2021 Awardees

2021 Awardees

Ten unique and highly promising projects — including researchers in materials science, engineering, information technology, environmental sustainability, and life and biomedical sciences — were selected from an initial round of 79 letters of intent in a competitive process, with half of the funded teams led or co-led by women. Notably, four of the projects receiving grants relate to sustainability and clean energy technologies — a topic aligned with UCLA’s Sustainable LA Grand Challenge. 

Big data and artificial intelligence

Project Title:  2D-Material-Based Optoelectronics for Optical Neural Networks and AI-Based Cameras

Investigators:  Xiangfeng Duan; Aydogan Ozcan

  • A team headed by Xiangfeng Duan, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry and a CNSI member, is advancing photonics — energy-efficient technologies that use particles of light in place of the electrons used in electronics — for applications such as artificial intelligence and image capture. The team will explore ways to improve signal processing using two-dimensional materials, which are arranged in layers only a few atoms thick and derive special qualities from quantum mechanics.

Xiangfeng Duan

UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry

Aydogan Ozcan

UCLA Engineering


Project Title: Shedding Light on the Protein Interactome

Investigators:   Keriann Backus; Jahan Dawlaty; Steven Bensigner; Peter Tontonoz

  • A collaboration led by CNSI member Keriann Backus, assistant professor of biological chemistry and of chemistry and biochemistry, aims to develop a new method for mapping the protein interactions that are fundamental to almost every process in living things. The ability to label proteins with iodine using laser-mediated excitation could accelerate our understanding of the millions of interactions that are regulated by proteins in human cells, including interactions with drug molecules.

Keriann M. Backus

UCLA Biological Chemistry

Project Title: Abuse Deterrent Opioid Prodrugs with Lowered Addiction Potential

Investigators:   Cathy Cahill; Chris Evans; Heather Maynard

  • Catherine Cahill, professor-in-residence of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, is heading up a team seeking to curb opioid addiction, which is in part driven by users’ ability to concentrate and inhale or inject drugs such as oxycodone. The researchers are exploring a method for rendering opioids inactive unless digested in the stomach, as well as slowing their release into the body.

    Heather Maynard

    UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry

    Cathy Cahill

    UCLA Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences

    Project Title: Improve Mitochondrial DNA Quality Control to Ward Off Aging and Mitochondrial Diseases

    Investigators:   Ming Guo, Bruce Hay, Robert Damoiseaux, Jonathan Wanagat

    • CNSI member Ming Guo, the P. Gene and Elaine Smith Professor of Alzheimer’s Disease Research and professor of neurology and of molecular and medical pharmacology, leads a team addressing age-related illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. The investigators aim to identify drugs that eliminate mutated DNA in mitochondria — the powerhouses of the cell. Such mutations appear increasingly with age and are associated with a host of disorders.

    Robert Damoiseaux

    UCLA Pharmacology

    Ming Guo

    UCLA Neurology

    Project Title: Synthetic Biology Approaches to Cannabinoid Diversification and Production

    Investigators:   Yi Tang; Neil Garg

    • A project dedicated to using yeast to produce potential medicinal compounds naturally found in the cannabis plant is helmed by CNSI member Yi Tang, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, of chemistry and biochemistry and of bioengineering, and Neil Garg, the Kenneth N. Trueblood Endowed Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and chair and distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry. This is the first UCLA-based grant to utilize the CNSI’s new Living Biofoundry, established through the National Science Foundation–funded BioPACIFIC Materials Innovation Platform.

    Yi Tang

    UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry

    Neil Garg

    UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry

    Project Title: Therapeutic Liver Targeting Nanoparticles for Peanut Allergy and Anaphylaxis

    Investigators:  Tian Xia; Andre Nel

    • A team led by Tian Xia, an associate adjunct professor of nanomedicine and CNSI member, is advancing a potential treatment for severe food allergies. The investigators have generated a nanoparticle meant to deliver an allergen directly to cells in the liver that regulate immune responses, potentially causing the body to tolerate that allergen.

    Tian Xia

    UCLA Medicine

    Andre Nel

    UCLA Medicine

    Sustainability and clean energy technologies

    Project Title: The Future is Brown: Genetic Engineering Technology Innovation in Kelp

    Investigators:   Siobhan Braybrook; Tim Malloy

    • CNSI member Siobhan Braybrook, assistant professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, and Timothy Malloy, the Frank G. Wells Professor of Environmental Law, lead a project focused on genetically engineering kelp and other forms of brown algae to absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as well as mapping the legal and regulatory issues related to such a technology.

    Siobhan Braybrook

    UCLA Bioscience

    Tim Malloy

    UCLA Law

    Project Title: Laser-scribed Vanadium Oxide Cathodes for Grid-Scale Energy Storage

    Investigators:   Richard Kaner; Yuzhang Li

    • A team led by CNSI member Richard Kaner, the Dr. Myung Ki Hong Endowed Professor of Materials Innovation and distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry and of materials science and engineering, is furthering an approach for energy storage based on abundant, nontoxic zinc rather than lithium. The team’s goal is to create technology for grid-level batteries that store energy from sustainable but intermittent sources such as the sun and wind.

    Richard Kaner

    UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry

    Yuzhang Li

    UCLA Engineering

    Project Title: Concentrated Solar-Thermal Co-Production of Hydroden and High-Value Solid Carbon Forms

    Investigators:  Tim Fisher; Yves Rubin; Mitchell Spearrin

    • A project developing a zero–carbon footprint process for generating hydrogen for energy is led by Tim Fisher, the John P. and Claudia H. Schauerman Endowed Professor of Engineering and chair and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Yves Rubin, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, both of whom are members of the CNSI. The team’s strategy would use sunlight to cleanly turn methane into hydrogen and graphite, a raw material for batteries.

      Yves Rubin

      UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry

      Mitchell Spearrin

      UCLA Engineering

      Tim Fisher

      UCLA Engineering

      Project Title: Precision Cultured Meat using Edible and Scalable Scaffolds

      Investigator: Amy Rowat

      • CNSI member Amy Rowat, associate professor and vice chair of integrative biology and physiology, leads a team advancing a process for creating customized, labmade meat. By growing tissue on an edible scaffold, the researchers intend to produce food that can mimic the taste and texture of different cuts of steak without the environmental detriments that come with traditional livestock farming and processing.

      Amy Rowat

      Integrative Biology & Physiology

      Past Seminars

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