Addressing the Needs of Tomorrow by Collaborating Today

Cockrell School research priorities are inspired by societal challenges that require advances in technology and engineering. Making progress requires multidisciplinary collaboration.

By Dr. John Ekerdt, Associate Dean of Research

Students in lab

Environmental and water resources doctoral candidates Lee Blaney and Amanda Van Epps, and undergraduate research assistant Raul Tenorio, are pictured here with a grey water reuse research project. This project is one example of research contributing to the Water/Energy Nexus initiative.

The Cockrell School’s research priorities are inspired by major societal challenges that require significant advances in technology and engineering. Commitment to these priorities comes with the recognition that true progress is made only when multidisciplinary teams of faculty, students and partners from the private and federal sector work together.

An exciting commitment to excellence and progress permeates from the school’s strategic research programs under development in five areas: sustainable energy, engineering human health care, manufacturing and design innovation, sustainable and secure infrastructure, and space and earth engineering.  Projects and programs that flow from the strategic areas will occupy interdisciplinary research space in the new Engineering Education and Research Center (EERC).

Led by Cockrell School faculty, teams of faculty, students and research associates representing the breadth of the campus, are defining specific interdisciplinary programs that the school is using to engage industry alliance partners.  A short list of projects includes: The Water/Energy Nexus; Solar: Beyond Silicon; Next Generation Health Informatics; Imaging, Diagnosis and Therapeutics of Cancer; Personalized Manufacturing for Medical Devices; Autonomous Vehicles; Networks of Systems; Water Systems for Sustainability; Smart Grid; and, Climate Modeling, Monitoring and Prediction.

Faculty teams have developed high-level summaries for each project that are used as gateways to discussions with potential industry partners and collaborative research contacts. The Water/Energy Nexus is one example that anticipates water use and availability will soon limit emerging opportunities for energy independence and economic development.

Amanda Van Epps in lab

On-site treatment and reuse of grey water in homes and offices for non-potable purposes holds the potential to reduce the amount of energy that is required to pump drinking water long distances when highly treated water is not required, such as for watering lawns and washing cars.

As faculty increasingly collaborate with colleagues in unprecedented areas of alignment, they have become more aware of each other’s capabilities and interests, and this has led to newly-formed groups responding to calls for proposals from various government agencies.  As an example, a team led by chemical engineering Professor Thomas Edgar, electrical and computer engineering professor Ross Baldick and civil engineering professor Travis Waller has secured grants from the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.  Their programs address the general theme of power systems of the future.

Additionally, Professor Edgar leads a team of faculty and students developing the power grid of the future for the Pecan Street Project , a partnership between the university, Austin Energy, the City of Austin and high-tech companies. This project uses an energy internet microgrid for efficient use of energy and integration of green technologies.  Enhancing this project is an NSF-funded educational program known as Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT), led by Professors Edgar and Baldick, that focuses on the development of sustainable energy grids and will lead to development of new courses needed to educate the future leaders of this technology.

Professor Waller leads the UT component of an industry/University collaborative research center on plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that explores both technology and policy so the United States can prepare systematically for the rapidly expanding electric car era.

Looking to the future, Cockrell School faculty continue to form strategic alignments to address societal challenges and issues in unprecedented ways.



Interdisciplinary Research Initiatives

  • Sustainable Energy
  • Engineering Human Health Care
  • Manufacturing and Design Innovation
  • Sustainable and Secure Infrastructure
  • Space and Earth Engineering