We’ve all seen the message tacked onto the end of emails: “Please consider the environment before printing.” For those who do, indeed, consider the environment, digital often seems the better choice. Not printing that email saves a tree. Buying the digital version of a movie bypasses plastic waste. Holding a videoconference avoids the carbon emissions associated with travel to a face-to-face meeting.
But while having many of our digital possessions tucked away in the cloud may mean they leave virtually no footprint on our personal environments, they nevertheless leave a sizable footprint on the global environment. That’s because “the cloud” is actually millions of networked servers housed in huge data centers. According to an article in Yale Environment 360, “The biggest [data centers], covering a million square feet or more, consume as much power as a city of a million people. In total, they eat up more than 2 percent of the world’s electricity and emit roughly as much CO2 as the airline industry.”
Obviously, there’s no question of turning back; for environmental better or worse, digital is here to stay. So, where the analog world may have beat a path to the door of the inventor of a better mousetrap, the online world may beat a path to the door of the inventor of a better data center. That could end up being a team of researchers from Miami University and their industrial partner, Look Dynamics.
According to Hartup, AI, and specifically deep learning, are “hot topics” in engineering because of their use in technologies such as autonomous vehicles, advanced medical imaging, and remote sensing. But generating the powerful algorithms behind that AI requires computers that consume large amounts of energy and space. These issues of sustainability (all those data centers!) and portability limit the application of AI to applications where power and space are readily available.
In collaboration with Look Dynamics, Hartup, Sahin, Cheng, Femiani, and Rapp – along with undergraduate students Owen Hichens and Janelle Ghanem – are helping to overcome these limitations by creating hardware that functions in a completely different way from conventional computers.
Replacing electrons with photons
Conventional computers and devices that are controlled by conventional computers – like smart TVs, gaming consoles, and microwaves – are sometimes called “electronics” because they function by moving electrons along circuits. The flow of electrons is controlled by computer chip components called transistors. To process large amounts of information, computer chips contain many transistors, but adding too many slows down processing speeds. And using more transistors results in higher power consumption and generates more heat, which must then be dissipated by fans, which require even more power. So far, scientific advances have enabled a steady increase in the number of transistors on each computer chip, but there’s consensus among electrical engineers that a hard limit is on the horizon.
What the Miami team and Look Dynamics are working on is optical computing hardware. Instead of electrons, optical computing devices rely on photons, particles that make up light. Because photons are transmitted in free space, they are unconstrained by the need for circuits and transistors. As a result, optical systems are able to achieve a high degree of what electrical engineers and computer scientists call “parallelism,” efficiently performing many calculations and carrying out many processes simultaneously.
“The hardware we’re working on can implement AI algorithms 1,000 times faster with 1,000 times less power,” Hartup says, “and it’s 500 to 1,000 times smaller than conventional hardware.”
That’s exactly what’s needed to expand the use of AI to new applications where power and space are limited. New contexts require new AI algorithms, and the more efficiently those algorithms can be implemented, the more quickly technologies can be brought to market. Smaller algorithmic computing devices enable more portable, wearable, or seamlessly integrated technologies.
Enabling new AI applications
Hartup says portable technologies are of particular interest to project sponsor DARPA. Many of the things that AI is really good at enabling, like image recognition and the detection and tracking of moving objects, have obvious relevance to defense. That relevance is sometimes lost if the technology can’t be applied in the field.
“If you’re talking about something like advanced AI algorithms for image processing, you’re not going to carry around a rack of electronics capable of doing that,” Hartup says. “It’s too big and heavy. But with an optical system, it’s small enough and light enough to carry around.”
In the context of data centers, optical computers’ small size means improved sustainability. Swapping out conventional systems with smaller, faster optical ones could allow the physical footprint of data centers to be maintained or reduced, even as the proliferation of AI-enabled technologies ratchets up demand for computing capacity. And because optical computers use less electricity, data centers’ carbon footprints could shrink as well.
For all the complex technology involved, what the Miami-Look Dynamics team is doing boils down to something very simple: applying new design – optics – to make an existing, useful thing – a computer – even more useful. Metaphorically speaking, they’re building a better mousetrap, and DARPA has been the first to take what will surely become a well beaten path to their door.
September 25, 2020, marks the sixth annual National Research Administrator Day. This year, we are commemorating the event by continuing our tradition of profiling staff in various research administration units at Miami University. This year, we introduce you to the team in Research Ethics & Integrity, who provide administrative support to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for research involving humans as subjects, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC), and the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Program. We also introduce you to the newest member of Research & Sponsored Programs (a team that was featured in our 2018 National Research Administrator Day post) and the Interim Vice President for Research & Innovation. (To learn more about the research administration profession, check out this post from our archive, by former Research & Sponsored Programs team member Tricia Callahan.)
Mike Crowder, Interim Vice President for Research
How long have you been a research administrator?
Almost 2 months.
Describe your job in five words or less. Learn the position (right now)
What’s something that seems obvious to research administrators, but is often misunderstood by other people? The VPRI job has many facets to it, and ORI oversees many entities on campus. The VPRI will jump from a meeting with a patent attorney, to a meeting with a state legislator, to a meeting with a research center director, to a meeting with business partners, to a meeting with a faculty member with very narrow research issues, all in one morning.
What is your research administrator superpower? Juggling, right now! I am trying to keep a lot of balls in the air right now, but learning new things is exciting.
If you weren’t a research administrator what job would you have? A professor, teaching my fermentation class and a biochemistry class, and working with my graduate and undergraduate students in the research lab.
Neal Sullivan, Director of Research Ethics & Integrity
How long have you been a research administrator?
Describe your job in five words or less.
Ensuring researchers meet ethical norms.
What’s something that seems obvious to research administrators, but is often misunderstood by other people? Sometimes, researchers, particularly those conducting human subjects research, provide much more information on applications than we need to conduct a review. A simple project should require a simple description. Providing unneeded information creates more work for the researcher and more work for the reviewers. We need enough information to understand the project and understand that the researchers respect the subjects, but not much more than that. Sometimes more information is needed and the reviewers will not hesitate to ask questions.
What is your research administrator superpower?
Always remembering and applying the fundamentals. We are reviewing each project to ensure it complies with regulations and ethical principles. Not every project needs to incorporate the same elements to meet that objective. The regulations were written to scale oversight to the degree of risk presented by the project. Low risk, low impact activities may proceed with minimal bureaucratic delay, and that is how we try and run this office.
If you weren’t a research administrator what job would you have?
Forest ecologist. My education and degrees are in forest ecology and management and I am a researcher by nature. Pondering about and studying the relationships between the elements in an environment is something I have done for as long as I can remember. By spending less time and energy on such projects, we are able to allocate more resources to those projects that require more rigor.
Jennifer Sutton, Associate Director of Research Ethics & Integrity
How long have you been a research administrator?
I have been a research administrator for nine of my 13 years at Miami.
Describe your job in five words or less.
Lots and lots of reading!
What’s something that seems obvious to research administrators, but is often misunderstood by other people?
The difference between exempted and expedited research. Exempted applications are reviewed and approved without going to the IRB for review and approval, whereas expedited applications go to the IRB for review and approval. To simplify this process, we call it Level 1 (exempted) and Level 2 (expedited) review and approval.
What is your research administrator superpower?
My superpower is being able to help researchers select the correct application (Level 1 or Level 2) that best suits their study.
If you weren’t a research administrator what job would you have?
You would find me “out to sea” on a cruise ship creating various vlogs for families looking for fun and affordable family vacations! I would have my own travel company that specializes in cruise vacations.
CaTia Daniels, Proposal & Contract Specialist
How long have you been a research administrator? I have been in research administration for 1 year.
Describe your job in five words or less. Detailed, honesty, integrity, organized, learning.
What’s something that seems obvious to research administrators, but is often misunderstood by other people? Something that is obvious as a research administrator is the details that are needed to pay attention to when in comes to contracts and proposals. When working with a PI who may not have experience in writing proposals, they learn how detailed they need to be in order to increase their chances of receiving funding.
What is your research administrator superpower? I think my research administrator superpower is relationship building. Everyone I work with, I always try to give them a great experience because I’m here to assist them with their career goals. So far, so good, I think 🙂
If you weren’t a research administrator what job would you have? If I wasn’t in research administration, I’d be in grant writing at a nonprofit. That was actually where I started working right out of college, but the transition to research administration has been great!
Updated 09/24/2020 at 10:35am to include information originally omitted from Jennifer Sutton’s response to Question 3. Exempted applications are reviewed and approved without going to the IRB for review and approval, whereas expedited applications go to the IRB for review and approval.
The New Faculty Grant Planning and Support (GPS) program is a professional development program designed to support new tenure-track faculty in developing competitive applications for extramural funding programs. Specifically, the program:
Helps new faculty map out a plan for which funding opportunities to target in their first five years at Miami
Offers new faculty grantsmanship mentorship and support
New Faculty GPS consists of two phases.
Phase 1 – Individual Development Plan
In Phase 1, each participant works with an external consultant to create an individual development plan (IDP). The IDP will include goals for teaching, research, and service, and will emphasize external grant-seeking. IDPs are meant to be living documents that can grow and change as participants move through the early stages of their careers.
Phase 2 – Proposals for External Funding
Faculty who are selected to participate in Phase 2 will work one-on-one with a consultant-mentor to develop competitive proposals for external funding — one in each of their five years of participation. The consultant-mentor will provide a complete and comprehensive review of the draft application, and provide:
An overview of important elements of the proposal
Constructive criticism on the draft proposal
Guidance on exploring different options for the research agenda and other elements (e.g., education, professional development) that need to be integrated into certain proposals.
Each Phase 2 participant is expected to work with Research & Sponsored Programs to submit at least one proposal for external funding per year of participation and will submit a brief report to their dean and Research & Innovation annually.
Community meetings and other opportunities
Community meetings will be open to both Phase 1 and Phase 2 participants. All participants are expected to attend these meetings in their first two years of participation. Attendance is optional for those in their third through fifth years of participation. Meetings will be held approximately once a month during the academic year.
The overarching goal of these meetings is to build a community of support, so not all meetings will include formal programming. When formal programming is offered, topics will be selected by participants, and may include:
Talking to program officers
Developing proposal budgets
Developing broader impacts plans for NSF proposals
Tips/advice from funded researchers
Agency-, program-, or opportunity-specific information
Research-related intellectual property – publications and patents
Research ethics and integrity
Research computing support
Programming may be delivered by Research & Innovation staff, other Miami faculty or staff, the participating consultants, or other experts.
New Faculty GPS is not a writing workshop. However, faculty who would like additional peer support and accountability may choose to join other program participants in optional writing groups. Additional program-specific opportunities for networking and professional development may occasionally be offered, and participants are among the first to be notified about opportunities Research & Innovation makes available to Miami’s broader research community.
Results from previous cohorts
The GPS program began in 2018-2019, and in 2019-2020, we welcomed our second cohort of participants. The majority of participants have reported feeling more confident about future proposal submissions. Many participants also said they had or would apply to a “bigger” or more competitive program and that their proposals were of higher quality than they would have been without their participation in the program. The following were things participants mentioned especially liking about the program:
“The accountability and support.”
“[Having an] experienced consultant to work on identifying opportunities and writing applications.”
“Access to consultants and more connection with [Research & Innovation].”
“I have loved working with my consultant, and I also enjoyed some of the professional development sessions quite a bit.”
“The flexibility and feeling that the program is responsive to my needs.”
“The program helped familiarize me with different resources available at Miami University.”
“Learning about the variety of research happening across campus.”
“[The] sense of community.”
Application for 2020-2021 cohort
New Faculty GPS is open to tenure-track faculty (including librarians) in their first or second year of appointment. All eligible faculty were emailed directly with an invitation to apply to the program. Any eligible faculty member who did not receive an email invitation should contact me at johnsthb@MiamiOH.edu or 9-1760 if they are interested in applying. Applications are due by 8:00am on Monday, September 28.
Konkolewicz and Page’s technique uses nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technology to illuminate how proteins and synthetic polymers interact in chemical substances known as bioconjugates.
Why bioconjugates are useful
Proteins can be used to catalyze chemical reactions that are useful in many applications. For example, protein enzymes are used to produce high-fructose corn syrup and insulin is used to treat diabetes. But some proteins are active for only a very short time or they break down easily, so it’s just not practical – or cost-effective – to use them. Protein bioconjugates overcome proteins’ limitations by attaching synthetic molecules, often polymers, to the protein.
“Proteins have fantastic performance,” Konkolewicz says, “but there’s not a lot of flexibility in the chemistry we can put into a protein. Polymers offer a huge diversity of structure and function that we can incorporate in to extend the life of the protein or enhance its ability to withstand extreme conditions.”
Already there is some commercial development of bioconjugates, such as antibody-drug conjugates used to treat cancer, although the guidelines for how to improve the performance of these substances remains elusive.
Developing new, useful bioconjugates is often difficult and expensive because the process traditionally relies on trial and error: scientists throw a lot of polymer candidates against a proverbial wall of proteins to see what “sticks” in the form of enhanced performance. But just as it doesn’t make sense to throw a tennis ball at a Sheetrocked wall expecting it to stick, it doesn’t make sense to throw certain polymers at certain proteins expecting them to stick.
Accelerating development through rational design
We understand the nature of tennis balls and drywall well enough to know that “sticking” is not a possible outcome of their interaction, but Page says that scientists don’t always understand the nature of proteins and polymers well enough to make similar predictions when it comes to bioconjugation.
“In many cases, we know the structure of the protein, but we don’t know the structure of the polymer. We don’t know what shape it is, where it attaches to the protein, or how it wraps around or interacts with the protein,” Page says.
What’s needed, Konkolewicz and Page say, is a set of rules that would enable rational design of new bioconjugates. Such rules would allow chemists to look at the structure of a target protein and design a polymer molecule of the right size, shape, and function to fit it specifically.
“It would be great to be able to say, ‘Okay, here’s the protein I have. Here are the ways I need to stabilize it, and here are the sorts of polymers we can use for that,’” Page says.
The technique Page and Konkolewicz have developed is the first step in enabling the establishment of such a set of rules.
While previous techniques for examining interactions between proteins and polymers in bioconjugates relied on, for instance, neutron beams – very expensive equipment available at a limited number of facilities around the world – the Miami chemists’ technique uses readily available nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technology. The key to the technique is placing reporting groups on the synthetic polymers. These reporting groups act something like beacons, allowing researchers to see how close a polymer is to a protein, when the bioconjugate is in an NMR instrument.
The accessibility of NMR technology is important because it vastly increases the capacity of the research community to make discoveries.
“We can’t look at every relevant protein ourselves,” Konkolewicz says. “We’d have to live for 500 years to do that. By making it accessible, we allow other groups to examine their proteins of interest – catalytic proteins, like our lab focuses on, or therapeutic proteins, or whatever type they study. This technique provides scale.”
A breakthrough made possible by Miami’s unique environment
Fundamentally, Konkolewicz and Page’s technique enables chemists from around the globe to collaborate on the establishment of a set of design rules to guide more rapid development of bioconjugates that are both effective and affordable for use in industrial applications, including pharmaceuticals and biofuels. That’s a fitting outcome for a research effort that was itself born out of collaboration.
It’s been historically uncommon for scientists from different subfields to team up as Konkolewicz, a synthetic chemist, and Page, a biochemist, have. Konkolewicz and Page say their advance owes to the fact that Miami University fosters collaboration and encourages exploration across a broad range of expertise.
“The environment that we have here at Miami, and the ability and encouragement for groups to collaborate with each other here, has really set us up in the right environment to come up with this breakthrough technique,” Page says.
Another aspect of Miami’s unique environment is the deep involvement of undergraduate students in research. Four undergraduate students from Konkolewicz’s and Page’s labs were named as authors of an article reporting on their technique, which was recently published in the open-access flagship Royal Society of Chemistry journal, Chemical Science:
Caleb Kozuszek, a biochemistry major who worked in Konkolewicz’s lab prior to his graduation in 2020
Ryan Parnell, a biochemistry major who worked in Konkolewicz’s lab prior to his graduation in 2020
Jonathan Montgomery, a biochemistry major who worked in Page’s lab prior to his graduation in 2020
Nicholas Damon, a biology major who worked in Konkolewicz’s lab prior to his graduation in 2018
In addition to mentoring undergraduate members of their respective teams, PhD students Kevin Burridge (Konkolewicz’s lab) and Ben Shurina (Page’s lab) made other substantial contributions to the work and are named as the publication’s first and second authors, respectively. Jamie VanPelt, a former PhD student of Page’s who graduated in 2018, is also named as an author.
Page and Konkolewicz say Miami’s commitment to facilitating research collaborations is further reflected in the level of support they have received from professional staff in the university’s facilities, including EPR instrumentation specialist Rob McCarrick and NMR/MS specialist Theresa Ramelot, both of whom are named as authors on the Chemical Science article.
Konkolewicz and Page’s research was supported by a grant from the U.S. Army Research Office.
If you’re a subscriber or a regular reader, you might have found yourself doing a quick double-check of the address bar when you saw this post because it didn’t look like what you were used to!
As promised in an earlier post about changes in our office, we’ve updated our blog template. The new look is a little cleaner, and we’ve reduced the number of post categories. Together, these changes make our content easier to find and easier to read.
Take a look around and use the comments to let us know what you think!
Sure, remote instruction probably means you’re spending more time teaching, rather than less. And when you’re doing it from home, work has a way of expanding to fit the available time — especially if you’re trying to do it while also caring for children who are home from school or daycare. Still, as the coronavirus pandemic — and the requisite social distancing — stretches on, you’ll probably find yourself looking for ways to pass your time at home, and podcasts can fit the bill. Whether you’re new to the podcast renaissance or a devoted listener, you might want to give a listen to some of the following.
Major Insight showcases Miami students and how they transform academic subjects into lifelong passions.
Reframe, the original podcast from the College of Education, Health and Society (EHS), explores the transformative and progressive work being done across the university and throughout the community. Hear insightful interviews and exclusive stories about the faculty, students, and alumni who are addressing some of the most critical issues of our time.
Miami faculty podcasts
Chiropractic Science, hosted by associate clinical professor Dr. Dean Smith, gets the word out about chiropractic research. Chiropractors, patients and the public will learn about chiropractic science from the experts who are doing the research.
Stats and Stories, hosted by university distinguished professor John Bailer; professor emeritus Richard Campbell; and assistant professor Rosemary Pennington, uses stories to give statistics meaning and statistics to give stories credibility.
Backstory with the American History Guysis a public radio show and podcast hosted by U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh, who give historical perspective to topics in the headlines.
Cold Calldistills the Harvard Business School’s legendary case studies into podcast form. Hosted by Brian Kenny, the podcast airs every two weeks and features HBS faculty discussing cases they’ve written and the lessons they impart.
Everything Hertz goes everywhere the life sciences meet the biological sciences A bi-weekly conversation-style podcast with Dan Quintana and Dr. James Heathers, Everything Hertz explores the nuts and bolts of scientific research and academic life issues, like writing and publishing, the PhD to postdoc transition, and work-life balance.
In the Harvard Medical Labcast, Harvard Medical School scientists tackle a variety of important questions, ranging from how your neurons work to which genes play a role in particular diseases. This podcast provides context and highlights the latest trends in medical education and biomedical research through interviews and analysis.
Sidedoor is a podcast from the Smithsonian, produced and hosted by Tony Cohn and Megan Detrie. It tells stories about science, art, history, humanity and where they unexpectedly overlap.
Talking Machines is a podcast about the world of machine learning. Producer Katherine Gorman and Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Associate Ryan Adams speak with experts in the field about the latest research. Talking Machines is an independent production of Tote Bag Productions.