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2023: 10 Great Research Stories

Lehigh researchers provide a methodology for predicting wildfires, work to speed up the translation of research into actual use, discover a novel way to capture carbon pollution, and other developments.

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

In 2023, Lehigh faculty advanced research, from discovering a novel way to capture carbon pollutants, to observing that sand can flow uphill, to providing a methodology for predicting wildfires.

Lehigh researchers also received federal awards to speed up the translation of research to real world application, and to explore how bacteria respond and adapt to changes within their environments, among myriad awards. Here are some of the great research stories of the year.

1. Speeding Up the Translation of Research Into Actual Use

The National Science Foundation awarded Lehigh $6 million to increase the translation of scientific discoveries by faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers into prototypes, products and programs that will benefit society. The NSF’s Directorate for Technology Innovation and Partnerships provided the award to an interdisciplinary, university-wide team led by John Coulter, senior associate dean for research in the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, as part of the new federal Accelerating Research Translation (ART) program. The award will support Lehigh’s work to speed up and support its research activities in areas that have the potential to lead to products and services for the general good.

Grant principals

The ART leadership team, from left: Dominic Packer, associate vice provost for research; Lee Kern, professor of special education and director of the Center for Promoting Research to Practice; Himanshu Jain, the T.L. Diamond Distinguished Chair in engineering and applied science, professor of materials science and engineering, and director of the Institute for Functional Materials and Devices; Henry Odi, deputy vice president for equity and community and associate provost for academic diversity; and John Coulter, senior associate dean for research in the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science. Photo: Christa Neu

2. Predicting Wildfires

Research by Paolo Bocchini, professor of civil and environmental engineering and founder of Lehigh’s Catastrophe Modeling Center, and doctoral student Xinyue Wang provides the methodology for predicting when powerline ignition of wildfires is likely in high winds. The first-of-its-kind research can help decision-makers determine when a shutoff is warranted, as well as help vegetation managers in allocating resources to minimize risk, Bocchini says.

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3. Studying the Bacteria Response to Environmental Changes

Biochemist Oriana Fisher, assistant professor of chemistry at Lehigh, has received a five-year, $1.9 million Maximizing Investigators' Research Award to explore how bacteria respond and adapt to changes within their environments. The funding from the National Institutes of Health will allow Fisher’s lab to pursue two primary research directions to shed light on bacterial biochemistry: investigating how the organisms regulate uptake of the essential trace element copper and how different members of a family of bacterial enzymes each catalyze distinct chemical reactions.

Oriana Fisher

Biochemist Oriana Fisher. Photo: Christa Neu

4. Frontiers as a Key Concept in Geopolitics

Most histories of frontiers stop in the 19th century—the time when many view the great frontiers of the world from the American West to South Africa and Australia as having closed. But a new book from Professor Shellen Wu argues that, shaped by the forces of global scientific advancement, frontiers have remained a key concept throughout the modern history of geopolitics.

Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China. iStock Credit: aphotostory

5. Defying Gravity? Sand That Flows Up

By applying torque and an attractive force to each grain of sand, Lehigh researchers found that sand can flow uphill, up walls, and up and down stairs. According to the researchers, the discovery could lead to a vast range of applications in a variety of fields including healthcare, material transport and agriculture.

Microrollers animation

6. ‘Who is an Indian?

A new book culminating five years of research offers one of the most comprehensive looks at contemporary Native identity in the United States to date. “The Complexities of American Indian Identity in the Twenty-First Century draws on more than 700 surveys and interviews to offer Native perspectives on an often fraught question in contemporary society: “Who is an Indian?” The question is complicated by social, cultural, political and personal factors.

The Daleys

Lehigh professors Sean M. Daley and Christine Makosky Daley Photos: Christa Neu

7. Enhancing Opportunities for Persons With Disabilities

Vinod Namboodiri, joint faculty member of the College of Health and P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, was awarded Phase 2 funding from the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator to further develop a digital app to help persons with disabilities navigate indoor environments successfully. MABLE: Mapping for Accessibility in BuiLt Environments provides persons with disabilities independence to experience large events, conferences and educational programs. It uses crowdsensing, AI and robotics, to empower individuals with responsive maps and turn-by-turn instructions through a digital app to help them navigate indoor environments successfully.

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Credit: iStock / undefined

8. A Novel Way to Capture Carbon Pollution

Researchers led by Arup SenGupta, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and civil and environmental engineering at Lehigh, have developed a novel way to capture carbon pollution from the air, convert it into baking soda and release it harmlessly into the “infinite sink” of the ocean.

Arup SenGupta

Lehigh Professor Arup SenGupta Photo: Christa Neu

9. Human Brain Shares its Blueprint with Sea Anemones

New research from the Layden Lab at Lehigh has demonstrated that the gene mechanisms at work during neurogenesis in the brain actually predate the evolutionary development of the central nervous system. In other words, to build our brains, nature is borrowing the blueprints from much simpler creatures that predate us and other animals on the evolutionary timeline.

Nematostella vectensis, also known as the starlet sea anemone

Nematostella vectensis, also known as the starlet sea anemone

10. The Paradox of Ambivalence

Leaders and teams that embrace ambivalence perform better. So why can it hurt your career? In her research, Naomi Rothman, associate professor of management, finds that ambivalence is capable of generating both positive and negative outcomes when it comes to leadership.

Business Innovation Building

Business Innovation Building

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

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