By Kelsey Simpkins

Principal investigator
Qin (Christine) Lv

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Collaboration + support
Argonne National Laboratory; Colorado State University; Cornell University; Idaho National Laboratory; National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL); Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Purdue University; University of Auckland New Zealand; University of Colorado Colorado Springs; University of Texas at El Paso; Utah State University; Virginia Tech

New engineering research center aims to electrify transportation, expand education

A major collaboration among engineering, industry and education is paving the way to the future of electrified transportation. Launched in 2020, ASPIRE—Advancing Sustainability through Powered Infrastructure for Roadway Electrification—is a groundbreaking, multidisciplinary center that explores a diverse range of transportation questions, from electrified highways that energize vehicles to the placement of charging stations, data security and workforce development.

The Utah State University-led center’s inaugural director is Regan Zane, previously a professor of electrical and computer engineering at CU Boulder, where he also received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering. And with faculty across multiple departments within the College of Engineering and Applied Science involved in leading roles with ASPIRE, the University of Colorado Boulder plays a major part in this new center focused on developing infrastructure and systems that facilitate the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

“CU Boulder has a well-earned reputation as a leader in sustainabilityfocused research and innovation,” said Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Terri Fiez. “ASPIRE will provide our researchers with an exciting new opportunity for global impact through the collaborative reimagining of the future of transportation as we know it.”

ASPIRE’s work is based on research, education and workforce development, diversity and culture of inclusion, and innovation. It aims to improve health and quality of life for everyone by catalyzing sustainable and equitable electrification across the transportation sector.

“We need to understand the factors that are impacting the development and adoption of this technology so that we’re solving the right problems,” said Qin (Christine) Lv, ASPIRE’s CU Boulder campus director, co-principal investigator of the Engineering Research Center and lead for the data research thrust within ASPIRE.

Electric car plugged in

Within its research, ASPIRE will focus on transportation, adoption, power and data.

Data is important for electrifying transportation, not only because it can help designers plan how much charge is available at which charging stations and when, but where they should be built, based on traffic data, consumer preferences and more. Data security is also important to protect charging infrastructure and individual vehicles from malicious attacks.

ASPIRE is also creating a connected system encompassing K–12 experiences, undergraduate and graduate degrees, trades, and professional workforce learning pathways, with seamless transitions among them, to develop a diverse engineering workforce trained to support cross-industry transformations.

“We aim to break boundaries among disciplines and develop a diverse engineering workforce whose members strive for inclusion and equity for all, not only in engineering, but also in the society as a whole,” said Dragan Maksimovic, co-director of ASPIRE’s Engineering Workforce Development and member of its power research thrust, and Charles Victor Schelke Endowed Professor of Electrical, Computer & Energy Engineering at CU Boulder.

The center will partner with schools and community organizations in Boulder and Denver to strengthen engineering and climate change education in the classroom, in afterschool programs and in summer engineering design camps at CU Boulder. They will also assist with professional development for teachers—particularly those in rural areas—to strengthen their familiarity and confidence in STEM curriculum. All of these efforts will be backed by a vast, open and continually growing library of high-quality STEM and design curricula and educational content housed on the website.

“We’re not going to separate diversity and a culture of inclusion from engineering workforce development here. Instead, we are going to include those goals and items from the start to create a much richer, more effective, more promising and more inclusive workforce development initiative overall,” said Jacquelyn Sullivan, founding co-director of the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program at CU Boulder and ASPIRE’s director of K–12 engineering education. “It’s a different way of thinking.”