DPI Research Projects

Discovery Partners Institute awarded seed grants to nine research projects led by principal investigators from one of the University of Illinois System universities in early 2019. Summaries of these projects are below:

Benefits of Social Engagement using Video Technology for Economically Disadvantaged Older Adults

Raksha A. Mudar, Speech and Hearing Science, UIUC
Wendy A. Rogers, Kinesiology and Community Health, UIUC

Industry Partners: Potluck LLC

Community Partners: CJE Senior Life

This project supports the development of an interdisciplinary university-community-industry partnership to examine social engagement opportunities through technology for economically disadvantaged older adults. Social engagement, or lack thereof, has well-established effects on health and quality of life outcomes, including mortality and the development and onset of dementia. Older adults, especially those who are economically disadvantaged, are at higher risk of social isolation, and therefore, negative health outcomes. Internet-based social engagement through video technologies offers a novel opportunity to socially connect and engage older adults as technology becomes cheaper and more accessible. However, the unique socialization needs, interests, capabilities, and limitations of economically disadvantaged older adults for successful adoption of such technology-based social engagement opportunities are unknown apart from the affordability barrier.

In this pilot project, in association with our community partner CJE Senior Life and industry partner Potluck LLC, we will identify facilitators and barriers to the adoption of our internet-based social engagement tool, OneClick.chat, developed by Potluck LLC, when free access to technology is provided. We will conduct an experiential field trial by adapting the OneClick.chat social engagement intervention to suit the needs, interests, preferences, and capabilities of these older adults to obtain feasibility data on benefits of such opportunities. The learnings from this proposal will allow us to conduct larger field trials and identify mechanisms for the accelerated transition of our results through community and industry partnerships for a greater public health impact.


Activating the Center for Urban Resilience and Environmental Sustainability (CURES)

Don Wuebbles, Atmospheric Sciences, UIUC
Amy Ando, Agricultural & Consumer Economics, UIUC
Anne-Marie Hanson, Environmental Studies, UIS
Elizabeth Kocs, Energy Initiative, UIC
Timothy Lindsey, Smart Energy Design Assistance Center, UIUC
Tom Theis, Institute for Environmental Science and Policy, UIC

Industry Partners: Greenleaf Advisors and Greenleaf Communities, Green Diamond Solutions

Community Partners: The Metropolitan Mayors Caucus (MMC), Illinois Extension, Prairie Research Institute, Siebel Center for Design, Argonne National Lab, plus other universities (e.g., Northwestern, Univ. Chicago)

Urban areas face unprecedented challenges in the 21st century from phenomena such as climate change, human migration and population growth, disruptive technological change, and increased social inequality and conflict. CURES will activate the UI system with its partners to tackle those challenges. This Center focus on cities of multiple sizes in Illinois; the technologies, innovations, and practices developed by CURES will also have broad application to cities in diverse locations. This project will provide a launch pad for external fundraising efforts. The CURES team will carry out four tasks. (1) Finalize initial core operating infrastructure. (2) Curate analytical capacity that can be used by CURES researchers in their work, both hosting datasets and tools that already exist in the CURES community of researchers and working to develop tools with U.S. EPA’s Climate Change Adaptation Resource Center. (3) Carry out a pilot research project on urban sustainability with the MMC. (4) Host meetings with partners, stakeholders, and potential donors to cultivate base funding for CURES in future years.


Pathways for K-12 Computer Science Education in Illinois (CSEd Pathways)

Luc Paquette, Curriculum & Instruction, UIUC
Craig Zilles, Computer Science, UIUC
Raya Hegeman-Davis, Bureau of Educational Research, UIUC

Industry Partners: Computer Science Teachers Association, Google, Chicago Public Schools, Learning Technology Center of Illinois, CS4IL

Computer science drives innovation and job growth, both nationally and globally, and is among the most in-demand college degrees. Computing is used in virtually every field, making it foundational knowledge all students need. Despite a growing push for increased CS knowledge in all K-12 grades, there are currently no pre-service, undergraduate programs offering an initial teaching license in CS education in the State of Illinois. This puts Illinois students, particularly those in districts struggling to close the achievement gap, at risk of not being competitive for admission to computer science related programs and being unprepared to succeed and earn these degrees, compared to their peers from other states and nations. Resolving this situation is a complex and multi-faceted “Grand Challenge” for Illinois requiring a long term, comprehensive, statewide strategy that needs to start now!

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a new partnership (I-STECS) between the College of Education and Department of Computer Science was inaugurated in Spring 2018 toward expanding the number of well-prepared high school CS teachers, aiming to create a new undergraduate program in CS education leading to licensure and a pathway to endorsement in CS for current teachers. This DPI-supported CSEd Pathways project will build on and expand this initiative and contribute to the DPI mission by working toward: building statewide collaborative partnerships around computer science education including corporations, community colleges, foundations, non-profits, and Chicago Public Schools; facilitating implementation of I-STECS in Chicago; and building an on-ramp for existing Chicago teachers through a summer professional development workshop for in-service teachers at DPI (to be held in August 2019).


The 2019 Illinois Quantum Computing Summer School

Eric Chitambar, Electrical and Computer Engineering, UIUC
Paul Kwiat, Physics, UIUC 

Industry Partners: Xanadu, IBM

Quantum computing describes a new computational paradigm based on the fundamental properties of quantum mechanics that has the potential to revolutionize certain computing technologies. Last year the “National Quantum Initiative Act” was signed, which plans to provide $1.275 billion in federal funding to quantum computing research. This is in conjunction with the proliferation of corporate investment by companies interested in quantum computing such as IBM, Google, and Microsoft. This increased demand for quantum computing at the federal and industry levels now needs to be matched by a supply of researchers and students capable of driving the quantum revolution. It is in the best educational and entrepreneurial interests of Illinois to be at the forefront of this revolution. To help Illinois achieve this goal, DPI will hold a summer school in quantum computing targeted for students and researchers with a background in classical computing.

The 2019 Illinois Quantum Computing Summer School will be a weeklong program providing basic training for students and faculty interested in pursuing research and entrepreneurship in quantum computing. The school will offer an accelerated introduction to quantum computing for computer scientists who may lack a technical familiarity with quantum mechanics. Topics covered include quantum algorithms, quantum error correction, and quantum simulations.  External experts in the field will be enlisted to teach multiple sessions and tutorials. In addition, representatives from Xanadu and IBM will hold sessions to describe current industrial quantum computing efforts and future challenges.


Building the Experiential Learning Infrastructure for the Food Innovation Center at the Discovery Partners Institute

Shelly Nickols-Richardson, Food Science and Human Nutrition, UIUC
Zachary Grant, Illinois Extension, UIUC

Industry Partners: In development

Community Partners: In development

By 2050, the world’s population will reach 9 billion, of which 85% will reside in urban areas. All individuals will need to eat. This project will develop the network and infrastructure to support internships, experiential learning opportunities, courses, and social and cultural activities for undergraduate students who will be scholars at the Food Innovation Center for Metropolitan Food and Environmental Systems, a unique DPI education and training facility. It will provide up to 30 internships and/or experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate students who will study issues related to food and agriculture. Moreover, two undergraduate-level courses regarding metropolitan food and environmental systems will be developed and offered at the DPI location, as well as remotely through online educational platforms across the Illinois Innovation Network sites and other relevant University of Illinois Extension locations throughout the state. An Extension Educator will be located at DPI to secure internships with food and beverage companies in Chicago, develop experiential learning opportunities with community organizations, industries, government, and non-profit organizations, create two courses, and plan social and cultural activities for undergraduate students who will study in Chicago via the DPI. An Advisory Board will be organized and activated. 


Developing “Scholarly Gaming Environments” via Digital Conservation of African Cultural Heritage

Teresa Barnes, Center for African Studies, UIUC
Mauro Nobili, History, UIUC
Laila Hussein Mustafa, Middle East and North African Studies Librarian, UIUC

Industry Partners: In development

Community Partners: In development

This project will convene a preliminary meeting and two workshop conversations at Discovery Partners Institute in Chicago in 2019-20 with Illinois-based computer science faculty, practitioners of 3D imagining technology, game theorists, artists and video game development companies to begin developing a new product: historically accurate and compelling “scholarly gaming environments” on African historical themes. It will contribute to the digital conservation of ancient cultural heritage on the African continent. The workshop conversations will decide what specific forms the products should take, the kind of content they might encompass, the cultural heritage sites and materials which should be prioritized, and a development timeline.  Once developed, the platform of “scholarly gaming environments” will have wide applications to other heritage conservation projects and disciplines.  

The primary goals of the project are the development of innovative educational products in gaming and/or virtual reality formats and the digital conservation of vulnerable African sites and materials. It will offer needed educational and heritage products to both US- and Africa-based partners. The interdisciplinary and public/private workshop conversations will explore what specific forms the products should take, the kind of content they might encompass, the cultural heritage sites and materials that should be prioritized, and the resources that will be required.  


AI and Environment 

Tanya Berger-Wolf, Computer Science, UIC
Thomas Theis, Institute for Environmental Science and Policy, UIC
Jeffrey Brauwn, Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, UIUC
Eric Schauber, Illinois Natural History Survey, UIUC

Industry Partners: Illinois Department of Innovation & Technology, Microsoft, Wild Me

Community Partners: In development

Artificial Intelligence today is being applied to many societal challenging problems, yet, while environment is the domain most urgently in need of fresh, creative, interdisciplinary ideas and solutions, AI currently does not have a big contribution. With the availability of big environmental data coming from sensors, images, genomics, and crowdsourcing, the environmental challenges are ripe for AI approaches. The state of Illinois, spanning rural/agricultural and urban environments, with shared natural resources and being part of the global environment, is a complex system with unique challenges.  

This project will bring AI and environmental researchers, as well as business, non-profit, and government stakeholders and policymakers together to create a community to develop AI approaches to address pressing environmental issues and to create deployable solutions and actionable policy in the state of Illinois.

We will start with a tandem of workshops in Fall 2019 with the aim to creating a roadmap to assembly of common and reusable data and computational resources, generalizable methodologies, and end-to-end idea-to-deployment project groups. The first workshop will focus on articulating the challenges, questions, problems, and need gaps from the perspective of the environmental community of researchers and practitioners. The second workshop will focus on presenting the relevant AI approaches and adaptable examples, possibly from non-environmental applications. With these initial activities, we aim to catalyze a longer-term sustained interdisciplinary translational effort around AI and environment.


Air Quality in the Home:  From Smart Sensing to Action

Richard Sowers, Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering, UIUC
Paul Francisco, Applied Research Institute, UIUC
Charles Catlett, Argonne National Laboratory 

Industry Partners: In development

Community Partners: In development

Abstract: This project centers on technology and data for indoor air quality. Increasingly inexpensive technology makes it feasible to develop dedicated indoor sensor suites for identifying what is in the air we breathe in our homes. This opens up possibilities in identifying triggers of respiratory illnesses, which in 2009 were responsible for over 3,000,000 hospitalizations and 200,000 deaths. This project will establish core capabilities in indoor air quality sensing and corresponding use of data. The goal is to build prototype capabilities and build awareness of these capabilities amongst medical stakeholders.

This project stems from a collaboration between expertise in sensing, air quality, and data. It reflects a collaboration between Argonne Laboratory/University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign Departments of Mathematics and Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering, and the Applied Research Institute at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign.

This project involves the development of data and computing technologies in the service of health and wellness, through improving the ability of low-cost sensors to be used for rapid response to changing conditions that can impact occupant health in the indoor environment. In the long term, it has the potential to impact health across culture and society, support a healthy home workforce that serves the needs of individuals through technology, contribute to technology transfer by putting data from these sensors in the hands of health professionals, and impact public policy targeted at improving indoor health.


The Autism and Innovation Initiative

Maureen Dunne, Disability and Human Development, UIC
Tamar Heller, Disability and Human Development, UIC
Daria Tsoupikova, New Media Design; Electronic Visualization Laboratory, UIC

Industry Partners:  Microsoft Technology and Civic Engagement Group, Yolobe.com, Chamber 630, Code DuPage, Venture 1818 Partners, Autism 911, LearnStep, Inklusion Works, Inklusion Capital, Social Skills Hero, TMT Partners

Community Partners: Autism Community Ventures, Autism Society of Southern Illinois, Mental Health Association of Greater Chicago, The Transiiton2Success Project, MakerSpace Lab, Community High School District 99, University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (University Partner), Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (University Partner), Grupo Salto, The Autism Program of Illinois (TAP)

In recent years, the shortage of technology talent in Illinois and the outmigration of engineers to other states has been identified as a major concern. It is also estimated that approximately 85 percent of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) remain unemployed or underemployed. ASD is the fastest growing developmental disability and is diagnosed more frequently than AIDS, cancer and diabetes combined, with 1 in 59 children now being diagnosed (CDC, 2018). The mission of the Autism and Innovation Initiative is to strengthen the technology and innovation talent pipeline in Illinois by including people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and taking a strength-based approach to training, entrepreneurship and workforce development. 

In pioneering an inclusive model to training, attracting and retaining talent in Illinois, the program will offer opportunities for engagement with innovative technology projects to inspire enthusiasm for technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. The Autism and Innovation Initiative, in collaboration with industry and community partners, will spearhead the foundation of a statewide Innovation Hub that takes a strength-based approach to including individuals with autism in the Illinois STEM workforce.

The initial milestones this initiative will accomplish include 1) Coding Bootcamps and Hackathons in different regions of Illinois; 2) STEM Faculty Training Workshop on ASD; 3) Community College Bridge to UIC Program to Support STEM Transfer Students with Autism; and 4) Autism and Technology Working Research Group and Seminar Courses to drive interdisciplinary collaborations, innovative technology solutions and entrepreneurship. While a core focus is on integrating persons with autism into the Illinois workforce, the statewide Innovation Hub seeks to invigorate the overall technology pipeline and retain engineering talent.