Researchers Awarded More than $23.7 Million in Research Grants

Money from federal agencies announced in fall 2015 will fund a variety of projects and programs at the George Washington University.

November 18, 2015

From promoting sustainability in the Arctic to understanding the factors associated with pediatric asthma, George Washington University researchers are finding unique solutions for tackling big societal problems.

The university received at least nine awards greater than $500,000 from federal agencies in fall 2015.

The grants will provide funding for research projects and new academic programs within the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the Elliott School of International Affairs, the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Here are projects to be on the lookout for over the next few years:

Project: Promoting Urban Sustainability in the Arctic

Principal Investigator: Robert Orttung, associate research professor of international affairs

School: Elliott School of International Affairs

Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Amount: $3 million
As Arctic ice continues to melt, humans will enter the high north in growing numbers to develop local resources and expand transportation links, according to a group of GW researchers. The increased activity will lead to intensified urban development in extreme conditions. The purpose of this project is to promote greater urban sustainability in the Arctic so that the human impact on the environment will be as small as possible.

The project is a multidisciplinary effort involving Professors Robert Orttung and Marlene Laruelle from the Elliott School of International Affairs, along with Professors Nikolay Shiklomanov, Timothy Heleniak and Dmitry Streletskiy from the Department of Geography in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. It also will bring together scientists from Canada, Denmark, Greenland, Norway and Russia. The researchers plan to develop an Arctic Urban Sustainability Index, which will make it possible to assess the consequences of human activities in the region across a number of important dimensions. Key elements of the index will include thawing permafrost, a boom-bust economic cycle and an influx of migrant workers.

Project: A Wearable Sensor to Monitor Pediatric Asthma Patients

Principal Investigator: Zhenyu Li, assistant professor of biomedical engineering
School: School of Engineering and Applied Science
Sponsor: National Institutes of Health
Amount: $2 million
Asthma affects about 6.8 million children in the United States. Triggers to pediatric asthma exacerbations—such as smoke exposure, exercise and infections—are well known. However, how environmental factors and a patient’s behavior/biological characteristics interact to determine susceptibility to these events is less clear. To better understand these relationships, Zhenyu Li, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and his research team plan to build a wristband that can monitor environmental air pollution and patient activities through a smartphone program. The project will build off of Dr. Li’s previous research on point-of-care microfluidic diagnostic devices. The wearable sensor will allow researchers to collect real-life data to study how environmental factors contribute to asthma attacks.

Project: Community-based development of NGS standards for validating data and computation
Principal Investigator: Raja Mazumder, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine
School: School of Medicine and Health Sciences
Sponsor: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Amount: $1.4 million

Raja Mazumder, an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine, and his research team plan to develop a publicly accessible infrastructure for community-based development of next-generation sequencing (NGS) standards for harmonization of next-generation sequencing technology, standardization of data formats and promotion of interoperability and bioinformatics verification protocols. The proposed NGS standardization web portal will serve as a collaborative ground to ensure future interoperability between different platforms, industries and developers.

Project: Neural and Genetic Factors Underlying Variation in Communication

Principal Investigator: Chet Sherwood, professor of anthropology
School: Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

Sponsor: National Science Foundation

Amount: $999,000

Human speech and language involve intertwined processes, including the perception of signals, the learning of phased movements of the mouth, tongue and larynx, as well as the higher-level cognitive aspects of word meaning and language structure. Studies of humans with speech and language disorders have provided insight into candidate genes and brain structures implicated in different elements of language function. However, the degree to which these genetic and neural building blocks of language vary in nonhuman animals is not yet understood. This project will examine post-mortem MRI images, brain tissue, behavioral observations and studies of genetic variation to examine differences in vocal learning and sound-symbol associations among chimpanzees. Led by Chet Sherwood, a professor of anthropology, the research team will use the unique data sets to further our knowledge of the neurodevelopmental foundation of disorders affecting language in humans, such as autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia and verbal dyspraxia. Learn more about Dr. Sherwood’s research

Project: Dynamically Adaptive Hybrid Nanoplasmonic Network on Chips

Principal Investigator: Tarek El-Ghazawi, professor and director of the High Performance Computing Lab

School: Electrical and Computer Engineering

Sponsor: Air Force Office of Scientific Research

Amount: $752,000

This project brings together interdisciplinary expertise from nanophotonics, computer architecture and high-performance computing to investigate advanced networking concepts in support of future many-core processor chips with substantial energy savings and performance gains. The core ideas are to integrate hybrid nano-plasmonic technology with electric network on chips in a Dynamically Data Driven Application System (DDDAS) scheme that adapts to the varying applications requirements. The research is a collaborative project between Tarek El-Ghazawi, Volker Sorger and Vikram Narayana, all professors in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Project: The Genealogy and Traits of Living and Fossil Vertebrates That Never Left the Water

Principal Investigator: Guillermo Orti, Weintraub Professor of Biology

School: Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

Sponsor: National Science Foundation

Amount: $688,000

Thanks to recent research advancements, scientists’ knowledge of the tree of life for vertebrates has undergone a dramatic transformation in the last five years. However, the relationships among many groups remain unresolved. This project will fill in those gaps to complete the tree of life of all living and fossil fishes, from the early evolutionary radiation of vertebrates to the extraordinary diversity of fish.

The research team includes Weintraub Professor of Biology Guillermo Orti, the Computational Biology Institute’s Keith Crandall and Jeremy Goecks, as well as scientists from the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Puerto Rico, the College of Charleston and the University of Chicago. The researchers will provide a unified framework that includes fossil and living species for comparative analyses—from sharks to coral reef and deep-sea fishes—and clarify the origins of the most popular food and aquarium fishes worldwide. All collections of specimens, data and results obtained will be placed into a dynamic and open structure to facilitate wide accessibility to the broader scientific and non-scientific communities.

Project: GW Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling Master’s Program

Principal Investigator: Maureen McGuire-Kuletz, associate professor of counseling
School: Graduate School of Education and Human Development
Sponsor: U.S. Department of Education
Amount: $991,000

The funding will provide full scholarships for 15 highly qualified counseling professionals to complete a 60-hour Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling Master’s of Arts Program with an emphasis on individuals who are mentally ill. The program objectives were developed based on an analysis of rehabilitation counseling personnel needs in the region and nation, and they are supported by the State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies.

Project: Accelerating Sustainable Growth in the Medical-Legal Partnership Field

Principal Investigator: Ellen Lawton, lead research scientist of health policy

School: Milken Institute School of Public Health

Sponsor: The Kresge Foundation

Amount: $738,000

This grant supports the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership (NCMLP), based in the Milken Institute School of Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and Management. The funding will help the center’s efforts to bridge health, legal and public health sectors in an integrated approach to health-harming social conditions. Close to 300 hospitals and health centers have integrated civil legal aid into health care services to help treat housing, insurance, benefits and education. This grant allows the NCMLP to expand its work in the health center and veteran arenas, convene leadership meetings across sectors and build the evidence base for medical-legal partnership through the development of common performance measures.

Project: Foreign Area Officer Regional Skill Sustainment Initiative

Principal Investigator: Joanna Spear, associate professor of international affairs
School: Elliott School of International Affairs

Sponsor: Institute of International Education

Amount: $614,000

Foreign area officers (FAOs) are the Department of Defense’s uniformed experts who possess a unique combination of strategic focus, regional expertise, cultural awareness and foreign language proficiency. This GW initiative will offer five in-residence courses to provide foreign area officers with an advanced understanding and analysis of the most current regional security affairs.