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Andlinger Center News

June 24, 2011

When it comes to green innovation, two minds are better than one. That sums up the vision for the first competitively awarded research grants by the Andlinger Innovation Fund, which will go to four interdisciplinary projects seeking to solve problems ranging from polluted groundwater to energy-hogging computer systems.

Each of the year-long projects, which will be funded by the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, will be headed by a pair of Princeton faculty from different departments. Depending on their requirements, the teams will receive between $25,000 and $100,000 in seed funding for innovative research into energy and environmental problems related to energy. An interdisciplinary faculty committee selected the winning projects.

“The enormous complexity of the planet’s energy and environmental challenges require teams of experts from multiple disciplines to overcome them,” said Emily Carter, the center’s founding director. “Through these Inaugural Andlinger Innovation grants, we are nucleating new research partnerships that bring fresh perspectives to longstanding problems and alter the nature of typical research done to solve them, thereby accelerating discoveries that will lead us to a sustainable future.”

The researchers and projects to receive funding are:

Elie Bou-Zeid, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Howard Stone, the Dixon Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering will investigate the use of “wet walls” – walls with outer layers designed with specific properties to enhance evaporation from their surface – to reduce the environmental harm done by buildings. The researchers will study whether wet walls can reduce air temperatures and the loss of moisture to the atmosphere, two key environmental problems associated with urban areas.

Bruce Koel, a professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Peter Jaffe, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, will explore whether tiny iron particles coated with plastic can safely absorb pollutants in groundwater. The grant will also support the development of a new graduate course to teach the fundamentals of surface science to engineers.

Margaret Martonosi, a professor of computer science, and Warren Powell, a professor of operations research and financial engineering, will explore ways to make the computing infrastructure used by organizations more energy efficient. By combining concepts from computer science and optimization techniques from applied mathematics, the duo will try to find better ways to route data traffic and to determine the best energy sources for powering data centers.

Michael McAlpine, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Naveen Verma, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, seek to develop materials to capture heat that would escape from buildings as waste energy. More than just insulation, which simply attempts to trap heat, these new materials would convert the heat energy into electricity which could then be recycled for heating the building or put to other uses.

The funding, made possible through a gift by Gerhard R. Andlinger ’52, was created to support faculty member pursuit of research in new areas; encourage collaboration among Princeton scientists, engineers, and industry; and allow for the purchase of equipment.

“I am delighted with the breadth and depth of the first set of projects that Gerry Andlinger’s extraordinary gift has made possible,” Carter said.