iSEE funds 4 new interdisciplinary research projects

JULY 13, 2015 — The Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) is pleased to announce its second round of seed funding, totaling more than $1.2 million, for four major interdisciplinary research projects at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Three projects — stormwater control to manage disease-bearing mosquitos, a new modeling system to predict plants’ responses to climate change, and a framework to coalesce multiple sources of low-carbon energy for transportation — will each receive more than $350,000 from iSEE over the next three years. The fourth project, a unique method for cleaning up oil spills, will receive $170,000.

“We are excited to announce funding for four more projects that explore the grand challenges our planet faces now and in the future,” iSEE Director Evan DeLucia said. “This type of ‘actionable’ research is why our Institute was created.

“With these new endeavors and the three we’ve already funded, iSEE now has research projects in all five of its major themes: climate solutions; energy transitions; secure and sustainable agriculture; sustainable infrastructure; and water and land stewardship.”


Stormwater and Mosquito Control

ALLANEntomology Assistant Professor Brian Allan’s project, titled “Engineering the Microbial and Stormwater Environment for Mosquito Control,” addresses the sustainable infrastructure theme. Its purpose is to offer solutions, technology, and modeling for stormwater management in hopes of controlling mosquito populations and resulting diseases.

Allan has expertise in the ecology of infectious diseases. He will work with Animal Biology Professor Carla Cáceres, an expert in evolutionary ecology; Entomology Assistant Professor Allison Hansen, who specializes in insect-microbe interactions; Illinois Natural History Survey Director of Medical Entomology Juma Muturi, an expert in vector biology; Pathobiology Clinical Associate Professor Marilyn O’Hara Ruiz, who specializes in spatial epidemiology; Civil and Environmental Engineering Research Assistant Professor Arthur Schmidt, who has expertise in surface-water hydraulics and hydrology; and Geography and Geographic Information Science Professor Shaowen Wang, an expert in cyberinfrastructure and geospatial information.

“We will investigate engineered solutions to stormwater management, including Green Infrastructure technologies and manipulation of the aquatic microbiome, coupled with hydrological modeling and CyberGIS applications,” Allan wrote, “to advance the public health aim of mosquito-borne disease control.”

For more on Allan, visit


Crop Response to Climate Change

LONGCrop Sciences and Plant Biology Professor Stephen Long’s project, titled “Plants in silico: A Multiscale Modeling Platform to Predict Crop Response to Climate Change,” falls within the climate solutions and sustainable agriculture themes. The team will research how to accurately predict and model plant response to climate change — from the molecular to the ecosystem level.

Long, a renowned expert in crops, cropping systems, and the impacts of global atmospheric change on plants, will lead a team that includes Plant Biology Assistant Professor Amy Marshall-Colon, who researches genomics and plant metabolism; National Center for Supercomputing Applications Director H. Edward Seidel, who has expertise in high-performance computing; Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Assistant Professor Diwakar Shukla, who works in molecular modeling and simulations; Plant Biology Assistant Professor James O’Dwyer, who specializes in mathematical ecology; and Xinguang Zhu, Group Leader at the Institute of Computational Biology in the Chinese Academy of Science and a photosynthesis expert.

“The rate of change of our atmosphere and climate pose a significant threat to food security by imposing environmental challenges that present-day systems are not adapted to handle,” Long wrote. “Designing more sustainable crops to increase productivity depends critically on complex interactions between genetics, environment, and ecosystem.

“We propose the creation of a modeling platform and a framework that would allow for the implications of a discovery at one level to be examined at the whole plant or even crop or natural ecosystem levels.”

For more on Long, visit


Critical Infrastructure and Transportation

OVERBYEElectrical and Computer Engineering Professor Thomas Overbye’s project, titled “Interdependent Critical Infrastructure Systems for Synergized Utilization of Multiple Energy Sources toward Sustainable Vehicular Transportation,” addresses the energy transitions and sustainable infrastructure themes. The project will create a framework for new strategies to expand and operate interdependent critical infrastructure systems (ICIs) — using multiple renewable energy sources to fuel better regional and national transportation systems.

Overbye has expertise in power and energy systems operation and control. He will work with Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Ximing Cai, who does interdisciplinary modeling of water-food-energy systems and infrastructure; Agricultural and Consumer Economics Professor Madhu Khanna, an expert in environmental and economic policy analysis; CEE Associate Professor Yanfeng Ouyang, who works with logistics systems and transportation networks; and CEE Assistant Professor Ashlynn Stillwell, a water-energy nexus scholar.

“This project will generate new and fundamental knowledge to support pressing energy and infrastructure development issues and fill the information gap in energy and associated engineering planning and management,” Overbye wrote. “It will provide significant guidance to 1) policies for expanding renewable sources of energy and environmental conservation, 2) strategies for infrastructure design and management and for vehicle industry development, 3) information for community development, and 4) new curriculum for education and capacity building for the emerging ICIs science and engineering.”

For more on Overbye, visit


Crude Oil Pollution Treatment

Dipanjan PanBioengineering Assistant Professor Dipanjan Pan’s project, titled “A Nanotechnology Approach for Efficient Crude Oil Pollution Treatment via Entrapment, Dispersal and Removal using Nano-CarboScavenger,” addresses the water and land stewardship and sustainable infrastructure themes. Its purpose is to optimize a Nano-CarboScavenger (NCS), a particle designed to adsorb oil and remove it from water.

Pan has expertise in developing carbon nanoparticles. He will work alongside Illinois Sustainable Technology Center Senior Research Engineer B.K. Sharma, who specializes in biofuels, biolubricants, and alternative fuels.

“As the demand for petroleum continues to rise, we will see an increase in petroleum transportation traffic which will inevitably lead to an increase in chances for aqueous crude oil spills, land spills, and fracking byproduct-based pollution,” Pan wrote in the proposal. “We propose using a nanotechnology-enabled approach using an efficient, reusable NCS for simultaneous hydrocarbon oil adsorption, dispersion and recovery.

“Treating oil-contaminated water with an NCS powder dispersion leads to clumping and accumulates the oil for simple recovery by nets or booms.”

For more on Pan, visit


Approved by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees in December 2013, iSEE made its first funding award in 2014 for three projects: Smart Water DisinfectionPerennial Woody Polyculture; and Stored Solar Stove.

Read more about the Institute’s research mission here.