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2023 Research Catalyst Grant Recipients


Dr. Surti Singh

Department of Philosophy

Dr. Dana Lloyd 

Department of Global Interdisciplinary Studies


Project Title: Reproducing Care: Exploring Global Feminism

With this project, entitled Reproducing Care: Exploring Global Feminism, we will initiate a series of activities that will seek to answer the following questions: how have Southern feminists theorized care? How can we approach care in the Global South without fetishizing local perspectives or universalizing and essentializing gender in a transnational perspective? How does the fantasy of the Global South generated by the Global North (i.e., that relations in the Global South are more caring, organic, natural, harmonious) inform the North? How can we think about care from the perspective of a Global South within the Global North? We propose to answer these questions by bringing together contemporary work from our respective fields of Philosophy and Legal Studies, to address some of the blindspots in existing approaches. A research framework that draws on Philosophy and Legal Studies will allow us to bring theoretical perspectives into conversation with legal cases to produce a more robust approach to the question of how to theorize the issue of care in the Global South. The project will initiate a year-long Colloquium featuring international scholars, facilitate the production of an edited special journal issue stemming from the Colloquium, and lead to the writing of a book proposal. Our long-term goals beyond the RCG are the publication of a co-authored book, and the creation of a broader community of scholars and practitioners engaged with the issues of care, reproduction, and feminism in and from the Global South.




Dr. Laura Bracaglia

Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Dr. Wenqing Xu

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering


Project Title: Development of Innovative Approaches to Assess the Toxicity of Chemical Mixtures in Human Cells

The standard disinfection of drinking water with chlorine and other chemicals produces a suite of toxic chemicals that remain in water distribution systems, posing health risks to humans upon long-term exposure. Most assays and quality standards are developed using a single one of these chemicals, termed disinfection byproducts (DBPs), at exceedingly high concentrations in bacteria cells to assess their toxicity. However, in reality, these chemicals exist at low-concentration mixtures, and the toxicity effects in bacteria cells may not be parallel to human cells. The team uses cross-disciplinary expertise to develop new approaches to measure the effect of DBP mixtures at environmentally relevant concentrations and exposure scenarios in human cells. This enables a more realistic evaluation of human exposure to DBPs in drinking water.




Dr. Arash Tavakoli 

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Dr. Elizabeth Pantesco 

Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

Dr. Irene Kan 

Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

Dr. Meltem Izzetoglu  

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering


Project Title: Steering through Time: Leveraging Longitudinal Psycho-behavioral Data for Driver Performance Prediction Under Cognitive Load At Different Levels of Autonomy

Distracted driving has accounted for nearly 10% of fatal accidents in the past year. To address this, automakers are increasingly adopting "semi-automated vehicles (SAVs)". However, these SAVs still heavily rely on human drivers who can be requested to take control at any moment, often leading to improper or delayed responses and fatal crashes. New regulations in some countries now require monitoring driver attention, but even seemingly engaged drivers can be distracted by activities like mind wandering, or smartphone use, impairing their driving/supervising performance. Detecting real-time driver cognitive and physiological states and predicting driver performance in real-time is crucial for safe human-machine collaboration. A key limitation of prior work in this area is the lack of longitudinal, contextual data that may contribute to the drivers’ state at the time of assessment. This study will circumvent the limitations associated with prior studies by longitudinally monitoring drivers for two weeks prior to experimentation. Wearable trackers (Fitbit) twill be used to prospectively measure a multitude of psychobehavioral variables, including sleep, physical activity, heart rate, stress, and respiratory rate. The team will then assess the driver’s performance in a high-fidelity driving simulator through both semi-automated and manual conditions under different levels of imposed cognitive load. We anticipate that a driver’s recent psychobehavioral profile will play a critical role in influencing performance metrics and will significantly increase the prediction accuracy of driver performance models. This study will result in driver state models that leverage longitudinal data for accurate prediction in real time.




Dr. Weijian Diao

Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Dr. Bo Li

Department of Mechanical Engineering


Project Title: Nanostructured Catalyst for Carbon Dioxide Conversion and Utilization

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary greenhouse gas which accounted for about 79% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in 2020. High CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is directly linked to climate change, global warming, as well as extreme weather all over the world. Different topics of research have been conducted to decrease the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere including CO2 capture and conversion.  Hydrogenation of CO2 to methanol is a promising route to mitigate CO2 emissions while producing an important chemical intermediates and potential sustainable, renewable-based fuel. The successful application of this technology heavily relies on the development of highly active, selective, and stable catalyst for the CO2 hydrogenation to methanol.

Recent studies have shown that indium oxide (In2O3) can be a highly selective and stable catalyst for methanol synthesis from CO2. It is reported that CeO2 can increase CO2 adsorption on catalyst surface which leads to high activity and ZrO2 can help the hydrogenation reaction which leads to high selectivity of methanol. However, synergizing high activity and high selectivity is challenging for binary systems (i.e., just In2O3/CeO2 or In2O3/ZrO2) and there is a lack of method to achieve high-quality tri-metal oxide catalysts.

This project focuses on designing and manufacturing of tri-metal oxide catalysts (In2O3/ZrO2/CeO2) for CO2 hydrogenation. The team from Chemical and Biological Engineering and Mechanical Engineering will use advanced catalyst synthesis and nanomaterial assembly technology to create highly active and selective In2O3 based catalyst for CO2 hydrogenation to methanol.