By Published: May 17, 2023

 People sitting in a conference roomResearchers from across the college gathered at the end of the semester for brief presentations on seed grant funded work through the Interdisciplinary Research Themes.

The Resilient Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity Interdisciplinary Research Theme is awarding multiple seed grants to spur research teaming in the college and boost early projects with a high potential for societal impact.

The research theme explores holistic actions to address the many drivers of urban disaster risk worldwide, while simultaneously tackling environmental sustainability and social equity challenges. Specifically, the theme leverages new developments and world-class expertise in disaster resilience, sustainable design, and social justice across engineering and the CU Boulder campus.
The 2023 seed grants range in funding and scope and present great opportunities for collaboration, said RISE Director Shideh Dashti.
“I am looking forward to seeing the work that comes from this investment and encourage all faculty interested in participating in the theme in the future to contact me directly by email,” she said.

Incorporating Wastewater-Effluent Adapted Microbial Communities and Sewer Infrastructure into the Management of Wildland-Urban Interface Fire Debris in Water-Stressed Regions

This project looks at the aftereffects of the Marshal Fire, which destroyed over 1,000 homes near CU Boulder in late 2021. The aftermath of the disaster presented an opportunity to study a variety of newly important issues as wildfires increasingly threaten agricultural resources and the wildland-urban interface instead of undeveloped land. The wildland-urban interface represents the area where homes and development meet wilderness. This seed project will explore how water used to fight fires in urban environments may later impact wastewater practices such as the proper disposal of runoff into sanitary and storm sewer systems. One specific objective is to study the effect of that practice on microbial communities. Another is to understand the perception of wildfire risk in these wildland-urban communities and co-develop best practices and research directions with wastewater policy actors to further strengthen environmental-social infrastructure. Researchers: Assistant Professor Cresten Mansfeldt (EVEN), PhD student William Johnson.

Designing sustainable interactions between machines and non-human organisms

This project aims to propose methods that design sustainable interactions between machines and non-human organisms. This summer the team will build a system where machines observe slime-mold – a smart unicellular organism that can explore its environment algorithmically to find the shortest path to its food source. Inspired by the patterns it creates in this process, the team are seeking to create slime “computers” that use the organism to solve hard problems of nondeterministic polynomial-time-complete complexity that algorithms cannot solve. Doing so would aid in the creation of sustainable computing. Researchers: Assistant Professors Mirela Alistar (ATLAS, CS) and Daniel Leithinger (ATLAS, CS).

Integrating geotechnical risk models in decision-making frameworks for resilient transportation infrastructure

This project is motivated by the increased need to account for risk and resilience in the management of public infrastructure such as highway systems. In Colorado, this is particularly important as researchers work to better understand the multiple hazards that can arise after a disaster – like landslides that develop in areas previously damaged by wildfires for example. This grant will support the preparation of a research proposal related to the integration of geotechnical risks models in decision-making frameworks. The work seeks to inform future policy and investments in transportation resilience in Colorado and beyond. Researcher: Assistant Professor Cristina Torres-Machi (CEAS).

Energy and Environmental Justice in Long-Duration Energy Storage

Natural disasters like hurricanes, wildfires and earthquakes can often damage power infrastructure – ending service and multiplying problems for first responders and residents. This has made long-duration energy storage an important pillar of disaster resilience and prompted researchers to pursue ways of accomplishing it that also integrate variable energy solutions like wind or solar. This project assesses the impacts of Na-ion batteries for grid level, long duration storage to ensure that they are designed with minimal impact on the environment and human health. Researchers will also consider the incorporation of energy and environmental justice as guiding principles into future large center-scale proposals focused on long duration energy storage. Researchers: Professor Michael Toney (ChBE, MSE, RASEI), Kyri Baker (CEAS/RASEI) and Stephanie Weber (RASEI). PhD students are Casey Davis, Lacey Roberts, Sasha Neefe.

Enabling Compound Environmental Hazard Modeling with a Centrifuge Environmental Control Chamber

Compound environmental hazards – where more than one hazard like flooding, landslides and wildfires bring multiplying-destructive consequences – are of increasing concern around the world. In Colorado and across the U.S. the combination of the aging and weakened infrastructure and the increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events demands action from researchers. This seed grant is intended to develop equipment that will leverage CU Boulder’s 400-g ton centrifuge within the Center for Infrastructure, Energy, and Space Testing and allow – for the first time – the combined control of variables such as temperature, moisture, influx of water and wind to recreate compound hazards at various time scales. Researcher: Assistant Professor Srikanth S. C. Madabhushi (CEAE).

Investigating the Resilience and Sustainability of GreenWalls as a Novel Coastal Defense

This seed grant will be used to develop a novel tsunami generator for the 400 g-ton Geotechnical Centrifuge at CU Boulder to investigate the resilience of novel coastal defenses termed GreenWalls. The design of GreenWalls intentionally leverage the shear strength and stiffness of coastal sands, which are a relatively cheap and widely available construction material. Thus, the seed grant will enable equipment essential to research a new generation of more efficient, sustainable, and ultimately more equitable coastal defenses. Researcher: Assistant Professor Srikanth S. C. Madabhushi (CEAE), Shengzhe Wang (CU Denver).

Planning Grant for Climate and Incarceration Research Collective

The Climate and Incarceration Research Collective at CU Boulder was formed in 2021 to support community-based participatory research to understand and address environmental harm, vulnerability, and injustice experienced by people who are incarcerated. Reducing their vulnerability to heat, fire, flood or disease from climate extremes requires an integrated approach that diminishes the rates of incarceration as well as the harmful conditions that exist in incarceration infrastructure. This grant supports participation in a multi-day workshop to co-design a comprehensive funding approach for this work. The proposed project uniquely integrates the physical, social, and environmental focus areas of RISE IRT. Researcher: Assistant Professor David Ciplet (Environmental Studies).