The University of Texas at San Antonio is a state research university in San Antonio, Texas, United States. With over 37,000 students, it is the largest university in San Antonio and the fifth-largest in the state of Texas. Its three campuses span over 747 acres of land, with its main campus being the largest in the University of Texas System. UTSA offers a wide array of academic studies, with 133 undergraduate, 51 graduate and 24 doctoral programs. In 2012 and 2013, it was selected by Times Higher Education as one of the best universities in the world under 50 years old.UTSA is a member of the Oak Ridge Associated Universities, a consortium of the nation's major doctorate-level universities dedicated to collaboration and scientific advancement. It is an institutional member of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, recognizing its influence and role as a Hispanic-serving institution. UTSA is also a member of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, an organization of public institutions that seek to both offer educational excellence and opportunities to historically under-served populations.Established in 1969, UTSA has evolved to become one of the largest institutions within the UT System. Through an aggressive expansion of its academic funding, the university devoted over $56 million to research in 2011. Its NCAA record-breaking football team has competed in Conference USA since 2013, previously playing a stint in the WAC and as an FCS independent.Alongside seven other emerging research institutions, The University of Texas at San Antonio is currently in competition to become Texas' third flagship university. Wikipedia.
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: EXTRAGALACTIC ASTRON & COSMOLO | Award Amount: 387.21K | Year: 2016
A fundamental question in astrophysics is how black holes in active galactic nuclei (AGN) are fueled, because black hole fueling affects how galaxies are formed and evolve. The AGN themselves, lying at the very center of the galaxies, are explained as having a torus of gas and dust that blocks light from the inside, and can obscure the AGN central engine (the black hole). However, astronomers dont fully understand the exact properties of the torus, and directly viewing the torus with telescopes is extremely difficult. In this proposal, the PI plans to address the key questions of: (a) What material makes up the torus, and how is it connected to the rest of the gas and dust between the stars of the host galaxy? (b) How do the torus properties, such as geometry and thickness, depend on the brightness of the AGN? (c) Do the properties of the dust in the torus change with the AGN brightness? and (d) What is the role of star formation near the AGN in the centers of galaxies in feeding and/or blocking AGN? Answers to these questions will provide insight into how the AGN is fueled by gas in the galaxy and how that might have an impact on the formation of the galaxy itself.
Through the PIs network of collaborators, the proposed work will aid in furthering links in astronomy in the developing nation of Mexico, and it promotes involvement of US Spanish-speaking team members, primarily Hispanics, through connections with Spain and Mexico. The PI also plans to work with local high-school teachers to enhance their understanding and teaching of astronomical topics. In this way, he hopes to reach local school children in the San Antonio area, an area of high diversity, providing high quality scientific content, and encouraging the students (including underrepresented minorities) to pursue scientific fields. The intent is to use the interesting astronomical content as a gateway to STEM subjects.
Observations at mid-infrared (MIR: 7-26 microns) wavelengths are essential, as the torus intercepts a large amount of electromagnetic radiation emitted from near the black hole and re-radiates it in this waveband. MIR facilities such as the 8m Subaru telescope and the Gran Telescope Canarias (GTC) offer the possibility to probe the centers of AGN at MIR wavelengths with high spatial resolution.
Models assuming clumpy dust distribution in AGN are making significant progress explaining MIR emission. High-resolution observation will help constrain model parameters and provide insight into torus physical properties. This proposal would fund analysis of data from ~100 hours of guaranteed time (GT) on the GTC and an additional 180 hours of ESO-GTC time (jointly ESO and GTC allocated time, competitively awarded as part of Spains ascension to ESO membership). This would be combined with archival data from Gemini to tackle a key problem in AGN research.
A detailed understanding of the torus, the AGN/black hole fueling process and its relationship to (or even creation of) the torus, the interaction with the host galaxy, and dust chemistry in other galaxies will be constructed. Simulations based on current data to prepare new observations for next generation facilities (such as SOFIA, JWST, TMT, etc.) are planned.
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: CRII CISE Research Initiation | Award Amount: 174.73K | Year: 2016
Title: CRII: SHF: EVID: Evidence-Assisted Detection and Elimination of Memory Errors in Single and Multi-threaded Programs
Despite decades of efforts, most real-world C/C++ software is still deployed with memory errors. Existing approaches either introduce significant performance overhead (for detection) or only partially defeat memory errors. The intellectual merits of this project are an evidence-assisted approach (EVID) for dynamic analysis and prevention of memory errors. The projects broader significance and importance are in (a) efficient and precise detection tools that significantly reduce manual effort in locating and fixing memory errors; (b) the improvement of availability and security of software systems; and (c) outreach to underrepresented groups such as Hispanic students.
This project proposes several techniques to detect and prevent memory errors, which can greatly reduce zero-day vulnerabilities and improve the reliability/security of software systems. EVID employs the following insight: it is often possible to discover the evidence of errors such as buffer overflows, use-after-frees, and memory leaks, after-the-fact. Assisted by the evidence, this project utilizes deterministic and instrumented re-execution to pinpoint the exact causes of memory errors in both single and multithreaded programs. EVID further proposes an innovative system that automatically eliminates detected memory errors, without restarting the software or compromising its availability. Thus the tools developed in the project have a direct impact on improving robustness of national cyberinfrastructure.
Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: Molecular Biophysics | Award Amount: 270.27K | Year: 2016
With this award, the Chemistry of Life Processes Program in the Chemistry Division and the Molecular Biophysics Cluster in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Division are funding Dr. Aimin Liu from Georgia State University to characterize 3-hydroxyanthranilate-3,4-dioxygenase (HAO). This enzyme performs oxidative ring-cleavage at the meta position of six-membered aromatic rings in a reaction known as extradiol dioxygenation. HAO is a prototypic member of extradiol dioxygenases built upon a cupin structural fold (known as type III extradiol dioxygenases). The goal of this project is to study the substrate recognition, oxygen binding, activation, selective targeting, and to identify the intermediates of the reactions catalyzed by HAO. Furthermore, the Liu lab seeks to identify the role of an additional rubredoxin-like Fe(Cys)4 center of the enzyme, which is not required for catalysis but is conserved in bacterial enzymes. The research aims to build a framework for understanding the mechanism of these enzymes and common steps shared by extradiol dioxygenases. The chemical, structural, and spectroscopic properties of iron-bound oxygenated intermediates will help illuminate iron-dependent oxygen activation and oxidation mechanisms.
The incorporation of molecular oxygen into organic molecules is one of the most important metabolic processes in nature and its ultimate purpose is energy extraction. The Liu laboratory studies the mechanism by which a particular enzyme accomplishes this task. Knowledge created by the lab advances the understanding of oxygen activation and its specific incorporation into metabolites. The scientific questions are answered by using biochemical methods, spectroscopic tools, X-ray crystallography, and computational modeling. This multidisciplinary pursuit creates substantial opportunities to engage science students, including members of groups underrepresented in science, in research at the frontier of chemistry and biology. The knowledge gleaned from the research are incorporated in the biochemistry and bioinorganic chemistry curriculum.
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: MAJOR RESEARCH INSTRUMENTATION | Award Amount: 527.27K | Year: 2016
With this award from the Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI) and support from the Chemistry Research Instrumentation Program (CRIF), Professor Michael Doyle from the University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) has acquired a 500 MHz NMR spectrometer equipped with a broadband probe. This spectrometer allows research in a variety of fields such as those that accelerate chemical reactions of significant economic importance, as well as the study of biologically-relevant species. In general, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is one of the most powerful tools available to chemists to determine the structure of molecules. It is used to identify unknown substances, to characterize specific arrangements of atoms within molecules, and to study the changing interactions between molecules in solution or in the solid state. The results from these NMR studies have an impact in synthetic organic/inorganic chemistry, materials chemistry and biochemistry. This instrument is located a general user facility managed by highly qualified scientists and is an integral part of research, research training and teaching in the Departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry at this institution. The spectrometer helps in the overall university mission by providing students in South Texas with NMR knowledge and enabling their success in the chemical/engineering workforce. Several other regional universities: Texas Lutheran University, St. Marys University, TAMU Kingsville and the University of Incarnate Word also use the instrument through collaborations.
The award is aimed at enhancing research and education at all levels, especially in: (a) synthesizing heterocyclic compounds enantioselectively; (b) exploring new catalytic approaches to the highly stereoselective syntheses of structurally complex organic compounds; (c) characterizing the dynamic conformational changes of proteins; (d) exploring bioinorganic chemical catalysis, and (e) synthesizing and biophysically understanding biomaterials.
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: I-Corps | Award Amount: 50.00K | Year: 2017
The broader impact/commercial potential of this I-Corps project stems from the use of infra-red visualization technology?s ability to offer patients and medical practitioners at hospitals and clinics a cost-effective way to reduce discomfort during procedures requiring peripheral vascular access. The mobility and simplicity of the visual display also allow same solution to be used by patients and health care professionals outside the walls of traditional institutions, and in settings where there is currently limited or no access to them. Missed vascular access attempts are estimated to cost the U.S. healthcare system $6 billion dollars annually, and patient satisfaction is currently tied to Medicare reimbursement. Vascular access is one of the most frequently preformed procedures in hospitals, and the proposed device provides an affordable opportunity for those facilities to improve patient satisfaction across a broad patient population. Blood banks and donation centers rely on volunteers for their supply and the satisfaction of such donors is crucial to their ability to recruit future volunteers or repeat-donors. These facilities are strongly incentivized to provide as positive a patient experience as possible, starting with minimizing the number of vascular access attempts. The device can also be adapted for non-clinical situations, such as emergency or battlefield environments.
This I-Corps project uses the unique interaction of deoxygenated blood with light at near infrared wavelengths to create a live, real time video feed of the patients body with the peripheral vasculature clearly differentiated from the surrounding dermal, arterial, and adipose tissue. This allows for practitioners to observe the physical location of the veins, get an estimate for relative vein depth, and observe factors that are known to confound access attempts, such as vascular movement or rolling. This also allows for superior vein location in patients with physical traits or impairments that make vascular access more difficult. A preliminary prototype demonstrates the claims made and rudimentary testing has been completed to demonstrate functionality in a variety of environments.
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: ADVANCES IN BIO INFORMATICS | Award Amount: 683.84K | Year: 2016
This project aims to improve the tools for making models for networks of interacting molecules in the small mustard plant, Arabidopsis. To demonstrate the effectiveness of these methods, the resources developed in this research will be used to study the plants immunity to a virus infection under several conditions. Understanding how and when the virus overcomes the plants defenses gives us a handle on controlling an important pathogen of crop plants in the Southern US, with benefits such as better yield and less pesticide use. While biologists can measure the presence and amounts of tens of thousands of molecules in a cell all at once, understanding how they are connected, the networks or systems that lead to function, is a much harder problem. The huge amounts of measurements have to be properly managed so they are usable, and additional information has to be correctly added: it is important to track how amounts of one type of molecule change over time and not mix up different things. It is also important to understand which parts of the cell affect one another: those that belong to a functionally connected pathway (or network), and which are independent of each other. For example, plants have complicated mechanisms to defend themselves against biological and environmental stresses. Signaling pathways cause the plants response, and they are influenced by internal genetic factors as well as the external ones that are more easily observed. If every protein (or other molecule) inside the cell that plays a part in carrying and interpreting the signal is known then very effective predictions about the final response are possible. However, plant researchers dont know nearly as much about the molecules in their organisms as is available to many researchers studying animals, which means there are a lot of missing nodes. That makes it hard to come up with a specific prediction that can be tested: this research aims to overcome this problem for selected plant pathways, to showcase what is possible when there is sufficient information. This project will actively engage students in interdisciplinary research, with a particular focus on recruiting underrepresented groups. The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is a Hispanic-Serving Institution.
This project has the following four specific aims: 1) to construct genome-wide transcriptional regulatory network in Arabidopsis with validation in immune-responsive genes; 2) to improve the prediction of protein-protein interactions and identification of defense subnetworks in Arabidopsis; 3) to perform network-based analysis of Arabidopsis immune-responsive network in order to decipher the role of plant viral RNA silencing suppressors in plant immunity; and 4) to provide online databases and analytic tools for network-based plant systems biology studies. This project promises to significantly improve network-based analysis with several innovative ideas. First, the proposed approaches focus on improving accuracy of predictions for individual genes by defining a network neighborhood for each node and testing for enrichment in the neighborhood for each node. This is in contrast to most existing approaches that make predictions on gene modules (within- or cross-species) and therefore lack quality control on an individual gene level. Second, combining protein-protein interaction network, gene co-expression network, and sample-sample network, this research provides an example to analyze such networks in a dynamic context automatically defined by the global transcriptomic landscape; as such, this study is expected to provide more specific predictions that can be experimentally tested. In addition, integration of computational tools to characterize defense-related network structure in this work will significantly improve the ability to study the role of co-regulated networks of genes in any number of processes, including but not limited to genes implicated in both plant and animal disease, cancer or stem cell biology, or tissue specificity of gene expression. The results of the project can be found at http://cs.utsa.edu/~jruan/plantnet/.
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: IUSE | Award Amount: 423.12K | Year: 2016
The predicted national shortfall of 135,000 geoscientists by 2022 will have major consequences for the provision of energy and water resources and the quality of the environment, necessities that sustain a strong economy and ensure the health and welfare of all Americans. This project is addressing the personnel shortfall by testing a comprehensive program of career-related extracurricular activities that aims to improve retention and achievement levels of students earning four-year college degrees in the geosciences and increase the number and diversity of these skilled scientists that succeed in the workforce after graduation. The best practices defined from evaluating the success of the program are being used to build a model that can be followed by other universities.
The project is examining the effect of experiential learning opportunities on higher student retention rates in the geosciences, improvement in academic performance, and successful career placement. A diverse group of 18 undergraduate geology majors at the University of Texas at San Antonio (a Minority-Serving and Hispanic-Serving Institution) are engaging in a sequence of three internships in different geoscience fields to provide multiple career-related work experiences. Each student is completing an academic internship involving research and teaching activities on campus, followed by two placements in the energy resources, geo-environmental assessment, and water resources fields. The four career trajectories have clear pathways into the local employment market through private companies and governmental agencies. Students are also participating in a suite of academic and professional workshops to enhance competencies and skills in preparation for their careers. A multi-level mentoring strategy that promotes personal and professional growth and an integrated scheme of networking opportunities aims to smooth the transition into the geoscience workforce. Program activities are being assessed through a systematic plan of surveys, interviews, and external reviews. The project seeks to improve undergraduate education to address the projected shortfall in geoscientists, promote the participation of underrepresented groups in both geoscience majors and careers, and contribute to research on strengthening partnerships between higher education institutions and external geoscience organizations. The project will increase the number and diversity of skilled workers entering the geoscience workforce and lead to best practice strategies that can be implemented at other universities to impact meaningfully on the retention, education, and career trajectories of geoscience majors.
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Cyber-Human Systems (CHS) | Award Amount: 240.00K | Year: 2016
Because Virtual Reality (VR) technology (e.g., a head mounted display with a full body tracking system) typically cannot be used underwater, what impact aquatic VR would have on user interaction is mostly unknown, and potential important underwater applications such as pool-based physical rehabilitation remain unrealized. There has been only minimal research on aquatic VR in general, and none of that work has investigated its effects on people with disabilities. Prior research has demonstrated that VR-enhanced rehabilitation can offer many benefits, such as increased motivation through immersive games and the ability to practice in a safe environment, but VR has yet to be applied in practice to aquatic rehabilitation. In this exploratory research the PI will seek to determine effective system and interaction approaches for aquatic VR that maintain rehabilitation motivation and maximize exercise performance by disabled persons, specifically for individuals with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) who commonly have proprioceptive and balance deficits. The PIs preliminary work suggests that a video see-though display, body tracking via inertial measurement units, and head positioning via optical tracking will enable an effective aquatic VR system. The PIs hypothesis is that aquatic VR will enable members of the target population to perform exercises significantly better than on land. If this hypothesis is found to be supported, the project will represent a critical step towards the grand challenge of universal usability of VR, and will in particular afford a deeper understanding of the effectiveness of VR as a medium for rehabilitation.
To test his hypothesis, the research will include two thrusts. One of these will seek to determine viable system approaches for enabling aquatic VR. In preliminary work, the PI devised a prototype system consisting of a novel combination of off-the-shelf components. A waterproof smart phone was attached to a dive mask, to enable a 3DOF tracked stereoscopic view of the virtual underwater environment. A second waterproof smart phone was attached to the users chest, allowing for 3DOF body orientation tracking, punch detection and haptic feedback. The virtual sounds of the game were delivered through a pair of waterproof headphones, which also allowed real sounds to be heard underwater. The other thrust in this project will determine through a series of empirical studies how aquatic VR affects human performance of rehabilitation exercises, Considering the known advantages of aquatic rehabilitation over land-based, the working hypothesis here is that aquatic VR will enable persons with disabilities to experience significantly less fatigue, maintain balance better, and exercise longer with increased resistance than land-based virtual rehabilitation, and that it may also improve motivation compared to traditional aquatic rehabilitation. In preliminary work, the PI developed Shark Punch, a prototype aquatic VR game in which players must fight for their lives in a real underwater environment against a virtual Great White shark. From a rehabilitation perspective, this game focuses on improving joint mobility, and flexor and extensor muscle strength, through punching exercises. In the game, the shark first circles the player and then ferociously attacks, trying to bite the player. After it bites, it retreats back to circling the player from a distance. A bite can only be prevented if the player lands a real punch on the virtual sharks nose. If the user successfully punches the shark, the shark is stunned for a few seconds and then swims back to a safe distance from the player.
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING | Award Amount: 65.00K | Year: 2017
Nanotechnology holds the potential to enable and advance water treatment. The overall goal of this project is to synthesize nano titania and nano titania/molybdenum disulfide nanosheet embedded zeolites using environmentally friendly and faster synthesis methods to remove selected water pollutants for future development of water treatment technologies for small individual and/or central, publicly owned treatment systems.
The development of nanocomposites creates the potential for new pollutant treatment technologies due to their unique physiochemical properties. Their large surface area along with their distinct chemical advantages, such as ion selectivity and increased kinetics, make nanoparticles ideal sorbents, since even weak sorption onto the surface can occur. In addition, MoS2 is known for its photocatalytic activity, but few studies have investigated the advantage of this material in combination with TiO2. There can be drawbacks to using nanoparticles, however, due to problematic results such as separation during treatment processes and passage through to finished water. The proposed work will address these issues by engineering zeolites embedded with nano titania and nano titania/molybdenum disulfide nanosheets with specific properties, it is hypothesized that this will lead to enhanced pollutant removal due to the combined attributes of TiO2 and MoS2 nanosystems as well as a reduction in cost and potential toxicity, and improved separation during treatment. The results will determine the adsorption capacities, and photocatalytic activity of select pollutants. Compared to traditional water treatment sorbents, it is expected that this research will yield a new efficient and cost effective sorbent. SEM/FIB will be used to characterize the interface between the zeolite and nanomaterials to understand the stability of the nanoparticles and nanosheets embedded in the zeolites, to determine the changes in the surface morphology after adsorption, and to help assess the loading efficiencies. In the proposed effort, the objectives are to: 1) synthesize and characterize nano-TiO2 and nano-TiO2/ MoS2 embedded zeolites; 2) assess their adsorption capacities and photocatalytic activity through batch studies. These materials have the potential to improve water quality through enhanced adsorption, selectivity, and kinetics; help with compliance of state and federal drinking water regulations; and reduce treatment costs. The safety and availability of water are a National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge inextricably linked to global health, energy production, and economic development. These materials have the potential to improve water quality through enhanced adsorption, selectivity, photocatalytic activity and kinetics; help with compliance of state and federal drinking water regulations; and reduce treatment costs. Hence, the embedded zeolites proposed in this study have applications outside of municipal water treatment and could be used as treatment systems in developing countries, remote regions of the U.S., and industry. UTSA is a minority serving institution with a population of about 29,000 students of which roughly half are from a Hispanic background. The proposed work promotes research projects that use innovative materials to address water contamination issues while training the next generation of scientists and engineers. It also creates new research opportunities while encouraging the involvement of graduate students. New technologies are needed to continue to advance potable water treatment; testing nano embedded zeolites will allow for advancement towards applications with media suitable for column operation and for exploring the surface interactions and differences between nanomaterials and the nano composites. If these composite can be regenerated and reused then there are many possible environmental applications beyond potable water treatment such as treatment of oilfield or reverse osmosis brine.
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: INFO INTEGRATION & INFORMATICS | Award Amount: 200.00K | Year: 2016
This project seeks to understand how inaccurate messages are propagated over large-scale information networks that are consumed by the general public, how the public responds to such inaccuracy, and what content- or metadata-related characteristics/features make certain messages more error-resistant or error-prone than others. The results of the project have the potential to help build a platform that accurately identifies errors being propagated on an information network and effectively manages/controls such error propagation.
The technical objective of this project involves the design of efficient information extraction techniques that properly extract features from microblog-like messages that are short and often noisy. Specifically, it aims to develop a variety of content models, e.g., graph-based modeling, sentiment-based coding, and shingle- and user-frequency based metrics to make the information extraction techniques more resilient to the noise and high volume commonly present on real-world microblog platforms. The project also includes a case study over a large-scale real-world microblog platform to test the effectiveness of the proposed approaches and their superiority over the existing techniques.