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Biomedical Engineering

Professors of BME Steven Chase and Byron Yu, and ECE’s Matthew Golub investigated the brain’s neural activity during learned behavior and found that the brain makes mistakes because it applies incorrect inner beliefs, or internal models, about how the world works. The research suggests that when the brain makes a mistake, it actually thinks that it is making the correct decision—its neural signals are consistent with its inner beliefs, but not with what is happening in the real world.

“Our brains are constantly trying to predict how the world works. We do this by building internal models through experience and learning when we interact with the world,” says Chase, an assistant professor in the Department of BME and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition. “However, it has not yet been possible to track how these internal models affect instant-by-instant behavioral decisions.”

Chemical Engineering

Professor of ChemE/EPP Neil Donahue, an atmospheric chemist, does particle physics at CERN. In his case, the particles he is interested in are actual objects consisting of molecules, not Higgs Bosons, and the physics (and chemistry) of interest is the processing that causes molecules to associate in the atmosphere to form clusters and then stabilize as new ultrafine particles.

Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies studies fine particles. Three of the top sources of mortality in the World Health Organization Global Burden of Disease report have to do with breathing fine particles: breathing polluted air, breathing over open cooking fires, and breathing through a cigarette. Air pollution (or other pollution) is by no means a first-world problem, as health impacts fall disproportionately on residents of rapidly growing urban areas in the developing world.

Civil and Environmental Engineering

It’s not safe to walk at night in Nyadire, Zimbabwe, but CEE student Kavin Sanghavi (BS’17) is leading a 5-year project to change that. He and a group of students in the Carnegie Mellon chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) are designing and implementing a sustainable system to light Nyadire’s streets.

Sanghavi, along with CEE graduate student Maddie Gioffre (BS’15, MS’16) and SCS student Allison Fisher (BS‘17), traveled to Nyadire in summer 2015 to talk to community members and collect data. Working closely with The Nyadire Connection, a mission organization based in Pittsburgh, the team found that Nyadire residents were interested in streetlights.

The Zimbabwe Electric Supply Authority cannot produce as much power as the country needs, so residents only experience electricity a few days per week. To accommodate this inconsistent power grid, the EWB team will power the streetlights with sustainable, alternative energy sources.

Electrical and Computer Engineering

As part of the United States Department of Energy’s (DOE) Grid Modernization Initiative to improve the resiliency, reliability, and security of the nation’s electrical power grid, the DOE has awarded $18 million in funding for six new research projects across the nation. These projects will enable the development of integrated, scalable, and cost-effective solar technologies that incorporate energy storage to power American homes after the sun sets or when clouds are overhead.

Assistant Research Professor Soummya Kar and Philip L. and Marsha Dowd University Professor José M.F. Moura have received $1 million to develop and demonstrate a distributed, agent-based control system to integrate smart inverters, energy storage, and commercial off-the-shelf home automation controllers and smart thermostats.

Engineering and Public Policy

The Climate and Energy Decision Making Center (CEDM), a research center formed through an agreement with the National Science Foundation, has been awarded a new round of funding, totaling $4.5 million dollars through 2020. Professors Inês Azevedo and Granger Morgan serve as co-directors of CEDM.

The Center and its graduates develop and promulgate new and innovative, behaviorally and technically informed insights involving the intersection points between climate and energy. It also generates methods to frame, analyze, and assist key stakeholders in addressing important decisions regarding climate change and the necessary transformation of the world’s energy system.

Materials Science and Engineering

Professor Elizabeth Holm and W.W. Mullins Professor and Department Head Gregory Rohrer recently received a four-year $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to explain why in some materials, atoms appear to behave in a manner contrary to the understood laws of physics. Understanding of this phenomenon could lead to the creation of stronger, more energy-efficient materials.

The project, titled “Anti-thermal behaviors of materials: reversing the trend of nature,” represents a collaboration between CMU and Lehigh University. The researchers will study nanocrystalline metals. Because of their nano-sized crystal substructure, these metals are very strong and are currently used in industrial hard coatings. This material’s strength makes it a candidate for other applications, such as automobile parts and aerospace components.

Mechanical Engineering

Professor Jeremy Michalek and CMU colleagues study greenhouse gas emissions from electric vehicles. They found that, while charging electric vehicles at night is cost-effective, it increases air emissions.

“We looked at how power plant operations would change in response to electric vehicle charging load, and we modeled emissions from those plants and their downwind air pollution consequences for human health and the environment,” explains Michalek. “We found that charging late at night reduces power generation costs by a quarter to a third, largely by shifting to cheaper coal-fired power plants. But the extra emissions released as a result can cause 50% higher costs to human health and the environment.”