Sensing Opportunity

The exchange of scientific pursuits and perspectives at a Collaborative Research and Exchange Forum (CREF) sponsored by the College of Engineering yields surprising possibilities for collaboration in environmental sensing research.

Bringing together scientific investigators from diverse disciplines can unearth surprising convergences and help foster new discoveries. In an ongoing effort to enhance collaborative research between the faculty of the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) and the College of Engineering, the fourth CoE Collaborative Research and Exchange Forum (CREF) took place at the Rosenstiel campus on February 18, 2011.

The Collaborative Research and Exchange Forum (CREF), a venue initiated by the College of Engineering (CoE) when James M. Tien became dean in 2007, includes faculty presentations, panel discussions, followed by open “table brainstorming” that encourages growing research between investigators in engineering and the applied sciences. Previous CoE CREFs involved CoE faculty and Miller School of Medicine faculty.

“With more than 40 researchers participating, the 2011 meeting explored the intersections among methods and devices that monitor and perform sensing for environmental applications.”

Co-organized by Helena Solo-Gabriele, associate dean for research and professor at the College of Engineering, and Robert K. Cowen, associate dean for research for RSMAS, the event featured presentations by faculty from both schools centered on “Environmental Sensing.”

With more than 40 researchers participating, including several from the Center for Computational Science (CCS), the half-day meeting explored the intersections among methods and devices that monitor and perform sensing for environmental applications. For example, the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) detected in Earth’s atmosphere are composed of the same chemicals as those detected in the breath of patients who suffer from lung cancer, a relationship that researchers can more effectively diagnose the disease.

CREF

The Collaborative Research and Exchange Forum drew more than 40 University researchers to share insights and ideas pertaining to monitoring and sensing techniques and technologies for environmental applications. 

In another example, Falk Amelung, associate professor of marine geology and geophysics, uses remote sensing techniques to assess the earth’s crustal movement and sedimentation in coastal zones, in addition to “ground-truthing”, a technique for measuring a levee’s rate of subsidence. During the event, Amelung discussed the possibility of using remote sensors such as those developed for monitoring the structural integrity of bridges by Antonio Nanni, professor and chair of the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering.

Combining sensor techniques could provide researchers with a method of double-checking data and with more measurements for tracking the levees’ stability and integrity.
The CREF also brings together what might otherwise seem like disparate ideas. Using a boat to collect samples of ocean water in in real-time for the purpose of identifying microscopic microbes, Robert Cowan has encountered the problem of separating the miniscule organisms from the vast amount of water in which they reside. Since their shape identifies the microbes, Mohamed Abdel-Mottaleb, professor and chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering who works with optical imaging devices for facial recognition application, suggested using some of the same algorithms that detect facial features in order to more efficiently isolate the microbes from their surrounding “white space.”

“It was amazing to observe the level of detail discussed by these engineers and scientists just by talking to each other,” says Solo-Gabriele. “We hope the discussions will lead to future collaborations and advances in science and engineering.”

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The forum was co-organized by Helena Solo-Gabriele, associate dean for research at the College of Engineering, whose own work focuses primarily on aspects of water quality control.