybersecurity lectures and laboratory exercises will be designed for integration into existing classes in civil, chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering. Also, a set of industrial control system cybersecurity lectures and laboratory exercises will be developed and added to an existing Intro to Cybersecurity Engineering course offered to computer engineering and computer science students. We expect this project to train approximately 125 students per year at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) from the civil, chemical, computer, electrical, and mechanical engineering programs and we expect large national impact due to sharing of lecture materials, laboratory exercises, and the virtual control system test beds with faculty at other universities.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: SOLAR-TERRESTRIAL | Award Amount: 125.11K | Year: 2016

Improving the forecasts of the drivers of space weather has broad social impact. Given the continuously increasing dependency of humanity on satellites, which can be endangered by severe space weather caused by solar flares and CMEs, this research is of high importance and priority and is urgent. Additional broader impact includes the improved accuracy in the alert for geomagnetic storms causing damages to e.g., power grids and transformers, satellites and humans in space.

This three year project is focused on identifying the magnetic parameters that drive solar explosive events. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are the primary drivers of space weather. Forecasts of their probability of occurrence and relative magnitude, are critical for the protection of national assets in the geospace environment. Both flares and CMEs are the results of explosive release of energy stored in the coronal magnetic field. The free magnetic energy released is energy in excess of the potential magnetic field configuration of the source active region (AR). The nonpotentiality of ARs can be inferred from various twist parameters, free-energy proxies and size parameters, most of which require vector magnetograms (all three components of magnetic field) for their measurement. The team will use HMI vector magnetograms to measure various nonpotentiality parameters of source ARs and determine the parameter or combination of them for best forecasting using a method they have previously developed. The integration of SDO/HMI vector magnetograms is an improvement on the forecasting capability of MAG4 which currently uses SOHO/MDI. Additionally, the project will add active region CME histories into the existing solar flare database and try to find out relationship between the CME speed/width and the magnetic parameters.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: ENG DIVERSITY ACTIVITIES | Award Amount: 1.24M | Year: 2016

To ensure sustained U.S. competitiveness and prosperity in the global economy, the United States must promote greater growth in its engineering workforce, especially among underrepresented populations. Since its inception, the National Science Foundation has maintained great interest in activities that promote broadening participation among underrepresented groups. To increase participation in engineering, new knowledge must be generated on how best to broadening participation at every juncture of the educational pipeline, including the K-12 level. Very little, if any, research has investigated the factors that influence broadening participation among rural, underrepresented students within the K-12 educational enterprise. In the southern region of the United States, the Alabama Black Belt bears an uneven burden of poverty, where many low income and underrepresented groups are disproportionately affected. With this in mind, the investigators proposed to collect multiple levels of data across 15 school districts in the Black Belt region to pinpoint educational barriers and create action plans that can mitigate and/or eliminate these educational obstacles for rural underrepresented students. This project will likely have a tremendous impact on the engineering workforce in the Black Belt region and beyond.

Using Social Cognitive Career Theory as the theoretical framework, the investigators outlined a comprehensive project to study the issues often associated with low income students and underrepresented students entering the engineering enterprise and determine the educational challenges that they experience with pursuing engineering. Because of the cross-cutting nature of the project, a multi-disciplinary research team, composed of engineers, scientists, education faculty, and research staff, will be formed to execute this comprehensive study. Additionally, advisory committees, representing local, state, and federal interests, will be created to help promote the project and ensure its success with identifying the educational challenges and recommending specific strategies to address the identified challenges.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: COMBUSTION, FIRE, & PLASMA SYS | Award Amount: 180.00K | Year: 2016

1603316 - Fletcher
1603947 - Mahalingam

This project will study how two or more flames in close proximity merge into a single flame. The immediate application for this information is wildland fires in live shrubs, like in the California chaparral. Living vegetation is characterized by its ability to hold large quantity of moisture, unlike dead vegetation. A few leaves are initially ignited, and the flames from the separate leaves merge into one large flame. In a similar manner, flames from individual shrubs merge to often form a more intense fire, capable of spreading faster. For example, flame heights from individual leaves are only 2 to 5 cm, but flames from shrubs may reach heights of 10 to 12 m due to flame merging. Small-scale experiments will be performed on leaves, wood dowels, or popsicle sticks in 3-D geometries to examine how spacing affects flames-merging behavior. Correlations that describe flame-merging will be based on spacing, heat release, and other variables, and then compared with physics-based fluid dynamics simulations. The simulations will further enable direct investigation of merged flame behavior in shrubs and between adjacent shrubs. Generalized correlations of flame-merging behavior derived from the combined experimental and modeling activities can possibly be applied to fires in buildings, factories, fuel piles, and other combustible materials. Findings from this research will be used to develop educational materials for STEM educators and students.

Flame merging has been studied for jets or pool fires spaced in a horizontal plane, and correlations for flame merging behavior have been developed. However, three-dimensional flame-merging is important for ignition of live shrubs, as well as building fires. Small-scale experiments will be performed on solid fuel elements such as leaves, wood dowels, or popsicle sticks as a function of vertical and horizontal separation distance. Experiments will be performed with and without wind. Flame behavior will be monitored with video and IR cameras, and correlations of flame behavior will be developed. Physics-based modeling of the small-scale experiments will be performed to help identify the most important mechanisms for flame merging. The simulations will then be extended to describe flame merging of adjacent shrubs, with and without wind. The scalability of the empirical correlations will be determined by comparison with the multiple shrub simulations. It is expected that such correlations of flame merging behavior will provide a reasonable alternative to time-consuming computational fluid dynamics simulation of large landscape fires.

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