Carnegie Mellon University
October 05, 2021

Team Builds Tools, Innovations to Support Federal Investment

By Dan Carroll

Dan Carroll
  • College of Engineering

Carnegie Mellon University hosted Ambassador Katherine Tai, United States trade representative, in a roundtable discussion on the data and analytic tools necessary to support U.S. innovation and trade strategies in critical technologies, such as vaccines, batteries and semiconductors. During her visit, the ambassador observed research demonstrations by faculty and students working in several critical technology clusters on a tour guided by Bill Sanders, dean of CMU's College of Engineering, and Erica Fuchs, a professor in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP).

Fuchs, who has testified before congress on the need for data and analytic tools to support national technology decision-making, is spearheading an initiative at Carnegie Mellon to build a national network on that same subject, titled "National Technology Strategy: Critical Technologies, Supply Chains, and Infrastructure."

This initiative brings together faculty from across the College of Engineering, School of Computer Science and Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy. Leveraging its interdisciplinary expertise and skills, Fuchs' team seeks to create the intellectual foundations, data and analytic tools to support the government in designing critical technology, along with supply chain and infrastructure strategies that achieve win-win scenarios across its multiple objectives — security, prosperity and welfare, including health, climate and equity.

A handshake"Carnegie Mellon is one of our premier academic and research institutions, and I am excited to visit and learn more about its cutting-edge technology and innovation," said Ambassador Tai. "This work is a perfect complement to the Biden-Harris administration's Build Back Better agenda, which will ensure we maintain our global competitive edge. And as the co-chair of the administration's Supply Chain Task Force, I am looking forward to learning more about how Carnegie Mellon's work can help the United States build strong and resilient supply chains that will position the United States for economic success and prosperity in the 21st century."

Team members Erica Fuchs, Valerie Karplus, Lee Branstetter, Ed Hovy and Rayid Ghani have begun to show how machine learning and text processing can transform real-time situational awareness of national and international technology and production capabilities.

In parallel, the team is advancing innovations to transform the geopolitical landscape and supply chain dynamics. Faculty and student demonstrations during the event centered around three such innovations in health, batteries and semiconductors.

Ambassador Tai tours CMU
Dean Sanders, Ambassador Tai, and other participants listen to presentations.

Chemical engineering Professor Katie Whitehead is helping reduce dependence on cold-chain storage by developing lipid nanoparticles for RNA drug delivery that are more stable at higher temperatures, which is particularly important in less-accessible areas. Meanwhile, in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Professor Burak Ozdoganlar has developed microneedle arrays for vaccine delivery that dramatically reduce the amount of vaccine required and thus help address vaccine shortages, reduce cold-chain storage challenges and simplify global distribution.

In battery research, EPP Professor Jay Whitacre is creating cobalt-free batteries and pushing new innovations in battery recycling that will reduce global reliance on cobalt and lithium, often sourced from regions with negative labor conditions such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

On the semiconductor front, electrical and computer engineering (ECE) Professor Brandon Lucia is inventing the next generation of computer chips. Lucia's chips require ultra-low energy levels, opening up new possibilities in AI, satellites, defense and climate science. Lucia works with experts in chip design like ECE Department Head Larry Pileggi, a pioneer of the next generation of computing devices, as well as hardware innovations to transform chip security and global supply chains.

"This initiative exemplifies the multidisciplinary and collaborative environment that makes Carnegie Mellon unique, bringing together an array of faculty, government and industry professionals for the good of society," said Sanders. "I am proud of our faculty for launching this unprecedented endeavor and excited to witness the benefits that the team's work will bring to our nation and its citizens."

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