FY2021 CoRE Projects

In FY2021, fourteen CoRE teams with members representing 35 UNH faculty and staff from across the university, as well as 26 external partners, were awarded funding. In addition, Year 2 CoRE funding was provided for the Center for Acoustic Research and Education (CARE; Creating New Centers FY2020 CoRE awardee).

Creating New Centers provides funding over two years (matched 1:1 by non-OSVPR funds) to establish new, interdisciplinary centers with research programs that have strong potential for significant future external funding support.

CARE: Center for Acoustic Research and Education

Leads: Jennifer Miksis-Olds, Anthony Lyons, and Daniel Howard

Abstract: Sound is a sensory mode that shapes our everyday lives.  It provides a sense of geographical, perceptual and emotional sense of place.  Acoustics is the branch of physics concerned with the properties of sound.  The science of acoustics spreads across many facets of human society—music, medicine, architecture, industrial production, warfare and environment.  Applied uses of acoustics are playing an important role in addressing many of the societal challenges our nation faces.  Acoustics has proven to be a valuable tool for monitoring and assessing impacts related to national security concerns, food security, energy, environment, and health.  Acoustics is the only practical underwater sensing modality, and on land and in air, has become directly linked to a variety of applications in environmental acoustics.  

 

Supporting Large, Complex Proposal Development provides funding (up to $100,000 for one year, to be matched by a minimum of 25% non-OSVPR funds) to shape and position major, interdisciplinary external grants with an annual budget greater than or equal to $3.5M for success.

Mid-scale Infrastructure - Methane

Lead: Ruth Varner

Abstract: Mid-scale Infrastructure-Methane: A distributed methane measurement infrastructure for the US

Methane is a radiatively important trace gas that is 33 times stronger at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Significant discrepancies exist in the global methane budget between bottom up and top down sink and source estimates. To improve our understanding of methane cycling, we are partnering with the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) to propose a mid-scale infrastructure project that will address these gaps and enable us to answer research questions across broad spatial and temporal scales, including: how will climate change impact the sinks and sources of methane? How do these impacts vary among ecosystem types? How do choices in management of urban and suburban, agricultural, and other human-managed ecosystems impact the sinks and sources of methane? 

 

Pilot Research Partnerships (PRP) Projects seed-funds collaborative research projects for one year with strong potential to attract future funding from external sources and/or with outstanding commercial potential.

Brains on Bugs Not Drugs

Lead: Cheryl Whistler

Abstract: Currently we are faced with a significant conundrum with regard to the opioid crises. On the one hand, we have no viable alternative for treating severe post-surgical and chronic pain. On the other hand, people taking these drugs for legitimate purposes are transitioning at an alarming rate to opioid overuse and abuse. While the dramatic increase in opioid abuse has coincided with the much-reported increase in opioid prescriptions, only a fraction of patients who are prescribed opioids for pain transition to abuse. If we could identify those pain patients most at risk prior to opioid treatment, we could potentially stem the tide of opioid abuse. A number of compelling studies have recently shown that alterations in the gut microbiome can influence a plethora of central nervous systems disorders, leading to widespread acceptance of the concept of a gut-microbiome-brain axis. We find it compelling that, coincident with the increase in opioid prescriptions, there has also been a large increase in the routine and often unnecessary use of oral antibiotics—a trend that that has altered the gut microbiome of an entire generation. Not surprisingly, given the widespread expression of opioid receptors in the gut, opioids have been shown to alter the gut microbiome. Furthermore, opioid use alters in the microbiome suggesting that opioids influence the gut-brain axis. However, to date, no studies have examined whether the gut microbiome influences abuse liability. Here we will capitalize on both behavioral variability in a mouse model of compulsive drug seeking and relapse, and mouse microbiome variability, both innate and in response to morphine, to determine whether abuse liability and the microbiome co-vary, paving the way for identification members or functions of the microbiome that may protect from or predispose individuals to transition to compulsive drug seeking. This knowledge may provide interventions through direct manipulation of the microbiome through probiotics, or lead to diagnostics that identify at risk individuals. This project capitalizes on the complementary expertise of two experts in their respective fields, one a molecular microbiologist the other an opioid pharmacologist. 

Diversified syrups

Lead: Heidi Asbjornsen

Abstract: The maple syrup industry is a quintessential feature of New England’s landscape, economy, culture, and environment.  However, because the industry relies on a single species (sugar maple) that is known to be vulnerable to many stressors—including climate change and various pests and pathogens—its resilience is remarkably low.  This interdisciplinary collaborative initiative will explore the potential for diversifying the maple syrup industry by utilizing other non-maple tree species from the NE region for syrup production.  By bringing together scientists from the ecological, pharmacological, nutritional, and economic disciplines along with industry and extension partners, we will address the following three objectives: (1) assess the ecology and productivity of winter sap flow in several promising (non-maple) tree species; (2) evaluate the chemical properties and potential nutritional impact of the novel tree saps and syrups from these species; (3) determine the economic and market potential of these novel syrups.  Our long-term goal is to develop science-based management guidelines for a diversified and resilient syrup industry based on the demonstrated ecological, health, nutritional, and economic potential of novel tree saps and syrups.

Geo-Inspired Additive Manufacturing for Green Stormwater Infrastructure

Lead: Majid Ghayoomi

Abstract: Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) focuses on the runoff from the more frequent storms that is captured and treated, and preferably infiltrated to reduce the runoff volumes. While GSI has gained traction across the country in the past two decades, there is still much to learn, especially with regards to volume reduction via infiltration. The lack of understanding in runoff volume reduction via infiltration can hinder a reliable and quantitative assessment of the infiltration volume in fine soils, which is critical to the design of stormwater management systems. The project will use Geo-Inspired additive manufacturing technologies to investigate and characterize the flow within 3D-printed clay material with pre-defined and architected fracture network. Understanding the interaction between the crack network and water flow and its consequent effects will address the knowledge gap in flow through fractured, fine grain soils while also enabling safer, more efficient, and economical designs of hydrogeological systems, such as in stormwater management. The proposed fundamental research aligns with the current national and state needs to address the challenges with stormwater management strategies given the increasing number and unpredicted nature of storm surges due to changing climate. 

Green Battery for Green Home (Green4Green)

Lead: Xiaowei Teng

Abstract: Aqueous Zinc-ion battery technology could be a drop-in replacement to lithium ion batteries and lead acid batteries for home energy storage.  However, a lack of understanding of the correlations between battery chemistry, performance and a high volume manufacturing abates the commercialization of this green technology.    The proposed partnership between UNH and Imperia Batteries will gather a unique combination of basic battery research and smart manufacturing, with the aim to bring Zinc battery technology to the next level of commercialization by developing streamlined process for scale-up production.

Healthy Families Flourish

Lead: Sarah Smith

Abstract: Everyday family activities can afford opportunities for family connection, communication, and shared purpose, in turn supporting overall family health. For families with a child with special health care needs (CSHCN), the chronic, intense nature of family life can threaten family health due to centralization of the child within family functioning. COVID-19 bears additional unprecedented stressors as families of a CSHCN experience disruptions in services and upheaval in strategically supportive routines. This project leverages UNH interdisciplinary expertise and engaged external partnership to implement and evaluate the Healthy Families Flourish Program (HFFP). Delivered via telehealth, the HFFP is an individualized parent coaching intervention for families of CHSCN designed to support family connectedness, intentionality, balance, and communication toward robust family health outcomes.  Data will allow us to determine: 1) the effectiveness of the HFFP in improving family health, 2) the effectiveness of families of CSHCN as a mechanism of intervention change rather than the child (traditional practice), and 3) participant satisfaction with telehealth. Our team also intends to fill a critical research gap regarding best practices in providing telehealth for CSHCN and their families during an unprecedented time when practitioners are rapidly implementing  telehealth due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We will develop telehealth practice guidelines for providers as well as data-driven resources for families of children with special health care needs.

Memory Cells

Lead: Xuanmao Chen

Abstract: This project is led by Xuanmao Chen, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology at UNH, in collaboration with Haiying Wang, a big-data statistician at the University of Connecticut, and with Greg Pazour, a lead scientist of primary cilia at the UMass Medical School. Memory cells in the hippocampus are widely assumed to have two activity states: the silent and the active. However, our recent in vivo imaging study has clearly demonstrated that memory cells in the hippocampus exhibit at least three different activity states (the silent, primed and engaged states), and that induction of burst synchronization among memory cells correlates with learning and memory formation. Our long-term goals are to combine experimental neuroscience and cilia biology with big-data processing expertise to evaluate the three-state concept, identify key factors that regulate the state transition of memory cells, and determine how the state transitions of memory cells correlate with memory formation, memory retrieval, or the priming of hippocampal memory cells. Neuronal primary cilia are well positioned to regulate basal neuronal activity in the nervous system. Malfunctions of primary cilia lead to a broad spectrum of neurological disorders in humans including intellectual disability and cognitive impairment. Here we propose to test the hypothesis that neuronal primary cilia regulate the state transition of memory cells by modulating neuronal excitability, promoting the transition of memory cells from the silent to primed state, facilitating memory formation. Completion of this work and its continued research will advance our understanding of memory cells in the hippocampus and unveil the contributions of neuronal primary cilia to hippocampus-dependent memory formation. Following the completion of this project, we expect to publish at least one research article, which will help develop competitive research proposals to compete for NIH R01-type grants. 

Permafrost Microbiomes

Lead: Jessica Ernakovich

Abstract: Rapid warming in the Arctic is resulting in unprecedented permafrost thaw. Permafrost—or soil that is frozen year round—underlies 25% of the Northern Hemisphere and contains double the carbon as the atmosphere currently. As such, thaw of permafrost has dire implications for the global carbon cycle and climate, as thaw enhances microbial decomposition of previously frozen organic matter and produces greenhouse gases. In this project, we will explore the patterns and processes underpinning the selection of the post-thaw microbial community, or the permafrost microbiome, in permafrost from a variety of sites around the world. This work requires a collaborative approach that brings together experts in the permafrost microbiome, soil science, and disturbance ecology, represented here in a new partnership between Jessica Ernakovich (UNH), Vanessa Bailey (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory), and Robyn Barbato (Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory) and their teams, respectively. 

Interdisciplinary Working Groups (IWG) support groups of faculty (up to $15,000 for projects lasting one year) to convene around research topic areas to build awareness and relationships across disciplines, allow for cross-fertilization of ideas, identify potential collaborative research opportunities, and provide a venue for finding partners.

CiRCUiTs: Convergent Climate Response in Coastal Urbanization

Lead: Jennifer Brewer

Abstract: In this time of unprecedented change, New Hampshire’s southeastern region faces both risks and opportunities.  While urban and suburban settlement escalate stresses on physical infrastructure, ecosystem services, and civic institutions, climate change presents increasingly urgent challenges.  Adding yet more uncertainties, the COVID-19 pandemic presents unfolding changes to our public health, economy, transportation, and notions of civic identity.  Policy frameworks advanced by urban and transportation planners offer synchronized fiscal and environmental sustainability solutions but are not widely embraced by the general public.  Efforts to establish offshore wind energy generation and distribution present possibilities for abundant and inexpensive electricity, climate change mitigation, and economic growth, but raise concerns about conflicting marine activities and ecological impacts.  Human response to these interlinked and cumulative pressures calls for intensified public engagement of science, including innovation across social-environmental-technological systems (SETS).  We therefore propose an Interdisciplinary Working Group to advance convergent scholarship on coastal urbanization by supporting the development of scholarly relationships across disciplines and academic institutions, and across public, private, and non-profit sectors.  Our group will bring existing expertise to bear on policy areas of pressing concern for our region, establishing synergies that can attract new research funding and enhance undergraduate and graduate student education.

Food & Climate Research Network

Lead: Jennifer Wilhelm

Abstract: New England is facing disruption to the regional food system because of COVID-19, and will continue to face challenges due to severe weather events resulting from climate change. Our current experience with the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the cracks in many global and national food supply chains. Research is needed to better understand both the challenges we are likely to face (e.g., what the probable effects of climate change will be in our state and how they will impact the food system in terms of production, processing, distribution, retail, access, and waste disposal), as well as the solutions (e.g., how farmers can adapt, what the known options are for reducing greenhouse gas emissions). The Food & Climate Research Network is a group of researchers from across disciplines who aim to collaborate with researchers and practitioners in disparate fields whose work intersects with climate and the food system. We plan to collaborate on research that is responsive to the changing needs of food producers, businesses, and communities in the face of climate and other natural disruptions.

Future Crops

Lead: Iago Hale

Abstract: Farming systems around the world face unprecedented environmental, resource, and biotic challenges to their sustained performance, while the demand for productivity increases.  One strategy for helping to address this challenge entails a radical diversification of cropping systems through the development of currently underutilized plant species, particularly those which exhibit superior adaptation, nutritional composition, and stress tolerance traits.  Of the estimated 50,000 edible plant species on the planet, a mere three (corn, rice, and wheat) provide roughly 2/3 of the world’s consumed calories.  The potential of so-called orphan, neglected, under-researched, or underutilized crops to complement well-established cropping systems, not only providing new options for producers but enhancing overall food system resilience, is increasingly being recognized, particularly in the developing world where many climactic, environmental, and resource limitations have become evident.  Such constraints are global, however, suggesting that the strategic development of underutilized plant genetic diversity is likely to be a key component of agricultural adaptation in the coming decades, including here in New England.  The long-term vision motivating this working group is the establishment of an interdisciplinary, externally-funded center at UNH dedicated to the practical improvement of underutilized crops as essential components of forward-looking regional food systems.  The first step toward that vision is the development of a coherent roadmap for such research, which is the short-term goal of this project over the coming year.

New Frontiers of Work

Lead: Vidya Sundar

Abstract: Technological advances in the workplace can be a double-edged sword; while the development of some technological advancements hallow or consecrate high-order cognitive skills such as critical thinking, reasoning, and creativity, that same technology, when used in smartphone and artificial intelligence (AI) applications can hollow or erode lower-order skills such as rote memorization and attention. Future work will likely be less physically demanding, less repetitive, less strenuous, and less precarious but instead be more demanding of cognitive and inter-personal skills. To be productive members of society, future workers must adjust to the rapidly evolving demands of this technology enriched work environment. While popular media suggests that robotics and artificial intelligence applications in the workplace will benefit people of all abilities, it is likely that certain groups of individuals, especially those with cognitive and socio-emotional skill limitations will be left behind or feel even more challenged. Our working group will seek answers to the fundamental question, who will get to ride the technology wave of the future and who will get swept away? 

We will adopt a convergence approach to coalesce a group of inter-disciplinary researchers, stakeholders, and industry experts to answer questions about future work. Our working group will (1) conduct focus groups, (2) develop conceptual and empirical frameworks, and (3) conduct preliminary secondary analysis on this topic. Knowledge gained from the working group activities will help us understand the transactional relationship between technology, work demands, and work skills. Ultimately, this knowledge may be used to develop programs and policies to upskill or reskill our future workforce and build better technology to meet the needs of all workers.

The New Hampshire Youth Retention Initiative

Lead: Andrew Coppens

Abstract: Rapidly changing social and economic circumstances and a high number of youth leaving New Hampshire after high school have created a pressing statewide imperative to attract young professionals to NH and to retain NH youth and emerging adults. Our CoRE IWG engages youth and youth-focused stakeholders at multiple levels from around NH to understand the complex, cross-sector issue of retaining youth and young adults as they make decisions about their educational, occupational, and residential futures. Contributions to this inquiry include: UNH social science researchers investigating how youth make decisions about their futures and what resources and messages they draw on to do so; UNH Extension experts identifying, responding to, and developing diverse employment goals and opportunities throughout NH; Advocacy organizations focusing on holistic quality of life such as Stay, Work, Play and community stakeholders such as NH educators and school guidance counselors sharing how future options are communicated to youth. Our overall objective is to develop a fundable, large-scale, cross-institution research-practice partnership agenda that can deepen understanding of why youth and young adults commit to NH for their educational, occupational, and residential futures and how interventions and policies can be developed to support more youth and young adults in making NH a place to learn, work, and live. 

SEEDAC: Student Experience and Engagement Data Assets Collaborative

Lead: Mihaela Sabin

Abstract: Low-income, first generation, and underrepresented and marginalized people face barriers to access and success in higher education. Dissolving these barriers to inclusion requires understanding the landscape of institutional capacity and climate, and using collaborative data to spearhead actions and programming that make a difference for students of all backgrounds and socio-economic groups. IWG project will bring together faculty, staff, and partners whose work champions student access and success to leverage collective knowledge and facilitate synergistic plans to identify effective practices and tools to create, access, and share data assets that inform and enhance UNH efforts in partnership with K-12 and CCSNH. These data consolidation and sharing efforts will expand student educational pathways, improve retention, and ensure academic success of low-income students and other underrepresented groups in STEM.

 

FY2021 CoRE Kick-Off Event Recording

We kicked off the FY2021 CoRE Initiative with 3-minute presentations by each team. Please note that each team and their project is presented as a "Chapter" in the video; to view the chapters, click on the horizontal white lines in the top left corner.  And to close the chapter view, click on the white lines again presented an overview of their project and collaborators.

FY2021 CoRE Kick-Off Event Recording