Published: July 20, 2020 By

The College of Engineering and Applied Science has launched three new interdisciplinary research themes as part of a broad push into growing and critical areas of study. 

Interim Dean Keith Molenaar said all three new themes – Hypersonic Vehicles, Resilient Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, and Engineering Education and AI-Augmented Learning – will explore vitally important work and help advance the college’s long-term research vision.

“These themes are incredibly multifaceted and align with the most important research topics being explored right now in Colorado, the nation and the world,” said Molenaar. “Our investment here builds on our existing strengths in the college and truly supports one of our key goals of providing transformational societal impact through research.”

The college launched its first six interdisciplinary research themes in 2018. The goal of the project is to aid faculty teaming on larger projects, build up shared facility resources and provide internal seed grants to propel research in crucial topic areas. From that original group, the Autonomous Systems and Multi-Functional Materials themes will continue on with these three new partnerships for the next two years.

The new themes are:  

Hypersonic Vehicles

This theme will be led by Professor Iain Boyd from the Ann and H.J. Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences Department. In addition to his duties there, Boyd also serves as the national security faculty director for the CU Boulder Research and Innovation Office. Hypersonic vehicles are used for space exploration, national security, and perhaps for passenger transport in the future. The design of these flying vehicles involves consideration of a number of complex, closely interrelated areas including aerodynamics, propulsion, materials, structures, and controls. The College of Engineering has many faculty with deep expertise in these areas as well as in optimization. Boyd said one of the main goals of the theme is to bring all of those faculty together to accelerate the optimal design of hypersonic vehicles.

Engineering Education and AI-Augmented Learning

This theme will be led by Angela Bielefeldt who serves as the director of the Engineering Plus Program and is a professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering. Assistant Professor Alessandro Roncone from the Department of Computer Science will serve as co-director as well. The scope of the theme includes research in engineering and computing education and assessment, as well as AI/machine learning and the convergence between those areas. One key goal is to develop the theories, technologies, and know-how for advancing student-centered learning and creating next-generation learning environments in K-16, graduate, and professional engineering and computing education. This IRT will help establish CU Boulder as a national leader in innovative learning technologies as well as engineering and computing education research. 


Resilient Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity 

This theme will be led by Associate Professor Shideh Dashti from the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering with Associate Professor Abbie Liel and Professor Shelly Miller as co-directors. The group will explore holistic actions to address the many drivers of urban disaster risk worldwide, while simultaneously addressing environmental sustainability and social equity challenges. Specifically, this IRT will converge and leverage new developments and world-class expertise in disaster resilience, sustainable design, and social justice across engineering and the CU Boulder campus to facilitate a paradigm shift in research and education related to engineering urban resilience. Combining these three themes is unprecedented and puts the group in a unique position globally.

Leadership from the new themes are currently building out networks within the college and the broader campus community. Associate Dean for Research Massimo Ruzzene urges interested faculty and researchers to contact the new directors over the summer to help drive the themes’ vision and planning. 

“I am excited to see the successes and partnerships that will come out of this new phase of research themes,” he said. “As before, we will be reviewing all of the themes in two years’ time to document accomplishments and examine how they fit into our evolving strategic priorities. I’m confident these focuses will help advance our college’s research in the coming years and lead to greater understanding across several fields.”

New directors are leaders in research within the college

Shideh Dashti

Dashti’s Research Selected as Editor’s Choice in ASCE Journal

Dashti researched how tall buildings affect adjacent underground structures during earthquakes with a group including professors from the University of Illinois and engineers from the Arup Group.

Angela Bielefeldt portrait

Bielefeldt's research will examine role of mentoring in STEM majors’ retention

The work is funded by CU’s Research & Innovation Office Seed Grant program and is in partnership with the School of Education.

Iain Boyd portrait

Boyd: To safely explore the solar system and beyond, spaceships need to go faster

"There are a lot of reasons that a faster spaceship is a better one, and nuclear-powered rockets are a way to do this" writes Boyd in The Conversation. 

Alessandro Roncone portrait

Roncone and others work with robotic skin could transform manufacturing

Roncone, along with a talented group of researchers across the college, is trying to create skins for robots to maximize their local sensing capabilities, improving operational safety and human-robot interaction along the way.