“As an engine of innovation in science and technology, Georgia Tech is committed to conducting research that matters — curiosity- and mission-driven research that serves the public good, with the goal of addressing humanity’s greatest challenges.
No institution can do this kind of work alone. Georgia Tech is an integral part of a global network of private and public partners, serving as a trusted partner, an anchor institution, and a collaborative hub connecting researchers across sectors, disciplines, and borders to advance science and technology that improves people’s lives.
With our fiscal year 2022 seeing historic growth of more than $1.27 billion in new grants and contracts, we are a catalyst for innovation and economic development. Our growth is keeping us on prominent annual lists, like those featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac, among others. Most notably, we are currently the only institution on those lists without a medical school.
We are, indeed, a critical source of new ideas and solutions, powering leading companies and new startups throughout our state, nation, and around the world, and creating solutions that improve the human condition every day.
Our research enterprise also affords Georgia Tech students unparalleled opportunities to learn, innovate, and discover where their interests lie. They will become the next generation of scientists, engineers, business owners, and policymakers — the leaders who will transform tomorrow.”
Chaouki T. Abdallah
Executive Vice President for Research
Georgia Tech Among Leaders in Higher Ed Research and Development Spending
Based on an annual National Science Foundation survey, for the first time in a decade, Georgia Tech has broken into the top 20 in higher education research and development spending.
While overall higher education research spending slowed to 3.3% growth in fiscal year 2020, the Georgia Tech research enterprise, which includes the Georgia Tech Research Institute, rose to 9.3% – or approximately $1.049 billion in expenditures among R1 research universities, universities recognized as having very high research activity. This ranking is especially significant, as the Institute achieved it without a medical school. Nationally, medical schools account for a quarter of all research expenditures.
Georgia Tech’s research spending benefits more than just groundbreaking discoveries made in the lab that help improve the human condition; it also helps the state of Georgia. In the same fiscal year, Georgia Tech’s economic impact on the state was $4.01 billion, according to data from the University System of Georgia.
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Providing More Accessibility to People Living With Paralysis
A collaboration between the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Brooks Rehabilitation allowed Georgia Tech engineers to test an early prototype of an alternative controller for power wheelchair users.
A group of 17 people living with tetraplegia, a severe form of paralysis that affects all extremities from the neck down, was selected from the Brooks patient population to drive a power wheelchair and control connected devices using a wearable alternative controller called the Head-Tongue Controller (HTC). The HTC detects tongue movements thanks to a tiny tracer temporarily glued onto the tongue, and head motion using an inertial sensor embedded in eyewear.
With user feedback from this study, the engineering team at Tech’s Inan Research Lab created a new and improved version of this alternative controller called MagTrack. This controller can detect facial gestures in addition to head and tongue motion, significantly improving its capability to perform more complex human-machine interactions. MagTrack is also more inconspicuous by eliminating any eyewear and by using increasingly smaller tracers designed at the Inan Research Lab. With this new version, users can seamlessly transition from driving their power wheelchair to controlling connected devices such as smartphones, computers, TVs, and automated door openers. MagTrack can be used anywhere since it is wearable, and its built-in wireless connectivity facilitates portability.
The research team is set to conduct a focus group with end users at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, and complete a technical validation study in a home-like environment at Georgia Tech Aware Home. Early adopters will also test MagTrack in an at-home validation study to further improve the technology before commercialization is pursued. This project is funded by Georgia Research Alliance’s Venture Development Fund and the Biolocity Fund, and with the generous help of the Global Center for Medical Innovation.
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More Birthdays Because of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech
In December 2021, Ramiah Martin and her family celebrated her 4th birthday thanks to the work of her physicians at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital and a 3D-printed tracheal replacement splint developed by researchers in the lab of Scott Hollister at Georgia Tech.
Four years after Hollister re-engineered his lab's Airway Support Device, Martin continues to live a healthy life after being born with tracheal agenesis. The device supports her esophagus, keeping it open as it does the work of a trachea. The device is made of biodegradable material that is naturally and safely absorbed into the body.
“We know that children with this condition have not survived past the age of 8 or 10,” said Hollister, professor and the Patsy and Alan Dorris Chair in Pediatric Technology in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. “Our fingers are crossed that this case will be different.”
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Georgia Tech-Assembled and Tested Spacecraft to Search for Frozen Water on Moon
Lunar Flashlight, developed by a team from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Goddard Space Flight Center, and Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC); the University of California, Los Angeles; Johns Hopkins University; the University of Colorado; and Georgia Tech, will use powerful lasers and an onboard spectrometer to search shaded areas of craters at the Moon’s south pole for evidence of surface ice. Earlier NASA missions have shown that the Moon may have frozen water in these areas, and by orbiting close to the surface, the spacecraft will be able to identify locations that may be worthy of future exploration.
Researchers in Georgia Tech’s School of Aerospace Engineering worked with MSFC to develop the 30-pound spacecraft’s propulsion system, which uses an improved environmentally friendly propellant. They also collaborated with the Georgia Tech Research Institute to assemble and test the Lunar Flashlight in a set of unique facilities in Atlanta. The project is supported by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and is scheduled to launch in 2023.
Tech Receives Grant to Assist With Planning Georgia Artificial Intelligence Manufacturing Corridor
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) has awarded Georgia Tech a $500,000 grant as part of its $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge.
The funding is meant to assist communities nationwide in their efforts to accelerate the rebuilding of their economies in the wake of the pandemic. As a leader in artificial intelligence, manufacturing research, and innovation-led economic development, Georgia Tech will use the funds for technical assistance to plan the Georgia Artificial Intelligence Manufacturing Corridor (GA-AIM).
Led by Thomas Kurfess and Aaron Stebner in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and in collaboration with local partners, GA-AIM will fill existing technology gaps, build a technological opportunity framework that includes underrepresented communities and rural Georgia counties, and better secure the state’s manufacturing infrastructure. With this grant, Tech becomes a finalist for significantly more funding to implement projects that support an industry sector and help communities withstand future economic shocks.
Tech’s HomeLab, GTRI Help Improve Covid-19 At-Home Testing
Thanks to the work of researchers at Georgia Tech's HomeLab and the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), two new at-home Covid-19 tests soon to hit the U.S. market should allow for a much more user-friendly experience.
"You can have a highly usable physical test, but if the instructions aren't thorough and easy to understand, it's going to be less effective," said Sarah Farmer, the director of testing and evaluation at the Center for Advanced Communications Policy (CACP) and managing director of HomeLab who also has a joint appointment at GTRI. "Luckily, instructions are probably the easiest thing to improve."
HomeLab, which is part of CACP in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts (School of Public Policy), conducted usability assessments of both Covid-19 tests, which included inspecting the devices, reviewing the instructions for use, observing how the tests are used at various clinical sites in the area, and considering what human errors may occur during use. The FDA and National Institutes of Health (NIH) then used HomeLab's assessments to decide which tests to authorize and roll out to the U.S. public. Farmer noted that the group also worked to ensure that users with various physical limitations, such as reduced manual dexterity and low vision, are able to use the new Covid-19 tests effectively.
HomeLab's recommendations have already made an impact. For the Siemens-manufactured test, Siemens has said it will modify some of the product's instructions and packaging in line with HomeLab's suggestions. The NIH, meanwhile, has asked HomeLab to assist with writing regulatory guidelines for all future Covid-19 tests to come as well as for potential future pandemics.
HomeLab began in 2011 as a way to provide innovators with an independent testing facility capable of evaluating the safety, efficacy, effectiveness, usability, and accessibility of products that promote independent living.
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Delving Into Locomotion of Lizards
Using biological experiments, robot models, and a geometric theory of locomotion from the 1980s, researchers at Georgia Tech investigated how and why intermediate lizard species, with their elongated bodies and short limbs, might use their bodies to move.
Their research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June, deepens the understanding of evolution’s implications for locomotion, and has additional applications for advanced robotics designs.
“We were interested in why and how these intermediate lizards use their bodies and limbs to move around in different terrestrial environments,” said Dunn Family Professor Daniel Goldman. “This is a fundamental question in locomotion biology and can inspire more capable wiggling robots.”
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Graffiti-Painting Robot System Mimics Fluidity of Human Movement
Georgia Tech graduate students have created the first graffiti-painting robot system that mimics the fluidity of human movement. GTGraffiti uses motion capture technology to record human painting motions and then composes and processes the gestures to program a cable-driven robot that spray paints graffiti artwork.
Some of the most typical industries for robotics applications include manufacturing, biomedicine, automobiles, agriculture, and the military. But the arts, it turns out, can showcase robotics in a particularly powerful way.
“The arts, especially painting or dancing, exemplify some of the most complex and nuanced motions humans can make,” said robotics Ph.D. student Gerry Chen who devised the project in collaboration with Juan-Diego Florez, a fellow graduate student; Frank Dellaert, robotics professor in the School of Interactive Computing, and Seth Hutchinson, professor and KUKA Chair for Robotics. “So if we want to create robots that can do the highly technical things that humans do, then creating robots that can dance or paint are great goals to shoot for. These are the types of skills that demonstrate the extraordinary capabilities of robots and can also be applied to a variety of other applications.”
New App Targets HIV Awareness, Reduction Among Black Women
Andrea Grimes Parker, associate professor of Interactive Computing, is the Georgia Tech lead for “in-the-kNOW,” a mobile app designed for Black women eligible for pre-exposure prophylaxis. Apart from Georgia Tech researchers, collaborators include the National Institute of Mental Health, the Emory School of Nursing, and the Morehouse School of Medicine.
The goal is to use culturally and contextually aware messaging to close the gaps in Black women’s knowledge about HIV. Statistics show that Black women have the second-highest rate of all new HIV infections in the United States, accounting for 69% of all HIV diagnoses among women in the South.
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School of Economics Research Examines Pandemic-Era Birth Data
Research from Georgia Tech’s School of Economics raises questions about medical interventions in pregnancy and whether some decisions by doctors may result in unnecessary preterm deliveries, according to Assistant Professor Daniel Dench, the paper's lead author. Published April 6, 2022, in the journal Pediatrics, the study is the first to examine pandemic-era birth data at scale.
"While much more research needs to be done, including understanding how these changes affected fetal deaths and how doctors triaged patient care by risk category during the pandemic, these are significant findings that should spark discussion in the medical community," said Dench. "This is just the start of what I think will be an important line of research.”
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Tech Joins Durham, Newcastle, Lancaster Universities to Study Meltwater Lake Threat
A study looking at surface meltwater lakes around the East Antarctic Ice Sheet across a seven-year period has found that the area and volume of these lakes is highly variable year-to-year, offering new insights into the potential impact of recent climatic change on Antarctica.
The study published in Nature Communications with co-authors from Durham, Newcastle, and Lancaster universities and Vincent Verjans, an Earth and Atmospheric Sciences postdoctoral fellow at Georgia Tech, shows that lake volume varied year-to-year by as much as 200% on individual ice shelves (floating extensions of the main Antarctic ice sheet), and by around 72% overall.
“Due to climate change, air temperatures in Antarctica will continue to rise, and our study suggests that this will lead to an increase in the number and volume of supraglacial lakes, which will in turn put some East Antarctic ice shelves at risk of meltwater-driven collapse,” said Principal Investigator Jennifer Arthur.
Understanding the climatic conditions controlling meltwater lake variability will also improve the accuracy of regional climate models used to replicate observations and predict future ice sheet change in Antarctica.
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Tech Researchers Explore the Implications of Biodiversity for Damaged Coral Reefs
In their research paper, "Biodiversity has a positive but saturating effect on imperiled coral reefs," published October 13, 2021, in Science Advances, Cody Clements and Mark Hay found that increasing coral richness by ‘outplanting’ a diverse group of coral species together improves coral growth and survivorship. This finding may be especially important in the early stages of reef recovery following large-scale coral loss — and in supporting healthy reefs that, in turn, support fisheries, tourism, and coastal protection from storm surges.
“Negative effects on corals often have cascading impacts on other species that call coral reefs home. If biodiversity is important for coral performance and resilience, then a ‘biodiversity meltdown’ could exacerbate the decline of reef ecosystems that we’re observing worldwide,” says Clements, a Teasley Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences.
Clements says their research demands more investigation. Why do corals perform better in mixed species communities than single-species communities? Why does this biodiversity effect diminish — rather than continue increasing — at the highest level of coral diversity?
“We need a better mechanistic understanding of how diversity influences these processes to predict how biodiversity loss will impact corals, as well as how we may be able to harness biodiversity’s positive influence to protect corals,” says Clements.
Revolutionizing Covid-19 Vaccine Delivery
Researchers, led by Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE), have developed and tested an innovative method that may simplify the complexity of delivering Covid-19 and other vaccines through a handheld electroporator.
While electroporation is commonly employed in the research lab using short electric pulses to drive molecules into cells, the technique currently requires large, complex, and costly equipment, severely limiting its use for vaccine delivery. Georgia Tech’s approach does the job using a novel pen-size device that requires no batteries and can be mass produced at low cost.
“My lab figured out that you could use something all of us are familiar with on the Fourth of July when we do a barbecue — a barbecue lighter,” said Saad Bhamla, assistant professor in ChBE, explaining that every time one clicks the lighter, it generates a brief pulse of electricity to ignite the flame.
Pairing a reimagined lighter device with microneedle technology, developed by ChBE’s Mark Prausnitz, has resulted in a new ultra-low-cost electroporation system, or ePatch.
“Covid-19 vaccines are currently given using lipid nanoparticles to deliver mRNA vaccine into cells, but these formulations are complex, costly, and may be associated with side effects,” said Prausnitz, Regents’ Professor in ChBE. “We think that the ePatch can simplify vaccination using mRNA and DNA vaccines, reducing their cost and increasing their safety.”
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Helping Achieve Equity in Energy and Environmental Engineering
Joe Bozeman, assistant professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Colorado Denver have published a framework and 10-step process to help engineers, scientists, and community members standardize their data related to energy and environmental topics. Their goal is to integrate equity into these fields, a practice Bozeman and his colleagues call systemic equity. By doing so, they hope to create a system where all demographics of groups are included, encompassing age groups, income levels, race, and ethnicity.
"If we are not able to manage social and infrastructure dynamics within our country in an equitable way, not only will currently marginalized groups be negatively affected now but so will marginalized groups of the future. This isn’t just about helping certain groups, such as Black, brown, Latinx, or poor white communities,” Bozeman said. “America’s demographics are changing wildly, so who is minoritized and systemically marginalized today might not be the same in the future. This framework can help everyone, if we refine it over time.”
Stopping Chemotherapy Damage Before It Starts
Chemotherapy drugs made from platinum-based compounds can be lifesavers but, down the road, can lead to a series of symptoms – like pain, weakness, and difficulty with balance – that add up to a condition called chemotherapy-induced neuropathy.
A team of multidisciplinary researchers at Georgia Tech has discovered that this degenerative process begins almost the minute a patient begins chemotherapy.
“They will not only have sensory problems, but an increased stimulation, often perceived as being painful or hypersensitivity to cold,” said postdoctoral researcher Stephen Housley. “The speed at which these drugs can impact the nervous system is stark. The motor system that helps us move is being affected in the course of minutes or hours.”
So, Housley and his collaborators are wondering if they could stop the damage to nerve cells before it even begins. The goal is to test different pharmacologic and gene therapy approaches and, according to Housley, “prevent the long-term consequences of these neurological disorders.”
Sea Level Sensor Project in Savannah Secures $5M
Now in its fourth year, the sea level sensor project is now slated to receive $5 million from Congress to launch the Coastal Equity and Resilience Hub. It has been secured by U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, and U.S. Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter to expand the network of sensors — currently 50 are deployed off Chatham County’s coast — to blanket Georgia’s 11-county coastal region.
Georgia Tech and its partners in the Coastal Equity and Resilience Hub — which includes Savannah State University, the University of Georgia, and the University of South Carolina — are using these low-cost sensors to gain real-time data that, over time, will help inform policies on infrastructure design and retrofitting. The sensors will also further expand the ability of first responders and emergency planners to forecast extreme rainfall and storm surge events on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood specific basis.