July 18, 2014
Qualcomm Institute Announces Seed Grants to Build Clusters in Brain, Medical and Robotics Research

35 faculty projects receive one-year grants topping $1.6 million

The Qualcomm Institute at the University of California, San Diego has given the green light to 35 new projects that are part of the institute’s Calit2 Strategic Research Opportunities (CSRO) program. Each one-year seed grant is worth up to $50,000 in support for researchers in areas of critical interest to the research mission of the institute—and the university. (The Qualcomm Institute is the UC San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, or Calit2.)

The new projects were selected from a field of 70 proposals put forward by eligible professors and research scientists. Effective July 1, the 35 projects were awarded grants valued at more than $1,673,000.

"Reviewers were impressed with the quality of this year’s proposals, which were largely responsive to the areas where we want to take the institute in the next couple of years," said Qualcomm Institute director Ramesh Rao, a professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Jacobs School of Engineering. "In particular, the funded projects will allow us to participate actively in campus-wide brain, medical and robotics research initiatives. We look at it as a down-payment, because our researchers will be able to leverage these investments and compete for larger federal grants that are needed to advance the state of the art in these important areas."

Most of the funding for the CSRO program was earmarked from private support received by the Qualcomm Institute, notably from Qualcomm, Inc., the Qualcomm Foundation, and The Legler Benbough Foundation.

CSRO grants to PIs typically involve a cash portion (including fellowships) and in-kind support in the form of Qualcomm Institute services, personnel or the use of facilities. As part of the cash support, roughly $469,200 will go directly to graduate student researchers in the form of CSRO Fellowships for full- or part-time work on 18 of the new projects. Another $652,500 was allocated for services provided by the Qualcomm Institute itself.

Among the 35 winning proposals, at least 10 are directly related to brain research – reflecting the importance that the institute places on the newly-established campus Center for Brain Activity Mapping (CBAM). The funded proposals include:

  • A Platform for High-Density Human Brain Mapping Experiments (PI Vikash Gilja, Electrical and Computer Engineering)
  • Integrating Real-Time Behavior with Real-Time Whole-Brain Recording (PI Ralph Greenspan, Molecular Biology and Center for Brain Activity Mapping)
  • High-Density, Flexible, and Bio-compatible 3D Optogenetic Neural Interfaces (PI Shadi Dayeh, Electrical and Computer Engineering)
  • Monitoring Neurophysiological Responses to Head Impact Using an Instrumented Helmet PI Harinath Garudadri, (Qualcomm Institute)
  • NeuroGaming Center at UC San Diego (PI Leanne Chukoskie, Institute for Neural Computation)
  • An Encapsulated Active Neurological Shank for Robust Ultra-High-Density Brain Recording and Stimulation, PI Patrick Mercier (Electrical and Computer Engineering)
  • High Transition Temperature Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices for Next-Generation Biomagnetic Imaging Systems (PI Robert C. Dynes, Physics)
  • The VE-HuNT System: Immersive VR-based Tool for Patients with Cognitive Deficits Leading to Dementia, PI Eduardo Macagno (Biological Sciences)
  • Noisy Oscillatory Networks in Working Memory Maintenance in Aging, PI Bradley Voytek, (Computational Cognitive Science and Neuroscience)
  • Development of a Portable, Brain-Based, Method for Objective Assessment of Visual Function Loss, PI Felipe Medeiros, (Shiley Eye Center)

Another half-dozen projects also relate to health (one of the four research thrusts contained in the Calit2 strategic vision adopted in 2011). Most of the projects involve sensors and wireless solutions to detect or monitor infectious disease, diabetes, pain, PTSD and other adverse health conditions but also include a study of the relative health merits of yoga versus aerobic exercise.:

  • Rapid, Ultralow-Cost Multiplexed Point-of-Care (POC) Testing of Infectious Diseases for Global Health, PI Drew Hall, (Electrical and Computer Engineering)
  • Introducing Engineering and Impacting Underserved Communities via Wireless Health, PI Todd Coleman (Bioengineering)
  • Cartridge Lab-on-Chip (CLOC) for Mobile Health, PI Shaya Fainman (Electrical and Computer Engineering)
  • Vitrification of Encapsulated Stem Cell Derived Islets for Treatment of Diabetes, PI Pamela Itkin-Ansari (Pediatrics)
  • Closed Loop Feedback for Burst Spinal Cord Stimulation: Treatment of Pain and PTSD, PI Imanuel Lerman (Anesthesiology)
  • An Interdisciplinary Study of the Mechanism(s) Of The Health Benefits Of Yoga Compared with Aerobic Exercise, PI Linda Hill (Family and Preventive Medicine)
  • Anomaly Detection and Labeling Algorithms for Unobtrusive Sensing, PI Ramon Huerta (BioCircuits Institute)

The CSRO program also encouraged PIs to submit proposals in the field of robotics and machine learning. The funded projects in this category were:

  • Multi-Sensing Micro-Drone Swarms that Save Lives, PI Falko Kuester (Structural Engineering)
  • Multifunctional Microrobots for Efficient Environmental Remediation, PI Joseph Wang (NanoEngineering)
  • Brain-Computer Interfaces for Social Robotics and Human-Agent Interaction, PI Ayse Saygin, (Cognitive Science)
  • Biologically Inspired Object Tracking for Computer Vision PI Harinath Garudadri, (Qualcomm Institute)
  • Learning with Scarce Data: Theory, Applications, and Software, PI Alon Orlitsky, (Electrical and Computer Engineering)

In addition to health, the strategic vision adopted in 2011 focused on three other areas where the Qualcomm Institute aims to make a societal difference: culture, environment, and energy. Projects in these categories approved for 2014-15 include:

  • Development of an Integrated Carbon Offset Protocol for Improved Biomass Cookstoves, PI Jennifer Burney, (International Relations and Pacific Studies)
  • Aerial Sensing for the Maya Jungle, PI Curt Schurgers, (Qualcomm Institute)
  • Mapping and Visualizing Complex, Large-Scale Underwater Archaeological Sites and Artifacts, PI Ryan Kastner (Computer Science and Engineering)
  • A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams: Sonification of a Virtual Gallery, PI Lei Liang (Music)
  • Measuring the Happiness of Cities from Tweeted Images, PI Lev Manovich, (Qualcomm Institute)
  • Transmedia Research Initiative, PI Thomas DeFanti (Qualcomm Institute)
  • Enabling GIS Research Capacity at QI: The Location Lab, PI Albert Lin (Qualcomm Institute)

The strategic vision – and 2014 CSRO call – also encouraged projects that primarily aim to enhance one or more of the core ‘enabling technologies’ (cyberinfrastructure, photonics, wireless, and nano-MEMS):

  • Integrated Optoelectronics for Ultra-Compact Data Center Network Nodes, PI Shayan Mookherjea, (Electrical and Computer Engineering)
  • Applied Virtual Reality Initiative (PI Jurgen Schulze, Qualcomm Institute)
  • Rapid Prototyping of Electronic Gadgets, PI Steven Swanson (Computer Science and Engineering)
  • Experimental Platform Development for Wireless Channel Modeling for Next Generation Systems, PI Bhaskar Rao, (Electrical and Computer Engineering)
  • SunLight SDX: Developing and Validating a Software-Defined Network Exchange, PI Thomas DeFanti, (Qualcomm Institute)
  • Multipolar Optical Materials via Active Fano Resonances, PI Boubacar Kante (Electrical and Computer Engineering)

All faculty and research scientists on the UC San Diego campus were eligible to apply for CSRO support, including those not previously affiliated with the multidisciplinary institute. First-time CSRO award recipients included Jennifer Burney, Leanne Chukoskie, Shadi Dayeh, Vikash Gilja, Drew Hall, Ramon Huerta , Pamela Itkin-Ansari, Boubacar Kante, Imanuel Lerman, Felipe Medeiros, and Bradley Voytek, among others.

"One of the motivating factors behind the CSRO program is that it encourages faculty to team up with faculty in other disciplines," said the Qualcomm Institute’s Rao, pointing to the proposal led by ECE professor Patrick Mercier, who will team with Bioengineering professor Gert Cauwenberghs on development of a new system for brain recording and stimulation. "The proposed system enables extremely high electrode density through direct, on-chip multiplexing of recording and stimulating electronics," noted Rao. "This is an exemplar of ambitious programs that are possible when we provide resources to power new collaborations across disciplines."

Rao also noted that the Mercier-Cauwenberghs project is one of several that will develop platforms that can be used by other researchers in a variety of fields. Other platforms approved for CSRO funding include: CSE professor Steven Swanson’s plan for what he calls a Gadgetron for rapid prototyping of electronic gadgets; ECE professor Vikash Gilja’s proposed platform for high-density human brain mapping experiments; and a platform on which to model wireless channels for next-generation communications systems. The latter project, led by ECE professor Bhaskar Rao, would explore "massive MIMO" (multiple-input multiple-output antennas) to test the value of going from two, four or eight antennas per wireless basestation to 100 antennas or more.

Principal investigators come from a wide range of disciplines and departments. CSRO grants are awarded based on a peer-review process and final decisions made by Qualcomm Institute leadership. The 2014 selection committee included chair Curt Schurgers and 13 other members: professors Shadi Dayeh, Jeanne Nichols, Anita Raj, Tom Bewley and Eliah Aronoff-Spencer, as well as research scientists Nikola Alic, Jurgen Schulze, Emilia Farcas, Sameer Tilak, Albert Lin, Todd Margolis, Maziar Nezhad and Hari Garudadri.

Related Links

Calit2 Strategic Research Opportunities (CSRO)
Qualcomm Foundation
The Legler Benbough Foundation
Qualcomm Institute