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CITRIS announces UCSC recipients of its inaugural seed funding round

CITRIS and the Banatao Institute
CITRIS and the Banatao Institute
Wednesday, September 18, 2019
Michael Matkin

CITRIS and the Banatao Institute at UC Santa Cruz is pleased to announce the award recipients of their inaugural Campus Seed Funding Program. The new program encourages multi-disciplinary teams from across campus to collaborate on projects that address social challenges through the use of technology and can lead to larger research programs and extramural grant proposals. Thirteen teams representing all five campus divisions and sixteen different departments submitted proposals.

The funded projects include PIs from four campus divisions and eight different departments. The funded projects for the 2019 program are:

  • Title: Sustainability Analytics Model of Biorefineries for Algae (SAMBA): A Sensor-Based Approach for Visualization and Decision-Making
    • PIs: Anne Kapuscinski, Social Sciences - Environmental Studies; Yihsu Chen, Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering; and Elliot Campbell, Social Sciences - Environmental Studies.
    • Abstract: Rapid adoption of low-carbon technologies is a grand challenge for sustainable infrastructure. The scale of this challenge requires a portfolio of solutions. In the portfolio of sustainable infrastructures, one rapidly emerging technology is algae biorefineries. Algae biorefineries harvest solar energy to grow microalgae and convert their biomass into pharmaceuticals, jet fuels, and aquaculture feeds, and provide ecosystem services including carbon sequestration. Of critical importance, algae biorefineries can operate without fresh water or arable land. Algae biorefineries potentially can contribute to deep carbon reductions. But, their sustainable infrastructure role is uncertain due to energy-intensive inputs that can lead to diverse sustainability outcomes. To address this critical knowledge gap, we propose to develop a smart decision-making tool based on carbon, energy, and water analytics called the Sustainability Analytics Model of Biorefineries for Algae (SAMBA). SAMBA will assimilate biorefinery sensor-based data through open-source software, with output visualizations tailored to a diverse range of processes, demonstrated through our industry partnership with Cellana, LLC. Such decision-making tools have been developed for other sectors, but research data have yet to be leveraged for decision support in algae biorefineries. Recent advances in fundamental understanding of algae product life-cycles, including contributions from our three laboratories, make now an optimal time for SAMBA. This project will allow us to: develop proof-of-concept results and catalyze our interdisciplinary team of faculty from diverse career stages; enhance results from our complementary proposal to NOAA, recently recommended for funding; and leverage project results to pursue four major funding opportunities, including NSF’s Food-Energy-Water program.
  • Title: Submersible, data-driven lab-on-a-chip for real-time monitoring of water quality
    • PIs: Shiva Abbaszadeha, BSOE - ECE: and Jin Zhang, PBSci - Chemistry & Biochemistry
    • Abstract: Critical systems, such as those used in aircrafts, are continuously monitored by a variety of sensors with feedback mechanisms to ensure proper function and safety. Such a capability does not currently exist for water-based systems, and water-related disease and contamination are increasingly reported every year. This project seeks to open new avenues of research in chemistry and life sciences by combining artificial intelligence and advanced sensor technology. We will combine nanotechnology, plasma-enhanced surface modification, and suppression technique with low-noise, low-power, and high-speed circuits and computation capabilities to develop a platform for real-time monitoring of the water quality.
  • Title: Uses and Abuses of Data and Learning Analytics for Higher Education
    • PIs: Abel Rodriguez, BSOE - Statistics; Jody Greene, Humanities - Literature; Rebecca London, Social Sciences - Sociology
    • Abstract: Through a year-long Fellows program and a conference, we will explore issues related to the increasing use of data and predictive analytics in higher education in general, and UC/UCSC instructional settings in particular. To that end, we aim at increasing awareness about and generating solutions for the ethical and practical implications associated with the use of big data, artificial intelligence, and learning analytics in instructional settings. With whom should data representing student or instructor outcomes be shared? How should it be represented so as to be maximally useful? What do institutions involved in student success efforts do with such data once they have it? To what extent do individual instructors need to be versed in and capable of translating such data into instructional choices (the "what now")? Whose responsibility is it to train faculty and staff to effectively and ethically use such data? Do predictive analytics in instructional settings really improve student outcomes and close equity gaps? What will the consequences be for faculty at research universities of expecting a much more granular, targeted relationship to ensuring the learning of individual students than faculty have been held to in the past? Should faculty be expected to become experts in using data to promote student learning, and might these new expectations deter first-rate researchers from choosing an academic career? Over the course of the year, we will host the Fellows program and conference as well as to conduct a companion research project focused on understanding the role of data and learning analytics from the faculty and staff perspectives. We will generate a white paper on best practices for the use of such data in instructional settings, two case studies for wider dissemination, and a research-based article while deepening and broadening the conversation around ethics and data analytics across the UC and beyond. This work will serve as the basis for a future grant application, likely to a solicitation associated with the “Future of Work” Big Idea at the National Science Foundation.
  • Title: Diversion and Recovery of PLA Plastic from the UC Santa Cruz Waste Stream
    • PIs: Scott Oliver, PBSci - Chemistry & Biochemistry; Narges Norouzi, BSOE - Computer Science and Engineering; and Tamara Ball, Social Sciences - Institute for Scientist & Engineer Educators
    • Abstract: This project seeks to divert polylactic acid (PLA) plastic from recycling and waste streams at UC Santa Cruz. PLA is now a common food and drink container but is not recyclable and in fact becomes a contaminant when mixed with other thermoplastics. Our multidisciplinary research team will use a combination of chemistry, materials science, computer science and social science to address this growing, expensive problem. The project will support four complementary areas of work: supply chain analysis and information management, chemistry and materials science, waste diversion, and material recovery. The end goal is to keep a greater percentage of PLA material on campus and avoid the economic and ecological costs of shipping to our local landfill (or worse, overseas). A mobile app supporting point-source waste audits will be developed to document pre- and post-intervention conditions of UC Santa Cruz waste management. Data collected through the mobile app will be crucial to determine the economy of scale and volume of material needed to sustain this alternative supply chain. The team will develop techniques to de-polymerize or prepare for extrusion to filament feedstock, which will be tested on a dedicated 3D printer provided by the Sustainability-Lab. Market analysis will determine the economy of scale required to produce and sell filament below market price to users across the UC system, while providing a future revenue stream for the project. Reclaiming and dispersing low-cost PLA feedstocks can support innovation while avoiding contamination and achieving waste diversion goals across UC campuses.

For more information on the program, visit:

For more information on future editions of the program please contact us at

The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute drive interdisciplinary innovation for social good with faculty researchers and students from four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz – along with public and private partners. Find out more at and