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$3M NSF-NRT Grant led by Kevin Leonard Awarded

Thursday, September 5, 2019

We are thrilled to announce that a brand new $3 million grant has been approved by the National Science Foundations' Division of Graduate Learning through their Research Traineeship (NRT), Project & Program Evaluation program. The Principal Investigator on this project is Associate Professor Kevin Leonard. About this award, he said, “This $3M grant, awarded entirely to KU, is to leverage the power of data mining and machine learning for rational catalyst design. I think this program will be a great addition to our graduate student education and the research mission of the college of engineering,” and we could not agree more.

The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new potentially transformative models for STEM graduate education training. The program is dedicated to effective training of STEM graduate students in high priority interdisciplinary or convergent research areas through comprehensive traineeship models that are innovative, evidence-based, and aligned with changing workforce and research needs. Several other faculty members and staff will be working on this project including: CEBC Director Bala Subramaniam (Co-Principal Investigator), Professor of Electrical Engineering Bo Luo (Co-Principal Investigator), Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion for the School of Engineering Andrew Williams (Co-Principal Investigator), Assistant Professor of Chemistry James Blakemore (Co-Principal Investigator), and the CEBC’s Education Director Claudia Bode.

Full Abstract for the project

Nearly every aspect of modern life depends on catalysts, from fuels to synthetic fibers, drugs to detergents, and paints to plastics. Catalysts make and break molecular bonds, turning raw materials into useful products. With increased global demand for the products of these catalytic reactions, new and reimagined catalysts are essential to drive innovation and more effectively utilize our natural resources. Current strategies for developing catalysts rely mostly on time-intensive, trial-and-error experiments. Recent advances in computer science and machine learning have the potential to speed up discovery in this field by automating search mechanisms for these vastly complex and data-rich systems, ultimately revealing hidden patterns and physical properties that scientists can use to design novel catalysts. However, to initiate this data revolution in catalysis, highly skilled individuals are needed who are capable of collaborating across the chemical and computer sciences. This National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) award to the University of Kansas will address this need by training graduate students to harness data to ask and answer new questions needed for the discovery of safe, effective, and energy-efficient chemical conversion processes. The traineeship is designed to provide a unique, scalable and comprehensive training opportunity for fifty (50) MS and PhD students, including twenty-five (25) funded trainees, from chemical engineering, chemistry, and computer science.

This NRT program will lay the groundwork for developing novel data mining and extraction methodologies, which will in turn accelerate catalytic insights and innovations with potentially far-reaching advances in challenging chemistries such as water splitting and alkane oxidation. Decades of research in these chemistries have led to thousands of publications, yet breakthrough catalysts remain elusive. With focused training in how to harness the plethora of data, researchers will establish new insights on catalyst structure-function patterns and correlations in catalytic materials, leading to potentially transformational advances in these chemistries. The research program will create modularized data mining frameworks and reveal machine learning techniques that can decipher complex property/activity relationships in other catalytic systems as well, ultimately establishing an Internet of Catalysis. This NRT program will prepare a future workforce of interdisciplinary scholars who are highly skilled communicators and leaders capable of excelling in a wide array of careers. Initiatives to promote active inclusion and graduate school resilience will transform the learning environment and encourage the full participation of women, underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities, and veterans. Key training components include team building with a global perspective, new courses and a certificate program, hypothesis-based career planning, inclusion and resilience training, and technical training. This initiative will impact the training of graduate students across departments and institutions, contributing to the development and broad adoption of evidence-based teaching and learning practices for graduate education.

Congratulations again to Kevin Leonard and the entire team for all the hard work they have already done and are about to start on this excellent, well-planned, and much needed project!

Bo LuoAndrew WilliamsJames D. Blakemore

(Pictured above from left to right: Professor Bo Luo, Distinguished Professor Bala Subramaniam, Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Andrew Williams, and Assistant Professor James Blakemore)

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