Carnegie Mellon University
February 10, 2014

Press Release: Carnegie Mellon's Scott Institute Announces Second Round of Seed Grants to Researchers

Contacts: Chriss Swaney / 412-268-5776 /
                Ken Walters / 412-268-2900 /

PITTSBURGH—If information about how much electricity plug-in appliances were using could be collected and feedback given to consumers how might that change consumers' behavior? Can advanced nuclear materials be created that will increase nuclear reactor longevity, thus lower the cost of energy? What kind of methods and techniques can be derived for optimum partitioning of power in distributed power generation systems?

These are just some of the questions that investigators at Carnegie Mellon University will be exploring thanks to the second round of seed grants announced by the Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation. The institute, made possible by a lead gift from CMU alumni Sherman Scott (E'66), president and founder of Delmar systems, and his wife, university trustee Joyce Bowie Scott (A'65), is focused on improving energy efficiency and developing new, clean, affordable and sustainable energy sources.

A key mission of the Scott Institute, established in September 2012, is to stimulate new research initiatives and connections across the campus.

One grant, for example, will provide support for Yuvraj Agarwal, a CMU assistant professor in the Institute for Software Research (ISR), and Zico Kolter, an assistant professor in the School of Computer Science, to produce and test a set of instruments that will collect and record the usage of electric appliances. A second related grant to psychologists Gabrielle Wong-Parodi, Alex Davis and Tamar Krishnamurti will explore how to design experiments using these instruments.

A grant to Megan Mauter, assistant professor of chemical engineering and engineering and public policy (EPP), and to Jay Whitacre, associate professor of materials science and engineering and EPP, will support their effort to develop new materials to be used in energy-efficient water desalination.

"When we put out our most recent call for short proposals, we quickly received 34 innovative and interdisciplinary ideas from across the campus," said M. Granger Morgan, Scott Institute director and head of the EPP Department. "The response demonstrates the many opportunities to build new bridges and undertake new innovative projects on our campus."

According to Andy Gellman, institute co-director, one impressive aspect of the responses received is that they spanned a wide range of activity, from developing advanced technologies to human behavior and improving public policy. "Such broad interdisciplinary interest and strength is probably CMU's greatest asset in energy research and education," Gellman said.

The seven seed grants announced by the Scott Institute include:

  • "Production and testing of a set of instruments to collect appliance electricity use" to Agarwal and Kolter;
  • "Development and pilot testing of designs for use with instruments to measure appliance electricity use" to Wong-Parodi, Davis and Krishnamurti, all research scientists in EPP;
  • "Distributed optimization of electric power systems; intelligent positioning" to Ozan Tonguz, an electrical and computer engineering (ECE) professor, in partnership with Gabriela Hug, an assistant professor of ECE.  The ECE Department will supplement the grant;
  • "Pseudocapacitive materials for low-carbon water desalination" to Mauter, in collaboration with Whitacre. Both are EPP professors. The grant also is supported by the Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering departments;
  • "Advanced nuclear materials for decarbonizing the energy infrastructure" to Maarten DeBoer, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, in collaboration with Yoosuf Picard, a research scientist in the Materials Science and Engineering Department. The Mechanical Engineering Department will supplement the grant;
  • A grant to Physics Professor Sara Majetich, who will explore ways to make small powerful permanent magnets without the use of rare earth or noble metals. This could be a breakthrough development because the rare earth elements used in the strongest of today's permanent magnets are becoming increasingly scarce and costly; and
  • "New production routes for oxide dispersion strengthened iron alloys" to Bryan Webler, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, in partnership with Tony Rollett, also a professor of materials science and engineering.

The Scott Institute will host a public event early next year at which investigators who received the seed funding will report their progress and plans for continued future research. The objective of the Scott Institute seed grants is to promote development of new energy-related research and educational activities across the CMU campus.