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Fulfilling the Mission through Faith, Reason, and Research

AUTHOR: Nina Welding

PUBLISHED: September 21, 2017

People think they know Notre Dame: its Catholicity, its high standards for undergraduate education, and its football program. But there’s so much more to Our Lady’s University, including the cutting-edge research our faculty, staff, and students are conducting. That’s the rub because many people off campus struggle with the link between faith and technology. To the researchers across campus, like those in the College of Engineering, faith and reason are not only complementary one to another; they are necessary one to the other.

Faculty across the University live the mission every day by putting their technical skills to service for mankind. And, it’s paying off in a number of ways. This year has been a record-breaking one with research funding nearly double from a decade ago. Notre Dame has received $138.1 million in research funding from federal agencies, foundations and other sponsors, as well as industry.

Not only do these awards signal the dedication and hard work of our talented faculty, they also help advance the reputation of Notre Dame as a national research university. According to Robert Bernhard, vice president for research, “Our faculty have worked harder than ever in this difficult funding environment to compete for grants. Notre Dame researchers submitted more than 1,200 proposals this year, representing a 30 percent increase in proposal value since last year.”

Some of the most substantial awards receiving funding during this record year, many of which are led by faculty from the College of Engineering, involve large collaborative centers and multiple universities. “We are excited and humbled by the success of our faculty,” says Peter Kilpatrick, the McCloskey Dean of Engineering. “Engineers design, create, and build things. Their research and their success in winning these awards matters because it translates their scholarly efforts and knowledge into the positive good of humankind and our many institutions here in America and around the world. This is key to carrying out the mission of the University, which links our Catholic identity with our commitment to undergraduate education and the common good.”

Aaron Striegel
For example, faculty in the college’s Wireless Institute and the Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science and Applications, have been awarded a $7.9M contract from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency to study workplace performance. Notre Dame will lead this team of researchers including faculty from the University of California at Irvine, Georgia Tech, Dartmouth, Carnegie Mellon, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Ohio State University. Directed by Aaron Striegel, associate professor of computer science and engineering, together with Nitesh V. Chawla, the Frank M. Freimann Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, and Dong Wang, assistant professor of computer science and engineering, the team will conduct a landmark study following 750 working professionals in cognitively demanding positions for an entire year and gathering data through wearables, smartphones, and social media.

Peter C. Burns
Peter C. Burns, the Henry J. Massman Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences and Director of the Energy Frontier Research Center at Notre Dame and the Center for Sustainable Energy at Notre Dame, will lead the Actinide Center of Excellence. Funded through the National Nuclear Security Administration at $12.5M over five years, this center will conduct research in actinide chemistry and materials using both experimental and computational methods to answer questions important to the security of the nation and its Stockpile Stewardship Program. The center’s efforts will help sustain safe, secure, and effective ways to maintain the active stockpile of nuclear weapons without actually testing them. It will also support discoveries and breakthroughs in nuclear medicine and nuclear power generation while working to develop an appropriate workforce in these areas for future generations. Washington State University, Oregon State University, the University of Minnesota, and Northwestern University are partners in the center.

Thomas F. Degnan
William F. Schneider
Another collaborative effort among scientists, engineers and industrial affiliates, the Center for Innovative and Strategic Transformation of Alkane Resources (CISTAR) has been awarded a five-year, $19.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The center will develop the enabling technologies to convert the country’s vast shale gas reserves into chemicals and transportation fuels, spurring economic growth and job creation. Industrial affiliates will participate in and benefit from the work of the center. Members of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, including Thomas F. Degnan, the Anthony and Sarah Earley Professor of Energy and the Environment; William F. Schneider, the H. Clifford and Evelyn A. Brosey Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; and professors Jason Hicks and Ruilan Guo, will contribute their expertise in materials development and modeling to CISTAR. The center will be led by Purdue University, which shares a long history of collaboration in the area of catalysis with Notre Dame. Other partner academic institutions include Northwestern University, the University of New Mexico, and the University of Texas at Austin.

“These center level awards and the accompanying research are representative of the work the college is doing in health, service, natural hazards, economic development, and energy and sustainability. And there are several more in process,” says Kilpatrick. “We will be sharing news of those as soon as we are able to do so, and we are looking forward to breaking more records here in the College of Engineering in the very near future.”