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2011 ANNUAL UPDATE AUBURN UNIVERSITY RESEARCH


SECURING OUR FUTURE


EVERY DAY Auburn scientists, engineers and researchers turn their innovations and creativity into practical, workable solutions to the problems our nation confronts. The security of our food supply, energy resources and cyber infrastructure is a critical challenge we face. For years, Auburn experts have worked to find the answers. Today, they join with industry and government to make a difference. The ideas Auburn puts to work create a secure future for us all.


SPONSORED AWARDS ($M) 153

FEDERAL

134

NON-FEDERAL

124 DEPT. OF COMMERCE – $5,139,529

114 106

109

DEPT. OF DEFENSE – $13,258,203

108

DEPT. OF EDUCATION – $20,469,061

DEPT. OF ENERGY – $3,322,443 DEPT. OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES – $4,169,205 DEPT. OF THE INTERIOR – $1,614,407 NSF – $11,819,301 USDA – $5,971,004 OTHER AGENCIES - $2,072,563

STATE OF ALABAMA $29,502,639

INDUSTRY $13,113,163

OTHER $23,321,083

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07

08

09

10

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PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL SPONSORED AWARDS BY UNIT - FY2011

22%

4%

Agriculture

Cooperative Extension

2%

20%

Education

Engineering

3%

6%

Forestry and Human Sciences Wildlife Sciences

3%

7%

Liberal Arts

Science and Mathematics

12%

20%

Veterinary Medicine

Centers, Institutes, and Other Administrative Units

Less than 1% Architecture, Design, & Construction Business Library Nursing Pharmacy

OFFICE OF TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER METRICS


AUBURN RESEARCH 2011 ANNUAL UPDATE

DECODING THE DATA How we find meaning in the deluge of digital data 6


www.auburn.edu/research/

AUBURN RESEARCH 2011 ANNUAL UPDATE

SECURING CYBERSPACE A

biologist in Eastern Europe publishes his findings on avian flu in a little-known journal. A manufacturer in Asia acquires the technology to build centrifuge components. The annual report of a European financial house shows a substantial influx of foreign funds. Each of these small, obscure pieces of information could have security implications for the U.S. When properly synthesized and analyzed, seemingly unrelated bits of data may give us vital insight into the intentions and capabilities of our enemies. Trying to keep tabs on this information flow and shaping it into a coherent whole is an enormous task, but Auburn’s ROBERT NORTON is among the nation’s leading researchers in open source intelligence. Open source intelligence involves information that is available to all. However, as Norton noted in a recent journal article, because “the world overflows with information,” much of the material—figures, pictures, descriptions, videos, audio recordings—“is disorganized and thereby hard to find,” and

each piece of information must be verified or vetted, often in unique ways. Norton not only gathers information but also makes it understandable to government and industry. Auburn’s Open Source Intelligence Laboratory incorporates analyses by subject matter experts into databases, thus providing additional insight into the data. The Laboratory surveys science and technology across the world, examining a vast array of raw material for crucial nuggets of information to help determine which advances are being made and where the work is being done. “We take a pretty broad look, from aerospace to biological,” Norton says. Accurate and insightful intelligence will only become more important as the world grows increasingly complex and security issues become more challenging. Auburn’s work in open source intelligence, along with cyber security workforce development and research for defense, homeland security and law enforcement agencies, is an integral element in the nation’s overall security picture.

For more on Auburn’s cyber initiatives, visit

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http://auburn.edu/research/security/


AUBURN RESEARCH 2011 ANNUAL UPDATE

BIGGER THAN EVER A global system supplies the food we eat, and Auburn protects it. 8


www.auburn.edu/research/

AUBURN RESEARCH 2011 ANNUAL UPDATE

SECURING OUR FOOD T

hey think it may have started with a leak in the roof. How the salmonella got on the roof is still a question. It could easily have been carried by birds. Underneath the leak was a load of peanuts. You’ve probably read the news stories. More than 400 sickened and three dead. The trajectory of this outbreak may seem unusual, but the obvious paths of contamination are easily discovered. More often than not, it’s the unusual that threatens the security of our food supply and causes 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths per year. In response, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act. Under its provisions, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will implement comprehensive training and create certifications for food inspectors at all levels. The FDA chose Auburn as a new national food safety training center. Under the leadership of PATRICIA CURTIS, director of Au-

burn’s Food Systems Initiative, Auburn is now leading an effort to protect the safety and security of the nation’s food supply. With a $6.5 million grant, Curtis has partnered with Purdue, North Carolina State and Alabama A&M Universities to develop the education and training for food inspectors that will better prepare them to detect problems in the food supply and protect consumers. Despite the clear importance of food inspections, inspectors at the local, state and federal levels currently receive no consistent or uniform training nor are there minimum skill requirements for many of these jobs. Curtis is integrating the expertise of several Auburn researchers to improve the security of the nation’s food systems. “Many factors combine to cause an outbreak of contamination,” she says, “and Auburn has the range of skills to improve the way we detect and respond to food borne illness and keep our food supply safe and secure.”

For information on Auburn’s food safety initiative, visit

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http://auburn.edu/research/food/


AUBURN RESEARCH 2011 ANNUAL UPDATE

THE PARTS OF THE WHOLE A successful bioenergy system depends on integrating all the parts. 10


www.auburn.edu/research/

AUBURN RESEARCH 2011 ANNUAL UPDATE

SECURING OUR ENERGY J

ust as an up-tick in the price of gas has an impact on your wallet, a sustained rise in the price of a barrel of oil compromises our nation’s prosperity, if not—ultimately—its security. In response to this risk, we’ve seen government and industry work to move away from total reliance on petroleumbased fuels and, with that effort, Auburn’s emergence as a national leader in the development of biofuels. The Integrated Biomass Supply Systems project led at Auburn by STEVE TAYLOR has received a $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Auburn and its academic and industry partners will use the award to develop a comprehensive system—from genetics to harvest—that delivers a stable supply of high-quality biomass feedstock to liquid fuel producers. At one end of the supply chain, farmers–the feedstock producers–need a reliable demand for their crops to justify the millions invested in planting, growing and harvesting. At the other end of the supply chain, liquid fuel processors must have a stable supply of feedstock with the proper chemistry to justify the millions invested in liquid fuel refineries.

Auburn researchers have taken an innovative, broad-based approach. They’re looking at each part of the biofuels production supply chain but, unlike other experts, they’re also connecting the various parts, fitting them together to form a practical, functional system. Only by considering the system as a whole can we find the efficiencies that will produce an economically-viable and reliable product for the nation’s energy requirements. Genetic engineers are designing feedstocks that grow quickly, inexpensively and with the proper chemistry for conversion into fuel. Harvesters are working with engineers to design and build equipment that efficiently gathers and processes that feedstock. Biofuel companies are collaborating with engineers to develop cost-effective methods of producing biofuels from the new feedstock. Supply chain managers are working with trucking companies and fuel processors to create a smoothly-organized transportation and storage capability. Along every step of the way, Auburn provides leadership to ensure that the ideas which inspire research are ultimately put to work.

For a closer look at Integrated Biomass Supply Systems, visit

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http://auburn.edu/research/ibss/


AUBURN RESEARCH 2011 ANNUAL UPDATE

FOOD SENSORS

Auburn’s Biosensor

VAPOR WAKE Say a few grams of explosive pass through a room. Imagine a device that could detect the passage 15 minutes later and had the sensitivity to trace that passage to its destination. That sophisticated, sensitive device is a floppy-eared yellow lab named Zeta. She’s one of Auburn’s VAPOR WAKE detection dogs. Traditionally dogs have been used to detect explosives, but according to researcher ROB GILLETTE, Auburn’s dogs have been bred, trained and conditioned to pick up the scent and follow the residual plume through noisy crowds and past competing odors, ultimately finding its source. The U.S. Capitol Police and the Federal Protective Service are using Auburn dogs, and Amtrak has made them a key part of their security. “Technology sometimes goes bad after two, three years, and you have to get new stuff,” said Inspector William Parker of the Amtrak Police Canine Program. “A dog gets better as the years go on.”

Now, when food inspectors test for bacteria, they sample. They may test a couple of tomatoes out of a bushel or a few heads of lettuce from a truckload. It’s too slow and inefficient to test everything. But what if it weren’t? Auburn engineer BRYAN CHIN has developed biosensors that are the size of a dust particle and a fieldready testing kit that’s about the size of a deck of cards. With this new technology, every tomato and every head of lettuce can be checked. Auburn’s research will revolutionize the way we inspect our food and significantly improve the security of our food system.

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www.auburn.edu/research/

AUBURN RESEARCH 2011 ANNUAL UPDATE

FINANCIAL CRISIS

CARDIAC TISSUE

SOLAR POWER

JAMES BARTH, the Lowder Eminent Scholar in Finance at Auburn University and a senior fellow at the Milken Institute, has extensively researched global markets and their periods of turmoil. In a recent book, Guardians of Finance, he argues that the financial meltdown of 2007 to 2009 was no accident; it was negligent homicide. Under the current system, he writes, it is virtually impossible for the public and its elected officials to obtain impartial assessment of financial regulation and to hold regulators accountable. To counter this systemic failure is surprisingly simple: better and smarter regulation—not just more regulation. Barth proposes the establishment of a “sentinel” to demand information and to evaluate it from the perspective of the public—rather than that of the financial industry.

In the United States, heart disease may be the most significant risk to our physical well-being. Cardiac regeneration engineer ELIZABETH LIPKE sees a way to protect us. Her lab has developed materials and techniques to grow contracting heart cells and assemble them into engineered heart tissue. This research will improve our ability to repair the damaged or diseased heart. In addition, she’s investigating materials that enhance repair of blood vessels after the placement of stents and grafts to promote the longterm success of these devices.

We know how to create clean, renewable sources of energy. The difficulty is creating that energy at a price that makes it widely practical. When Auburn’s WEI ZHAN got to thinking about that expense, he started looking for new alternatives to silicon solar panels. Zhan and his group are exploring the ways that nature, “with tremendous success,” organizes special molecules into cell membranes to capture and store solar energy. His efforts have garnered him the attention of the National Science Foundation, which awarded him the prestigious Early Career Development grant to pursue his work. Don’t expect to grow your own solar panels any time soon, but Zhan hopes his work will ultimately decrease our dependence on oil and the political, financial and environmental risks that come with it.


AUBURN RESEARCH 2011 ANNUAL UPDATE

HUNTSVILLE RESEARCH CENTER Even big high-tech defense companies can use extra brainpower, and Auburn’s Huntsville Research Center is working to tap new sources of it.

The partnership is a prime example of Auburn’s efforts to bring the university’s research capabilities to aerospace, defense and homeland security operations in north Alabama. This mutually beneficial approach helps not only Auburn students and faculty but also participating industries and agencies working to create a more secure future.

Whether it’s advanced materials, aerospace engineering, biotech, unmanned systems or any of the near-endless possibilities for research and economic development, Auburn is a powerful partner in this high-tech region of the state. With its focus aimed at real-world applications, Auburn, as a Huntsville business executive noted, “brings talent to the table.” The opportunities are tremendous, Robertson says. “They want to see a strong Auburn presence in Huntsville. We bring new ideas and products to industry, government and consumers. It’s a partnership for success.”

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LOCKHEED MARTIN is expanding its campus in Huntsville. The site will allow Auburn researchers and those from partner institutions Tuskegee Uni-

versity and the University of Alabama in Huntsville to test new products of potential value to the company in a simulated environment.

Illustration © TruthDowser / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GFDL

As a partner in the Lockheed Martin Innovations Marketplace, Auburn is working to “leverage university capabilities and mesh them with Lockheed Martin and government needs,” says RODNEY ROBERTSON, director of the Huntsville center.


www.auburn.edu/research/

AUBURN RESEARCH 2011 ANNUAL UPDATE

The Center for Advanced Science, Innovation and Commerce

AUBURN RESEARCH PARK By forging partnerships among academia, government and the private sector, the Auburn Research Park accelerates advances in the laboratory and speeds them to where they’re needed most in Alabama and around the nation.

THE CENTER FOR ADVANCED SCIENCE, INNOVATION AND COMMERCE Construction is underway on the Park’s third facility. Scheduled for completion by late 2013, the new facility will lead to research partnerships in food safety, biofuels, marine sciences and other disciplines. AUBURN MRI RESEARCH CENTER This Park resident recently added one of the few actively-shielded, whole body, 7-Tesla scanners in the world. Combining the latest technology with expertise in biomedical imaging and medical image analysis allows Auburn to address complex medical challenges. Along with partners in the health community and U.S. military, Auburn MRI experts are focusing on everything from seniors with cardiovascular disease to American soldiers suffering traumatic brain injuries.

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AUBURN BUSINESS INCUBATOR Another Park resident connects start-ups with the tools they often need for success and the skills crucial to small business survival. Since small business employs almost half of private sector workers and generates more than twothirds of new jobs, Auburn’s Research Park actively contributes to the security of Alabama’s economy. THE OFFICE OF TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER This office, located in the Park, further cements relationships with business and industry by transitioning work of Auburn researchers into new products and services. Along the way, the process creates resources for the university and opportunities for faculty and students. In 2011, OTT and Auburn researchers filed 64 invention disclosures and 63 provisional U.S. patent applications.


AUBURN UNIVERSITY RESEARCH CONTACTS


www.auburn.edu/research/

AUBURN RESEARCH 2011 ANNUAL UPDATE

RESEARCH DEVELOPS new knowledge, new products and new ways of looking at the world. As researchers, we sometimes get a glimpse of the future, and either by design or intuition, we notice a trend. Several years ago our research led us into three areas: the analysis and protection of information, the detection of food borne bacteria, and the production of biofuels. These fields have grown into challenges of national importance. Now, cyber security, food safety and energy independence are vital to our nation’s security. This report is just a snapshot of our progress. Every day, Auburn researchers, scientists and engineers study, create and collaborate with our partners in industry and government. Every day, we search for the next trend. Every day we generate the next idea that will work for our nation’s benefit. Join us. Learn more at www.auburn.edu/research and on Facebook and Twitter.

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JOHN M. MASON, JR., PhD, PE Associate Provost and Vice President for Research

For more, visit www.auburn.edu/research/johnmason


@auburnresearch

facebook.com/AuburnResearch

Scan this QR code with your smart device to visit

www.auburn.edu/research Auburn University is an equal opportunity educational institution/employer. Produced by the Media Production Group for Auburn Research, May 2012


Auburn University Research Annual Update 2011