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The Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) is launching eight, world-class research teams from the University of Illinois System and partner universities with more than $1 million in seed funding.

The goal is to develop these multi-disciplinary teams into international centers of excellence that will achieve significant economic and societal impact. Each nascent team is receiving $125,000 as well as administrative and grant-writing support, access to corporate partners and DPI’s downtown Chicago office.

These teams’ ambitions include:

Tracing COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2 RNA) in Chicago’s waterways;
Developing new software and hardware to help companies operate machinery remotely;
Creating a new repository for data about the human brain;
Training software engineers to build safer and more ethical algorithms;
Increasing the adoption of artificial intelligence in the construction industry; and
Improving farmer profitability and sustainability by accelerating adoption of artificial intelligence technologies for agriculture.
“This is just the beginning of our efforts to put already strong industries in the region on the very cutting edge,” said Bill Jackson, DPI’s executive director. “And we’re doing so by leveraging the most ambitious talent the region has to offer and enticing them to team up, rather than operate in silos. Such teamwork is going to generate exactly what this region and state needs: More federal R&D funding and more jobs.”

More than 55 teams applied for the funding. Teams had to be led by a University of Illinois faculty member and include scientists from at least one other partner university (including Argonne National Laboratory, Hebrew University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, University of Chicago and Tel Aviv University).

“These initial seed grants will build DPI’s first group of science teams that we will help position for success in the form of further R&D funding, the creation of new companies and jobs, and societal and economic impact,” said DPI’s Interim Director of Research Venkat Venkatakrishnan.

Here is a complete list of grant recipients:

The Center for Research on Autonomous Farming Technologies (CRAFT). This team will develop and test autonomous robots that will weed and spray corn and soybean crops; work in urban food gardens; and care for berry and nut orchards. Lead Primary Investigator (PI): Girish Chowdhary, The Grainger College of Engineering and College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES), UIUC. Team: UIUC, University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory.

Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Construction. With more than 40 partners lined up from the architecture, engineering and construction industries, this team will identify key areas for the highest impact of AI in the industry, and bring new AI tools to bring to market. Lead PI: Mani Golparvar Fard, The Grainger College of Engineering, UIUC. Team: UIUC and 40+ industry partners.

The CREATE WISDOM initiative will use data from Chicago hospitals to develop artificial intelligence technologies to improve patient outcomes, starting with cancer treatment among underserved populations. Lead PI: Karl Kochendorfer, UIC Hospital & Health Sciences System. Team: UIC, UIUC, Rush, Mayo, Northwestern, DuPage Medical.

I-BRAIN: An expanded data repository for brain research. This team will bring together advanced datasets and experts on human brain disorders to support the development of new treatments for brain-related illnesses.Lead PI: Jeffrey Loeb, UIC College of Medicine. Team: UIC, UIUC, University of Chicago, Illinois Institute of Technology and industry.

The Center for Autonomous Construction, Agriculture and Manufacturing at Scale (CEACAMS). The goal of this team is to commercialize new technology that helps companies operate construction and industrial equipment remotely or without human intervention at all. Lead PI: William Norris,The Grainger College of Engineering, UIUC. Team: UIUC, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and eight industry partners.

Trustworthy and ethical artificial intelligence systems. This team will work to train people on how to build safe and unbiased algorithms. Lead PI: Madhusudan Parthasarathy, The Grainger College of Engineering, UIUC. Team: UIUC, UIC, University of Chicago, Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University.

Wastewater-based epidemiology to track SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater. This team will develop surveillance methods in the Chicago area and work with public health departments to develop a system for early warnings of outbreaks. Lead PI: Rachel Poretsky, UIC Biological Sciences. Team: UIC, Northwestern University, Argonne National Laboratory.

Privacy in the era of big data. This team will create a platform that will enforce strict privacy policies in sectors such as health care, and develop tools and methods for making the best tradeoffs between privacy and utility. Lead PI: Lenore Zuck, UIC Department of Computer Science. Team: UIC, UIUC, University of Chicago, University of Pittsburgh.

About DPI

The Discovery Partners Institute empowers people to jumpstart their tech careers or companies in Chicago. Led by the University of Illinois System in partnership with top research universities, it does three things: Train people for high-demand tech jobs; conduct applied R&D; and support Chicago’s tech community. With state investment and a new innovation district in development, DPI has the resources to attract, develop and leverage the most ambitious people and companies the region has to offer — and keep them here.