Engineering faculty receive TOP interdisciplinary grant from Texas A&M

Four research teams in the Dwight Look College of Engineering have received grants from Texas A&M University's Tier One Program (TOP) for interdisciplinary education.

The four projects chosen are:

DEEP: Discover, Explore and Enjoy Physics and Engineering
Kristi Shryock, Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Programs, and Dr. John Junkins, Distinguished Professor, Regents Professor and Holder of the Royce E. Wisenbaker Chair -- Department of Aerospace Engineering

This proposal aims to enhance the learning and research experiences of undergraduate and graduate students through their participation in high-profile outreach activities: principally the Physics & Engineering Festival and the Science Shows. The program will be led by the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Department of Aerospace Engineering. In addition, it will include participation by other departments from the College of Science, the Dwight Look College of Engineering and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The goals are to enhance students’ knowledge of fundamental science concepts through collaborative hands-on research and educational activities, to teach them effective communication skills and responsibility, to develop their global competence, and to enhance their opportunities for interactions with their peers and professors outside the classroom. The proposed activities include students working side-by-side with their peers and professors on research, concept, design and fabrication of science demonstration experiments; presentation of these exhibits during the festival and shows in teams of several students and faculty members; assessment of students teamwork and follow-up performance in core classes; and incorporation of new demonstrations in core curriculum classes.

These activities will not only directly engage more than 100 undergraduate students but will directly engage more than 50 graduate students per academic year. In addition, these activities will indirectly benefit many graduate students and thousands of undergraduate students enrolled in introductory classes. Finally, the program will be highly beneficial to the community and will greatly boost the visibility and appreciation for Texas A&M throughout Texas and beyond.

Interactive Arts and Technology Initiative
Dr. Jinxiang Chai, Assistant Professor -- Department of Computer Science and Engineering

A multidisciplinary team from the departments of visualization, computer science and engineering, and health and kinesiology proposes a new initiative of interdisciplinary research and creative activities in interactive arts and technology, focusing on interactive performance. This initiative is designed around active engagement from three colleges through a new course, existing undergraduate and graduate courses, graduate research, faculty research, and external events.

We will develop a new interdisciplinary course as the core course of this collaboration. This course will be cross-listed among the three departments and will meet as one section, team-taught by PIs. This course will explore interactive art and technology practice that integrates the creative and imaginative possibilities of interactive art with its application to new technology research. Furthermore we will integrate our learning activities with professional events, and local, national and international festivals and conferences. This initiative will also directly benefit our research in terms of performance capture, interaction, visualization and sound effects.

We expect active participation by 100 undergraduate students every year, about 25 students in the interdisciplinary course and also about 75 students in other undergraduate courses that have been taught by participants in the three departments. More than 20 graduate students will directly benefit from this initiative on their research annually through taking courses or being advised by PIs. This three-year initiative program will allow us to create a new structure of multidisciplinary research and learning activity in interactive arts and technology. Our collaborative efforts, however, will go beyond this three-year program, catalyzing the development of new degree programs and external funding.

Interdisciplinary Experience in Electricity: A "Grass-roots" Approach
Dr. Le Xie, Assistant Professor, and Dr. Robert Balog, Assistant Professor -- Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Dr. Steve Puller, Associate Professor -- Department of Economics

The objective of their project is to develop, over a three-year period, a student-oriented, experiential-based interdisciplinary approach to educating future leaders in the energy sector and empowering smart consumers in the smart electricity grid.

Their approach is to (1) offer newly-developed courses that incorporate cross-disciplinary insights to students; (2) enhance interaction between student organizations (in particular, the TAMU Energy Club and the Economics Society) and energy industry leaders in order to improve the professional development of the students; and (3) lead a capstone project that synthesizes engineering and social science-based models to develop new energy technology platforms and empower energy consumers via the “smart grid”.

Each year approximately 120 students from engineering, 65 students from liberal arts and 30 students from other colleges will participate in the interdisciplinary courses. In addition, the capstone project will impact students as energy consumers. The campus-wide smart phone-based energy management project will target a participation of about 250 students from across different colleges. Through these tightly coupled classroom learning and experiential activities, the goal is to develop high impact but low cost activities that will promote the professional and leadership interests of students focusing on the energy sector, as well as to raise the overall energy-awareness of the diverse Texas A&M student body.

Laboratory in Air: Experiential Learning
Dr.  Sharath Girimaji, Professor -- Department of Aerospace Engineering

Faculty members from the Dwight Look College of Engineering, the College of Geosciences and the College of Science propose a "Project: Laboratory in Air" involving lighter-than-air (LTA) vehicles offering a multidisciplinary, active-learning experience for more than 1,000 undergraduate students. This project is timely based on the modern-day relevance of LTA vehicles and recent successes the Aggie Balloon Club has achieved with flight testing an LTA with undergraduate students. Multidisciplinary teams from different departments and colleges will be formed to design, build and fly LTA vehicles and scientific missions.

This project would lead to educational and research activities at the individual discipline as well as system integration levels. The LTA activity would be driven by three main goals: annual high-altitude (120,000 feet) balloon launch from locations in the Americas in partnership with Project Aether (, a Houston-based organization founded with the goal of training next generation Texas engineers and scientists; year-round projects aimed toward studying the environmental effects of local coal-fired power plants; and "Laboratory in Air" platform for use in various courses.

A full list of submitted proposals is available online.