New centers, spaces and projects to watch


Quantum Engineering Initiative lead Greg Rieker, right, with Scott Diddams in the lab.
Quantum Engineering Initiative lead Greg Rieker, right, with Scott Diddams in the lab. 

Quantum Engineering Initiative lead Greg Rieker with a student in Rieker's lab.
Quantum Engineering Initiative lead Greg Rieker, left, with Scott Diddams in the lab.

A quantum leap forward

The college has launched a Quantum Engineering Initiative to expand internal efforts in the field while strengthening connections to local and regional partners.

The initiative marks a significant and strategic investment into translational quantum engineering research — especially in quantum sensing, which has been a strength in the college for years. It specifically includes educational components, faculty hiring efforts and dedicated lab space for collaboration with partners both on and off CU Boulder’s campus.

The initiative is a new arm of the existing campuswide CUbit Quantum Initiative, which supports the university and state of Colorado’s prominence in quantum information science and technology.

The college took another bold step forward in 2021 by hiring Professor Scott Diddams and several other prominent quantum researchers into faculty roles. Diddams has worked at the National Institute of Standards and Technology for two decades and conducted prominent experimental research in the field of optical frequency combs and quantum metrology with application to atomic clocks and sensors.

Other recent hires include Assistant Professors András Gyenis and Josh Combes. All three are based in the Department of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering and are part of a multiyear faculty recruitment plan as part of the Quantum Engineering Initiative.



New model for personalized medicine

Patient-specific 3D model.
Patient-specific 3D model.

CU Boulder mechanical engineering researchers have developed a working proof of concept for a process that uses medical images to provide relevant, physical, patient-specific 3D models.

This personalized medicine approach — developed in partnership with CU Anschutz and CU Denver — enables realistic mechanical and morphological features that could revolutionize cancer surgery, for example, where defining the margins of tumors to be removed is critically important.

The partnership was partially funded by the AB Nexus initiative, a $1.2 million effort to fund and support collaborative teams working to improve human well-being, spur innovation and encourage economic development.

The next phase of this work will focus on evaluating existing materials, as well as formulating new ones, to determine appropriate multimaterial mimics for complex biological tissues.



Smart biofoam, less petroleum-based waste

Biodegradable, water-soluble “smart” foam developed by students associated with the ATLAS Institute.
Biodegradable, water-soluble “smart” foam developed by students associated with the ATLAS Institute.

With few options for recycling, most post consumer Styrofoam waste ends up in landfills. Joining the quest to identify more sustainable alternatives, four graduate students associated with the ATLAS Institute are developing a biodegradable, water-soluble “smart” foam, with applications in wearable technology, human-computer interaction and interactive tangible interfaces.

Building on an open-source recipe, the group is the first to embed conductive materials into biofoam, paving the way for sustainable applications, including the creation of pressure sensors to measure force or as a conductive substrate for embedding electronics, where the biofoam would fill the spaces between electronic components within devices.

Biofoam’s soft, flexible and water-soluble material is made from gelatin, glycerin, water and biodegradable dish soap. It also includes locally sourced additives such as tree sap to increase resistance to humidity, flaxseed mucilage to decrease shrinkage during the curing process and powdered walnut hulls as a natural pigment.

Although not biodegradable, the conductive stainless-steel fibers are ideal because they can be easily recovered with a magnet when biofoam is dissolved at the end of its lifespan. The reclaimed fibers can be reused many times. Biofoam could also replace single-use petroleum-based disposable RFID and NFC wristbands and event badges.



Partnering on a ‘living-learning lab’

State map of Alabama marking the location of Tuskegee University

State map of Alabama marking the location of Tuskegee University

Researchers at CU Boulder and Tuskegee University are working together to create a hands-on “living-learning laboratory” for students to connect through a long-term sustainability and equity project.

The project will use 25 acres of land near Tuskegee University to study questions around sustainable agricultural land infrastructure and climate resiliency. That includes testing and designing recycled materials in construction, embedding solar power and creating rainwater catchments.

At the same time, students from both universities will conduct interviews in the surrounding community and reflect on how the culture and history of the area — including colonialism and enslavement — tie into the creation and implementation of their sustainability-focused solutions.

The initial partnership and planning for the project was funded in part by a seed grant from the college’s Resilient Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity research theme. Other support came from the Mortenson Center in Global Engineering, the Engineering Management Program and the Program in Environmental Design.



A 21st-century machine shop

Researcher working in the COSINC lab
Researcher working in the COSINC lab.

A state-of-the-art cleanroom will open on East Campus in fall 2022, offering a dedicated space for collaboration and research that is open for use by the public, faculty, students and staff.

The $7.5 million facility is part of the Colorado Shared Instrumentation in Nanofabrication and Characterization (COSINC), a multidisciplinary core research facility and service center in the college that provides access to equipment for micro- and nanofabrication, nanomaterials characterization and metrology, as well as offering expertise and advanced hands-on training in related areas.

Housed in the Sustainability, Energy and Environment Laboratory (SEEL) building, the cleanroom is the 21st-century machine shop that will enable a wide spectrum of research projects in areas including electronics, photonics, quantum science, and biomedical and nanomedicine.

Completion of the facility is the last step in COSINC’s move from the Engineering Center and is part of a $900,000 project to improve and centralize facilities used by the Materials Science and Engineering Program in the same building.



Reducing congestion on the RF spectrum

Researchers at CU Boulder are key players in a $25 million, multi-institution effort to study the radio frequency spectrum. The SpectrumX center represents the first federal investment in a national center focused on the transformation of wireless spectrum management.

Many everyday devices, like cell phones and smart home devices, use radio spectrum for their operation. But the spectrum is a limited resource that is already congested — a problem that will only grow with the development of future applications to enable intelligent transportation systems, widespread drone use and 5G communications.

Funded by the National Science Foundation with leadership at CU Boulder through the Ann and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, the center is led by the University of Notre Dame. It will bring together experts from 29 organizations to transform the landscape of spectrum research, education, collaboration and management.


Preparing for entry into other planets

Researchers in Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences will work with NASA over the next five years to improve entry system technologies for exploring other planets.

The $15 million Advanced Computational Center for Entry System Simulation (ACCESS) will focus on thermal protection systems, which shield spacecraft from the aerodynamic heating experienced during hypersonic entry into the atmosphere. The work is critical to plans for exploration of nearby planets like Mars, which will require placing large payloads safely on the planets’ surfaces.

The ACCESS institute is the third project with ties to the College of Engineering and Applied Science selected by NASA for its prestigious Space Technology Research Institute program. Only six have been awarded since 2017.


BEST in green building technology

The Building Energy Smart Technologies (BEST) Center is a multi-university initiative to advance sustainable building projects, including HVAC manufacturing, smart glazing for windows, building controls, insulation and solar installations.

Funded by the National Science Foundation under the Industry-University Cooperative Research Centers model, the project is focused on business collaboration, directing research into areas needed for the construction industry and building retrofits. The initial grant will provide $1.5 million over five years, matched by industry associates for a total of at least $3 million.

The BEST Center has already recruited 10 industry partners. Leadership at CU Boulder comes from the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering, with City College of New York serving as a partner site — offering the opportunity to research and test new building technologies in the largest metropolitan area in the United States.

Moncef Krarti, right, director of the BEST Center, works with a student in his lab.
Moncef Krarti, right, serves as director of the BEST Center.