Research Funding

Naba Karan Wins DoD DURIP Funding

Dr. Naba Karan
Dr. Naba Karan

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) awarded four UConn scientists with high-profile grants to fund the acquisition of technology to bolster their research capabilities.

The highly competitive Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP), offered by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), the Army Research Office (ARO), and the Office of Naval Research (ONR), funds cutting-edge research projects with potential to assist national defense.

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are one of the most common rechargeable energy storage technologies on the market. As a rule, they are quite safe under normal operating conditions, powerful, and scalable, from smartphones to electric cars. But given the number of Li-ion batteries produced around the world, their relatively small failure rate has still resulted in some high-profile stories of Li-ion batteries going into thermal runaway – an event when a battery catches fire, explodes, and releases toxic gases.

IMS member Naba Karan, an assistant research professor at the Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2) in the School of Engineering, isn’t surprised.

“You can think of them as bombs,” he says, noting the high quantity of chemical energy contained within Li-ion batteries. And he’s looking to blow them up—on purpose.

With funds from the Office of Naval Research, Karan is constructing a facility at UConn that will explode the batteries in a controlled environment to determine critical safety parameters needed for designing advanced engineering protocols to mitigate thermal runaway events. In a military context, this information will help operators of machinery that depend on these high-powered batteries, such as submarines, determine when internal battery temperatures are exceeding safety thresholds. Most crucially, it will allow them to avoid catastrophic failure by diverting some of this heat.

The equipment will be able to analyze thermal characteristics of all types of energy storage technologies, not only Li-Ion batteries. Since it will be one of the only such facilities in the northeast region, Karan anticipates a high degree of interest and collaboration from other universities and companies looking into studying the safety characteristics of existing and emerging battery chemistries.

Department of Energy Early Career Award Recipient Yuanyuan Zhu

Yuanyuan Zhu
Dr. Yuanyuan Zhu is the only Connecticut recipient of the DOE Early Career Award for 2022.

Established in 2010, the DOE Office of Science Early Career Research Program supports the individual research programs of outstanding scientists early in their careers and stimulates research careers in the disciplines supported by the DOE Office of Science: Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR), Biological and Environmental Research (BER), Basic Energy Sciences (BES), Fusion Energy Sciences (FES), High Energy Physics (HEP), Isotope R&D and Production (IP), and Nuclear Physics (NP).

Among the 83 university and DOE national lab researchers announced as recipients of the award for 2022, Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Yuanyuan Zhu is the only Connecticut researcher to receive the honor.  IMS News asked Dr. Zhu about her research and the award.

In 2019, you were appointed Director of the UConn DENSsolutions InToEM Center for in-situ TEM research at IPB Tech Park.  You have since had papers published related to the research the Center is conducting.  As we are seeing more and more evidence of the effects of climate change, how do you hope your research at the InToEM Center will assist in solving some of the problems we are now dealing with?

Yes, we have published a couple of papers since 2019 using the in-situ environmental TEM gas cell. Here you can find our full publications: .

It’s a coincidence that the DENSsolutions’ ETEM gas cell system is named as “Climate”, because it involves gas environment for chemical reactions in a microscope. Another example is their liquid cell system, which is called “Stream” simply because the reaction stimuli involved.

There are many materials researches related to energy and environment, including climate change, that can benefit from the in-situ ETEM research. One immediate example is heterogeneous catalysis used for natural gas conversion and H2 production. And the fusion energy materials research funded by the DOE ECA is another good example.

Congratulations on receiving the Department of Energy’s Early Career Award for 2022.  What are your hopes for your research on Understanding Thermal Oxidation of Tungsten and the Impact to Radiation Under Fusion Extremes?

Fusion energy holds great promise for replacing fossil fuels for 24/7 baseload electrical power. We are excited that the DOE Early Career Award will fund our in-situ ETEM study to directly address a well-known fusion safety hazard concerning aggressive high-temperature oxidation of plasma-facing material tungsten. We hope to gain fundamental understanding of tungsten degradation in case of air-ingress scenarios that could inform the best strategy for responding to accidents, and could guide the design of advanced W-based materials that better preserve divertor integrity for even more demanding DEMO fusion extremes. Simply put it, we want to make the operation of fusion energy systems safer and more reliable.

You have several Ph.D. candidates under your advisement.  How do you hope to influence these young scientists?

Our research group provides a welcoming, supportive and inclusive working environment to drive personal success for each Ph.D. researcher. Through the first-hand work on such research projects closely to clean energy and sustainability, I believe our Ph.D. students will gain confidence and skills in research and also develop a solid sense of social responsibility.

We are seeing many more women represented in STEM.  What advice would you give to young women who may be considering a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics?

We need everyone in STEM, and anything is possible if one follows his/her/their passion. Research is fun but progress is built on failure and resilience.


OVPR Announces SPARK Technology Commercialization Fund Recipients for 2022-23

from UConn Today

Eugene Pinkhassik
Dr. Eugene Pinkhassik

Luyi Sun
Dr. Luyi Sun

The Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) recently announced the recipients of the 2022-23 SPARK Technology Commercialization Fund Program.  Five recipients were selected for internal funding through the program. They include researchers from UConn and UConn Health.

SPARK supports innovative proof-of-concept studies seeking to translate research discoveries into products, processes, and other commercial applications. The program’s primary goal is advancing primary faculty inventions toward the market, where they can have a positive impact for UConn, society, and Connecticut’s economy.

The 2022-23 awardees competed for funding in a highly selective process. Congratulations to the following:

Laijun Lai, UConn, Department of Allied Health Sciences
Targeting TAPBPL in antitumor immune therapy

Raman Bahal, UConnDepartment of Pharmaceutical Science
Liver- and Kidney-targeted delivery of next generation miRNA inhibitors using carbohydrate-based conjugates

Eugene Pinkhassik, UConnDepartment of Chemistry/Institute of Materials Science
Integration of palladium-catalyzed reactions in continuous manufacturing

Ali Tamayol, UConn HealthDepartment of Biomedical Engineering
Engineering a Handheld One-step Foaming and Printing Device for the Treatment of Soft Tissue Injuries

Luyi Sun, UConnDepartment of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering/Institute of Materials Science
High Performance Nanocoatings for Packaging Applications

For more information about SPARK, visit the program website.

Multidisciplinary Team Wins $3M for Graduate Program

from UConn Today

Multidisciplinary Team Wins $3M for Graduate Program
Arash Esmaili Zaghi, left, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, left, Fabiana Cardetti, professor of mathematics, and Jie Luo, a graduate student, with the fMRI, and Fumiko Hoeft, professor of psychological sciences, Nicole Landi, associate professor of psychological sciences, are in the control room at the UConn Brain Imaging Research Center on March 7, 2022. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

An ambitious team of researchers from across the University has won $3mn from the National Science Foundation to pursue a project in the neuroscience of learning.

The program, known as TRANSCEND: TRANSdisciplinary Convergence in Educational Neuroscience Doctoral training, aims to get graduate students from both classic and atypical backgrounds into educational neuroscience research.

“We will take an innovative approach and truly break the silos in educational neuroscience between lab research, research in the schools and the community. We also have a particularly strong focus not only on neurodiverse learners as the topic of research but also to involve them as graduate students. Neurodiverse learners are one of the most underrepresented groups in higher ed and the STEM workforce despite their tremendous talent,” says Fumiko Hoeft, interim director of the Waterbury campus, director of UConn’s Brain Imaging Research Center (BIRC) and the principal investigator on the project.

The team also includes co-principal investigators Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology Ido Davidesco, Associate Professor of Developmental Psychology Nicole Landi, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and IMS faculty member, Arash Esmaili Zaghi, and Professor of Clinical Psychology Inge-Marie Eigsti; and co-investigators Professor of Psychology James Magnuson, Professor of Mathematics Fabiana Cardetti, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Jinbo Bi, and Vice Provost for Graduate Education Kent Holsinger. Hoeft and Landi will co-direct TRANSCEND.

TRANSCEND will use the grant to allow second year graduate students to spend a full year researching convergent questions in educational neuroscience, with an emphasis on virtuous cycles between school and lab-based research, interdisciplinary team science, and in all areas of learning such as STEM and reading as well as developing the next generation of learning technologies using artificial intelligence (AI), with an underlying theme of neurodiversity.

The hope is that the students will then stay in the program and continue research on their topic of choice for their dissertation. Graduate students can be from any field of cognitive science, neuroscience, educational psychology, mathematics, computer science, and engineering. All graduate students in the program will have the opportunity to collect data in classrooms and in UConn labs, including the BIRC, the Cognitive Sciences Shared Electrophysiology Resource Lab, and the new mobile neuroscience lab by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that is planned to come online by this winter.

Community engagement will be key for generating project ideas and at every step of the process; graduate students will research questions that communities and teachers want answered. Leveraging Hoeft’s new position at

Multidisciplinary Team Wins $3M for Graduate Program
Researchers from Dr. Landi’s lab training high school student interns to place an EEG cap on a younger student’s head at the AIM Academy. (Landi Lab Photo, with permission from AIM Academy).

UConn Waterbury and this grant, she hopes to engage the Waterbury students and the community to bring new programs and collaboration to the campus.

For example, a team of students from computer science, educational psychology and cognitive neuroscience may develop a learning technology leveraging AI and natural language processing models, using accessible neuroimaging technologies such as portable electroencephalography, in partnership with an education technology company and a school.

“We want every STEM and Education grad student in the University to know they can join this. The funding is for their second year, but we want the graduate students to stay involved in the program throughout graduate school,” says Arash Zaghi, a structural engineering professor.

Zaghi began researching neurodiversity when he was diagnosed with ADHD early in his career as an engineer. He found that there was a lot of research showing great creative potential from neurodiverse people, but also great difficulties that lead them to drop out of university settings. Part of the motivation behind this collaboration is to generate strategies that both teachers and students can use to create strength and success from neurodiversity.

Hoeft and Zaghi also emphasize that neurodiverse students are strongly encouraged to apply. The team has partnership with universities in the NSF INCLUDES national network such as Landmark College, a college for students with learning disabilities. They hope to attract their students into graduate school at UConn through this grant. There are also almost 40 other partners, including schools, the Connecticut Department of Education, advocacy groups, and technology companies, all of whom are interested in gaining interns from the program and participating in research through partnership with UConn. Through this program, their hope is that neuroscience can help design and deliver education that helps all students reach their full potential, and at the same time enhance the STEM workforce.