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Cockrell School Engineers Receive $22.8 Million from DOD for Cross-Disciplinary Projects

Three researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin have been selected by the Department of Defense to lead Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) projects, receiving grants totaling $22.8 million to help advance innovative technologies in energy, computing and nanoelectronics. 

After a competitive process, MURI grants were awarded to principal investigators Andrea Alù, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Ray Chen, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Li Shi, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Each project will be funded over five years and include a team of research partners located at universities across the U.S.

“The societal challenges of the 21st century often require cross-disciplinary solutions that bring together teams with diverse minds and areas of expertise,” said Sharon L. Wood, dean of the Cockrell School. “The three MURI grants show not only that Andrea, Ray and Li are top researchers in their fields, but that they are also exceptional collaborators and team leaders.”

The UT Austin-led projects represent three of the 23 total MURI awards given out by the DOD in 2016. The grants, which total $162 million over the next five years, have been awarded to academic institutions to perform multidisciplinary research that intersects more than one traditional science and engineering discipline in order to accelerate research progress, said Melissa L. Flagg, deputy assistant secretary of defense for research.

Like the UT Austin-led projects, most of the program's efforts involve researchers from multiple academic institutions and academic departments. Based on the proposals selected this year, 54 academic institutions are expected to participate in the 23 different efforts, Flagg said.

About the UT Austin-led projects:

Andrea Alù and his team received $8.8 million to fund their work aimed at introducing and developing novel concepts to model, design, analyze, fabricate and characterize ultralow-power, ultrafast, high-density, compact, scalable optoelectronic nanodevices for the next generation of integrated nanophotonic systems. The team is made up of researchers from Stanford University, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and international collaborators from Belgium and the Netherlands.

Ray Chen and his team received $6.5 million for their work in the field of attojoule nano-optoelectronics. Chen’s team, which includes researchers from the University of Virginia, the University of Central Florida, the University of Delaware and Oregon State University, will develop solutions to reduce the power consumption and increase the bandwidth of data communications for data centers and computing systems using innovative nanophotonic devices.

Li Shi and his team have received $7.5 million to identify new materials that possess ultrahigh phonon thermal conductivity using advanced computational tools, while concurrently developing the materials growth techniques needed to synthesize them, as well as new measurements to experimentally validate and probe the materials’ properties. Shi will work on the project with five partnering institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston College, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Houston and the University of California, Los Angeles.