Research News

Communities of Excellence proposals selected for next round of review

By JOHN DELLACONTRADA

Published November 13, 2014

“The teams advancing to the next stage each have truly innovative and exciting proposals to increase UB’s capacity to address the difficult problems and questions of our time.”
Provost Charles Zukoski

Seven teams of multidisciplinary researchers from across the university have advanced to the next stage of the selection process for UB’s Communities of Excellence, Provost Charles Zukoski announced yesterday.

The seven were among 14 teams that presented preliminary proposals describing their concepts to a panel of reviewers on campus last month. “The reviewers were impressed with the thought leadership and collaborative work demonstrated in each of the concepts,” said Zukoski, who noted that faculty from every UB school and the College of Arts and Sciences were represented in the proposals.

“The teams advancing to the next stage each have truly innovative and exciting proposals to increase UB’s capacity to address the difficult problems and questions of our time,” he said.

Next, the teams will finalize their proposals and submit them in January to a group of outside reviewers. In February, the university will announce teams that will be supported as Communities of Excellence.  

In the Communities of Excellence, scholars from across the university will work in teams focused on finding solutions to large-scale societal challenges. The communities will create new means for integrating educational and scholarly processes across departments, schools and degree programs.

Nearly 100 concepts involving faculty across the university have been considered in a selection process that began in April. The Communities of Excellence initiative emerged from the Realizing UB 2020 plan to invest resources, build strengths and realize the UB 2020 goal of achieving academic excellence. The communities will further develop the capacity of the university to undertake multidisciplinary research, education and community engagement.

“We envision the creation of innovative Communities of Excellence that address large issues facing humankind, society and the globe,” Zukoski said. “These issues will be of such scale that they cannot be addressed by a single discipline, but require the collaboration of multiple disciplines working in concert.”

The seven Communities of Excellence concepts selected to advance to the next round are:

  • The Genome, Environment and Microbiome (GEM). Co-leaders: Robert Genco, oral biology; Norma Nowak, biochemistry; Marc Halfon, biochemistry; and Jennifer Surtees, biochemistry.

The Community of Excellence in the Genome, Environment and Microbiome (GEM) will work to advance our understanding of the human genome and microbiome, and use these advances to benefit humanity in a just and equitable manner. Through a broad collaboration between the sciences, arts and humanities, GEM will consolidate UB’s growing reputation in genomics to make the university a leading center for genome and microbiome research, and a national model for promoting and increasing genomic literacy.

  • Global Health and Well-being. Co-leaders: Pavani Ram, epidemiology and environmental health; Korydon Smith, architecture; Li Lin, industrial and systems engineering; and Samina Raja, urban and regional planning.

The mission of the proposed Community of Excellence in Global Health and Well-being is to reduce the sources and effects of inequity and, thereby, promote the health and well-being of under-resourced populations through excellence in science, responsiveness to community and equity-driven scholarship and education.

  • Humanizing Big Data? Co-leaders: Abani Patra, mechanical and aerospace engineering; Marc Bohlen, media study; and H. Raghav Rao, management sciences and systems.

The ability to collect, analyze and synthesize prodigious amounts of data into effective decision-making is transforming everyday life. The mechanistic use of large static data sets (“Big Data 1.0”) has had notable early successes, but has also resulted in problems ranging from the merely annoying to catastrophic, such as incorrect decisions on major policy issues like the environment and war. The next stage of the big data revolution requires the creation of a Big-Data Culture, offering principles and methods capable of producing deep knowledge from data in context while remaining sensitive to the effects of automated knowledge production on human beings in everyday life.

  • Rational Materials Design. Co-leaders: David Kofke, chemical and biological engineering, and Peihong Zhang, physics.

The Community of Excellence for Rational Materials Design envisions bringing together UB researchers in materials theory, modeling, simulation and informatics to advance the formulation and production of next-generation materials needed to address society's problems. The community will put UB at the forefront of this field by synthesizing research activities, developing resources and tools for practitioners and educators, and building industrial partnerships.

  • Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies (SMART) Institute. Co-leaders: Kemper Lewis, mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Michael Silver, architecture and planning.

The focus of the proposed Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies (SMART) Institute is to develop the necessary community resources to place UB in the top echelon of institutions in the rapidly emerging field of advanced design and digital fabrication of innovative and sustainable materials and systems. Within the thrust areas of co-robotics, entrepreneurial design, innovative materials, nano-manufacturing and sustainable technologies, the community will research, test, share and teach next-generation design, manufacturing and lifecycle support systems.

  • Sustainable Urban Transformation. Co-leaders: Chunming Qiao, computer science and engineering, and Paul Tesluk, organization and human resources.

The vision for the Sustainable Urban Transformation Community of Excellence is to utilize the existing strengths to build a world-class capability at UB that advances the education, science, culture and practice of city transformation. Through interdisciplinary collaborations and in partnership with Buffalo’s community-based organizations, we seek to contribute to an urban life in the 21st century that is prosperous, sustainable, creative, healthy and just.

  • Technologies of Identity. Co-leaders: Jeff Good, linguistics, and Randy Schiff, English.

The Technologies of Identity Community of Excellence will support research and teaching on the role of technology in shaping human identities, with a particular emphasis on how emerging technologies are changing the ways that information is transmitted and exchanged. The community aims not only to enhance UB’s research profile in this significant area of inquiry, but also will contribute to the development of new learning opportunities for students at all levels and support the university’s efforts to achieve curricular distinction at the undergraduate level.