USC Viterbi Researchers Awarded Nearly $2 Million by NSF’s Pilot Convergence Accelerator and AccelNet Programs

| September 25, 2019

Professors in the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Lucio Soibelman and Burcin Becerik-Gerber will build knowledge networks in key fields to advance design, development and operation of national infrastructures.

buildings and bridges modern city

PHOTO/PEXELS, PIXABAY.

The National Science Foundation recently announced 52 new awards totaling $50.5 million to support projects through its Convergence Accelerator and AccelNet programs. These pilot programs will promote multidisciplinary research to accelerate the process of scientific discovery and advancement in key areas, including human-building interaction and civil infrastructure design and implementation. Leading researchers from the USC Viterbi Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) are among the grantees participating.

Lucio Soibelman, Dean’s Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Sami Masri, USC Viterbi professor in the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Burcin Becerik-Gerber, Stephen Schrank Early Career Chair in Civil and Environmental Engineering are part of research teams that were awarded grants totaling $1 million and $750,000 respectively. Both projects focus on knowledge sharing and network building to improve the development, design and operation of infrastructure, such as bridges.

Soibelman’s project, led by Professor Nora El-Gohary at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), will create an open knowledge network aimed at restoring and improving the U.S. national urban infrastructure. The Civil Infrastructure Systems Open Knowledge Network (CIS-OKN) will provide tools to assemble and analyze data to improve evaluation, planning, design, construction and operation of infrastructure systems in the U.S. With a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional team of civil engineering, data science, computer science and social science experts, the project seeks to improve understanding of the factors contributing to infrastructure deterioration. It also aims to help decision-makers identify and prioritize the elements most essential to create sustainable infrastructure systems across the U.S.

Soibelman, who is the CEE department chair, said: “Our team has been working on the development of analytical tools to improve the production of bridge deterioration models from existing bridge inspections and other data representing bridge conditions, such as images and streaming data from existing bridge sensors. With better deterioration models the team will be able then to merge traffic and bridge use data with economic and environmental data to allow a much better analysis for bridge repair and replacement options that takes into consideration the social and environmental costs of all available options. Our team will also try to test the generalization of the research results by applying the approach developed for bridges and transportations systems to other types of infrastructure systems, like water distribution networks.”

Becerik-Gerber’s project will facilitate collaborative research and education through an international network of networks advancing our knowledge about human health and well-being in buildings. In this effort, Becerik-Gerber, co-director of USC’s Center for Intelligent Environments (CENTIENTS) and director of CEE graduate programs, collaborates with principal investigators from University of Alabama, Drexel University and Arizona State University. This collaborative project emphasizes the link between the health and well-being of building occupants with how the environment they work, live, heal or study in impacts them psychologically and physiologically. By sharing and analyzing data from a variety of fields in a collective, holistic way, this network hopes to form the basis for design recommendations that are not only sustainable, but achieve other goals including human health, productivity and overall well-being.

“Recently, we’ve begun to understand building design and operations can have an adverse impact on health and well-being. This network of networks brings together healthcare professionals, architects, engineers and data scientists to understand the health implications of buildings from a broad and international perspective,” Becerik-Gerber said. “Working with 34 networks across 5 continents, we aim to identify collaborative opportunities to study primary building features and quantify their impact on health, well-being and productivity in buildings.”

Both projects embrace the idea of convergence, which is a top priority of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. In an increasingly interconnected, but also complicated world, networks and programs bringing together experts from different fields will be better able to provide a viable context and basis for effective decision-making that addresses a project’s costs, risks and impacts from many different, relevant angles. If successful, such collaborations could create safer, healthier, more efficient and more cost-effective civil infrastructures. They could also lead to development of infrastructures that are more responsive to human needs, from psychological to physiological, improving health and well-being through external elements like spatial design, indoor air quality and/or lighting.

Researchers from the USC Viterbi Information Sciences Institute Jay Pujara, who is the project’s principal investigator, and Craig Knoblock also received a grant award from the NSF Convergence Accelerator. Awarded $1 million for their project, “Leveraging Financial and Economic Data,” the researchers and their collaborators will build a Business Open Knowledge Network to provide the resources necessary for entrepreneurs to successfully enter new and existing markets.

Soibelman is a co-PI of NSF Award #1937115: “Convergence Accelerator Phase I (RAISE): Civil Infrastructure Systems Open Knowledge Network (CIS-OKN).”

Becerik-Gerber is the principal investigator of NSF Award #1931226: “Collaborative Research: AccelNet: An International Network of Networks for Well-being in the Built Environment (IN2WIBE).”

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