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CHICAGO — Projects to help communities adopt sustainable development strategies and create a statewide pipeline to train computer-science teachers are among those funded in the Discovery Partners Institute's first round of seed grants.

The UI announced the first nine recipients Wednesday, saying they represent the kind of work the Chicago-based research institute wants to focus on — solutions to "grand challenges" in areas such as the environment and health, quantum computing, education and urban resilience.

The projects, chosen from 46 submissions, involve researchers from all three UI campuses as well as the University of Chicago. All will receive funding, staff support and use of the DPI facility to develop the projects into full-scale research and education programs, the UI said.

Among the winners:

— A project by Urbana professors Raksha Anand Mudar and Wendy Rogers to explore whether video technology could reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation among older adults, especially those who are economically disadvantaged.

— A new Pathways program for Illinois high school teachers to get certified as computer science instructors, proposed by Urbana professors Luc Paquette, Craig Zilles and Raya Hegeman-Davis. It would build on the Illinois Secondary Teacher Education and Computer Science initiative to develop an undergraduate program in computer science education.

— Creation of the Center for Urban Resilience and Environmental Sustainability, by professors Donald Wuebbles, Amy Ando and Timothy Lindsey from the Urbana campus, Anne-Marie Hanson from Springfield and Elizabeth Kocs from Chicago. It will focus on tools to help cities build resilience to climate change, promote human welfare and address the interdependence of urban water, food and energy.

— A project to develop artificial intelligence approaches to pressing environmental issues by bringing together researchers and stakeholders from industry, nonprofit and government sectors. It includes professors Jeffrey Brawn and Eric Shauber from Urbana and Tanya Berger-Wolf and Thomas Theis from Chicago.

— A weeklong summer school program in quantum computing, proposed by Urbana professors Eric Chitambar and Paul Kwiat, to provide basic training for students and faculty, and for students interested in pursuing research and entrepreneurship in this next wave of innovation.

— Development of new courses, student internships and other learning opportunities at the Food Innovation Center planned for the new DPI. The center is part of Urbana's new undergraduate major in metropolitan food and environmental systems, helping students learn how to feed a growing world population in sustainable and healthy ways. The project was proposed by professors Shelly Nickols-Richardson and Zachary Grant from Urbana.

— A plan to create innovative educational materials in gaming or virtual reality formats, which would also preserve digital versions of vulnerable African sites and materials. It was proposed by Urbana professors Teresa Barnes, Mauro Nobil and Laila Hussein Mustafa.

— A project to train people with autism spectrum disorders for the technology and innovation workforce, proposed by Chicago professors Maureen Dunne, Tamar Heller and Daria Tsoupikova-Preuss. It would include a "Code for Autism" training boot camp and hackathon, a faculty workshop, courses and seminars on autism and technology, and a bridge program for College of DuPage students who plan to transfer to the UI Chicago.

— A proposal to develop technology for real-time monitoring of indoor air quality, proposed by professors Richard Sowers and Paul Francisco in Urbana and Charles Catlett at the University of Chicago.


Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).