University of Wisconsin–Madison



Greeshma Gadikota, faculty fellow of the Grainger Institute for Engineering and assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, will be representing the UW-Madison College of Engineering on a new multidisciplinary, multi-institute collaboration led by the University of Utah’s College of Engineering and College of Mines and Earth Sciences.

Established out of a four-year, $10.75 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Energy Frontier Research Center for Multi-Scale Fluid-Solid Interactions in Architected and Natural Materials (MUSE) will focus on how complex fluids interact with complex materials such as shale to improve the production of energy resources while minimizing its environmental impact.

Gadikota, who studies the materials we use to produce energy and consumer goods, will be focused on understanding how fluids behave at complex interfaces using advanced experimental and molecular modeling tools. She says that energy production uses more than an ideal amount of resources and materials, both natural and engineered. “If we can understand the science of how fluids behave in confinement, how they flow and react and why, we can improve energy and resource recovery, and even reduce the amount of the good stuff—like water—that we use,” she said.

“Greeshma is not only bringing her expertise to the table, she’s leveraging the strengths of the Civil and Environmental Engineering department and the Energy and Sustainability resources within the Grainger Institute for Engineering to collaborate on this large-scale activity,” said Dan Thoma, Director of the Grainger Institute for Engineering. “That’s fantastic.”

“Thanks to the support of UW, our group has been able to build up capabilities in novel reactor systems and solid-state characterization,” Gadikota said. “The strength that we bring is being able to intelligently combine them both.”

Gadikota will also be utilizing resources in the national synchrotron X-ray research facility at Argonne National Laboratory.

In addition to researchers from the University of Utah and UW-Madison’s Gadikota, the team includes personnel from the Idaho National Laboratory; Pennsylvania State University; University of California, Davis; and the University of Wyoming. Read the University of Utah’s official announcement here.

UW-Madison and Argonne partner on advanced manufacturing technologies and entrepreneurship


Through its Grainger Institute for Engineering, the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering and Argonne National Laboratory are partnering on ways to accelerate technology development that fuels growth in the $1.2 trillion manufacturing sector, while also aiming to facilitate a broad portfolio of research shared between the two institutions.

“The collaboration between UW-Madison and Argonne National Laboratory will provide an impactful technical partnership on societal needs, including energy, sustainability, materials discovery and advanced manufacturing. The proximity of the university to the laboratory will permit strong personal interactions,” says Ian Robertson, UW-Madison College of Engineering dean.

The college and Argonne will leverage complementary expertise. Three important thrust areas for Argonne—its grid program, nuclear science and engineering, and manufacturing science and engineering—join forces in this collaboration. They will partner with the college in developing and testing advanced materials, nuclear engineering, and power grid research and in developing new processes for making manufacturing more energy-efficient and sustainable.

Manufacturing accounts for roughly 25 percent of U.S. energy consumption and generates 12 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. New highly functionalized materials, chemistries and devices that can be manufactured at scale can open up new sources of energy and product lines.

Argonne has launched a lab-wide manufacturing science and engineering initiative to capitalize on unique strengths in materials and chemistry, X-ray science and advanced computing to build breakthrough technologies. In addition, Argonne’s grid program investigates future technologies, including micro and macro electric smart grids with integrated energy storage devices; advanced transportation systems with energy interoperability solutions; and nuclear energy systems that are safe, resilient and cost-effective.

“To ensure that the next generation of advanced technologies and energy materials are manufactured in the U.S., national laboratories and universities need to partner to build the next generation workforce and new technologies in our own backyard,” says Santanu Chaudhuri, director of Manufacturing Science and Engineering at Argonne. “UW-Madison will bring to Argonne a proven track record of training top-tier engineers and developing entrepreneurs that want to launch cleantech, materials and energy-based startups in the Midwest.”

The partnership with UW-Madison also aims to increase the number of scientists, engineers and students that will collaborate with Argonne at its new Midwest manufacturing science facility. UW-Madison faculty and students will work with technical leaders in grid technology and nuclear engineering.

The partnership is a win-win. “The Grainger Institute for Engineering and Argonne National Laboratory are working together on defined initiatives that draw upon complementary technology,” says Dan Thoma, director of the Grainger Institute for Engineering, which is part of the College of Engineering at UW-Madison. “Joint research with a local, premier national laboratory will provide multiple opportunities for collaboration to promote technical advancements.”

Argonne and UW-Madison also plan to launch pilot projects for UW-Madison entrepreneurs and researchers looking to grow technologies and to leverage Argonne’s unique set of research tools, including:

* The nation’s highest-energy X-ray source, the Advanced Photon Source, for materials characterization,

* High performance computing at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility

* The Center for Nanoscale Materials,

* The Materials Engineering Research Facility, a DOE facility to enable the conversion of laboratory bench-top discoveries to economically viable commercial-scale production levels.

Air Force-backed center to make machine learning more independent, predictable, secure

MADISON – Artificial intelligence has become so smart and commonplace that most people accept computer-generated restaurant recommendations or movie suggestions without blinking an eye. Underneath the virtual surface, however, much remains mysterious in the realm of machine learning, where systems attempt to mimic the remarkable way humans learn.

Machine learning capabilities aren’t yet up to the task of handling highly complex, rapidly changing or uncertain environments, and artificial intelligence can easily be tricked by false information from a clever adversary – critical situations for national defense.

In an effort to build the next generation of machine-learning methods to support its needs, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Air Force Research Laboratory have awarded $5 million to establish a university center of excellence devoted to efficient and robust machine learning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The center also includes researchers from the Toyota Technological Institute at Chicago (TTIC).

Called the Machines, Algorithms and Data Lab (MADLab), the center is led by Robert Nowak, McFarland-Bascom Professor in electrical and computer engineering at UW-Madison and an adjoint professor at TTIC.

Central to the new center’s mission is finding a deeper understanding of fundamental concepts in machine learning and then leveraging that insight to build data-efficient, operationally robust computer programs for national defense needs. However, innovations emerging from the center could benefit the lives of people worldwide, and Nowak believes the next generation of machine learning algorithms will not only bolster national defense capabilities, but also benefit civilians.

“Our aim is to make machine learning more effective and broadly applicable,” he says.

Today’s machine learning techniques use massive amounts of data that humans have analyzed and labeled, preparing systems to operate in well-understood and well-defined environments. Essentially, with data and algorithms, machines are programmed to teach themselves.

However, some of the most sensitive types of information, like covert intelligence, often consist of poorly labeled or incomplete data sets which can confound machine learning algorithms. Additionally, analyzing the types of data – like electromagnetic signals or hyperspectral imagery – that arise in tactical environments can be more complicated than parsing patterns from more common information sources such as photographs, sounds or texts.

“Modern machine learning methods can be unexpectedly fragile, which is particularly sobering when they are used in medicine, defense or autonomous vehicles,” says center collaborator Rebecca Willett, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UW-Madison and, like Nowak, a fellow of the UW’s Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. “By understanding fundamental aspects of how and why different approaches work, we can better prevent failures.”


-Sam Million-Weaver, 608-263-5988,, and Adrienne Nienow, 608-262-2638,

William Murphy Testifies before Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Science and Technology

William Murphy—Grainger Institute for Engineering’s biomanufacturing thrust leader, Biomedical Engineering & Orthopedics professor, and Co-Director of the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center—was invited in October to testify before the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Science and Technology. Murphy and five other speakers had the opportunity to share with policymakers what biomanufacturing is, what it isn’t, and why it’s important to encourage its growth in our state.

So, what is biomanufacturing? In short, it’s the advanced manufacturing of therapeutic medical and lab devices, medical and lab instrumentation, regenerative cells and tissues, drugs, vaccines and pharmaceutical diagnostics—to name a few. And what it’s not? Human cloning, fetal tissue research, or human embryonic stem cell research.


Due to the University of Wisconsin’s strength in a variety of critical areas—engineering, life sciences, medicine, technology transfer—it has become a globally recognized leader in biomanufacturing research, and has successfully spun out and licensed technologies to a multitude of biomanufacturing companies, some of which have been acquired by global industry leaders.

In Wisconsin, there are already more than 75 emerging and established biomanufacturing companies. Wisconsin files more than 50 patent filings in biomanufacturing per year. And degree programs throughout the state offer top biomanufacturing education and training programs. Wisconsin is already a national hub for biomanufacturing.

With current federal funding initiatives for things like advanced manufacturing and precision medicine, as well as statewide collaboration among entrepreneurs, industry leaders, and UW system students and faculty, Wisconsin is poised to become the national hub for biomanufacturing.

Focus on new faculty: Jiamian Hu, using computer models to improve materials for many applications


For materials scientist Jiamian Hu, the culture of interdisciplinary research collaboration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a major selling point for the university.

“That’s actually one of the very important reasons that I wanted to come to Wisconsin,” says Hu, who will join the materials science and engineering faculty in fall 2017. “I found that the collaboration barrier here is very low. It’s a very interdisciplinary culture here within the college and across the entire university.”

That low barrier for collaboration is especially attractive for Hu because his research centers on computational modeling, and in that field: “Collaboration is basically everything to us,” Hu says.

That’s because a computational model needs to be validated by experiments. In return, modeling can provide guidance to experiments on how to achieve or optimize a desirable property or functionality.

An award-winning researcher of inorganic materials, Hu was hired through the college’s Grainger Institute for Engineering. He comes from Tsinghua University in China via a post-doctoral stint at Penn State.

Hu primarily studies the properties of inorganic materials using the computational modeling method known as the “phase-field” method. He models the evolutional microstructure of materials—structures that are larger than the atomic scale but small enough that the naked eye cannot discern them.

“We call it the mesoscale. It typically ranges from nanometers to microns,” says Hu. “Through computer modeling, we find how you can arrange a microstructure in such a way that a material will have the functionalities or properties you need. So basically, we are trying to make existing materials much better.”

Those materials include everything from metals to polymers, and from soft materials to ceramics.

Hu is especially excited about the prospect of collaborating with current MS&E faculty like Professor Dane Morgan and Professor Izabela Szlufarska, who also do computational modeling, but on different time and spatial scales than Hu’s microstructure-focused models.

“I’m excited to see if we can collaborate and do some multi-scale modeling of materials,” says Hu.

To date, most of Hu’s phase-field method research has modeled the magnetoelectric properties of materials that are a combination of magnets and ferroelectric materials. Hu says these materials have unique properties that open up new opportunities for electronics.

“Addressing these materials almost does not require any electric currents, which means the heat production is minimal,” Hu says. “That enables us to potentially produce many different types of energy-efficient devices that could eventually save a large amount of energy for our industry.”

Additionally, the materials offer a method for converting magnetic fields into electric fields, and vice versa, for all sorts of potential applications. These range from new and much less cumbersome medical imaging equipment to smaller, more powerful and more energy-efficient electronic devices.

Hu plans to continue pursuing his research into magnetoelectric materials, but he also plans to expand his computational modeling methods to other materials and applications while at UW-Madison.

“In the future I’m planning not to limit myself into a specific area because I’m treating my phase-field model as a tool,” Hu says. “The tool can describe a microstructure and its evolution dynamics in any material system.”

In addition to his research, Hu may teach thermodynamics and kinetics of materials. He says he’s excited to share his knowledge and experience on a wide variety of topics with students.

“Hopefully I can teach other courses eventually, as well,” he says. “Teaching is the best way to learn, and Wisconsin also has a lot of resources for teaching and designing courses. It’s very cool how many resources Wisconsin has for teaching, learning and research.”

Author: Will Cushman

Allen to lead Grainger Institute for Engineering energy thrust

todd_allen-larger-photo-jpeg-crop-825wJanuary 11, 2017

Given the great scope and complexity of the energy challenges facing society, innovative research collaborations across disciplines hold the most potential to produce transformative technological breakthroughs.

Through the Grainger Institute for Engineering, an incubator for transdisciplinary research in the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering, the college is poised to drive advances that help solve technological challenges in several areas, including energy and sustainability, which is the newest focus area in the institute.

Todd Allen, a senior visiting fellow at the policy think tank Third Way, is returning to UW-Madison to lead the energy and sustainability thrust area in the Grainger Institute for Engineering.

Allen served as a faculty member in the UW-Madison Department of Engineering Physics for 10 years before taking a leave of absence in 2013 to serve as deputy director of science and technology at the Idaho National Laboratory.

“I’m excited to return to UW-Madison in this new role as thrust lead in the institute,” Allen says. “It’s a great opportunity to create some new, innovative approaches to cross-disciplinary research collaboration and education at the university, which will enable us to make a greater impact on energy issues.”

While working at Idaho National Laboratory, Allen was in charge of overseeing all energy and national security research at the lab, and he focused on bringing together researchers from disparate groups for fruitful collaborations.

For example, Allen points to a successful collaboration between a staff member in the lab’s national security group and researchers working on nuclear fuel issues.

The staff member was working on harnessing advanced digital image processing to identify subtle changes in an image that might indicate a security threat. On the nuclear fuel side, researchers want to ensure the fuel maintains its integrity and doesn’t crack or leak, so they conduct visual exams to see if cracks might be forming.

“It’s a big national lab, and the nuclear fuel people had never met the national security people,” Allen says. “But once you figure out how to connect these different researchers, they really wanted to work together because the nuclear researchers saw how they could improve their ability to understand what was going on in the fuel by connecting to the technology that the nuclear security staff member was working on for a totally different reason.”

Similarly, Allen aims to create opportunities to bring together UW-Madison faculty members from various disciplines to tackle big energy challenges in new ways. “The significant energy and sustainability challenges are bigger than a typical single faculty member’s group, which tends to focus deeply on certain technical areas,” Allen says. “With the Grainger Institute for Engineering thrust, the idea is to figure out clever combinations of people’s skills in order to address these big energy problems.”

Dan Thoma, director of the Grainger Institute, says Allen’s outstanding track record as a UW-Madison faculty member combined with his leadership experience at Idaho National Laboratory make him an excellent fit for this new role.

“In his time away from campus, Todd has been contributing to the national discourse on energy issues and has made a lot of contacts,” Thoma says. “He has the connections and the leadership ability to influence the national conversation on energy topics, and the right skill set to lead the development of large-scale multidisciplinary programs in the area of energy and sustainability.”

Allen’s background is in nuclear engineering, and in addition to his responsibilities as a thrust lead in the institute he will rejoin the engineering physics faculty and run his own research group. His research interests include fuels and materials for nuclear energy systems, with a focus on radiation damage and corrosion.

“The engineering physics department has hired a junior faculty member, Adrien Couet, in the same research area, and I want to be very supportive and helpful to him as he builds up his research program,” Allen says.

Beyond developing large-scale research programs that help solve critical technological challenges, Allen ultimately wants the cutting-edge work at UW-Madison to help influence national energy policy.

“I want to help make better connectivity between the faculty members and the work they’re doing at UW-Madison and the people in policy space, so our work can have an even greater positive impact on society,” he says.

Author: Adam Malecek

UW-Madison engineers part of $140 million ‘Manufacturing USA’ clean-energy initiative

Several University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers are among leading researchers around the country who will participate in the newly created Reducing Embodied-Energy and Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) Institute.

Led by the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Golisano Institute for Sustainability, the institute was created under the U.S. Department of Energy Manufacturing USA initiative and announced Jan. 4, 2017.

The REMADE Institute is a national coalition of leading universities, national laboratories and industries that will forge new clean-energy initiatives deemed critical in keeping U.S. manufacturing competitive.

Under the RIT-led Sustainable Manufacturing Innovation Alliance, the institute will leverage up to $70 million in federal funding that will be matched by more than $70 million in private cost-share commitments from industry and other consortium members. In all, 26 universities, 44 companies, seven national labs, 26 industry trade associations and foundations and three states (New York, Colorado and Utah) are engaged in the effort.

The institute will focus its efforts on driving down the cost of technologies essential to reuse, recycle and remanufacture materials such as metals, fibers, polymers and electronic waste and aims to achieve a 50-percent improvement in overall energy efficiency by 2027. These efficiency measures could save billions of dollars in energy costs and improve U.S. economic competitiveness through innovative new manufacturing techniques, small business opportunities and offer new training and jobs for American workers.

The Grainger Institute for Engineering at UW-Madison led the university’s participation in the initiative. UW-Madison engineers involved in the institute includes civil and environmental engineer Andrea Hicks, an expert on quantifying the environmental impact of products and processes; chemical and biological engineer George Huber, who is among the world’s leading biofuels researchers; and chemical and biological engineer Victor Zavala, whose expertise centers around developing models for evaluating technological systems.

Researchers in the REMADE Institute also will develop and implement an education and workforce development program that will fill workforce gaps identified by its industry, government and academic partners and build the next generation of the recycling and remanufacturing workforce. Susan OttmannJames TinjumFrank RathWayne Pferdehirt and Paul Miller of the UW-Madison Department of Engineering Professional Development will contribute to the institute’s efforts in workforce development.

REMADE Institute partners have the following five-year goals:

  • 5 to 10 percent improvement in manufacturing material efficiency by reducing manufacturing material waste
  • 50-percent increase in remanufacturing applications
  • 30-percent increase in efficiency of remanufacturing operations
  • 30-percent increase in recycling efficiencies
  • A targeted 50 percent increase in sales for the U.S. manufacturing industry to $21.5 billion and the creation of a next-generation recycling and manufacturing workforce.

Manufacturing USA is a network of regional institutes, each with a specialized technology focus. Also known as the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), the consortium brings together academia, industry and federal partners with a goal to increase U.S. manufacturing competitiveness and promote a robust and sustainable national manufacturing research and development infrastructure. The institutes are tasked with bridging the gap between basic research and product development in key technology areas regarded as critical to U.S. manufacturing. Since 2012, 13 research institutes have been established, with two more planned for later in 2017. The UW-Madison College of Engineering also is a partner in the $320 million Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute, which was created in 2014.

Focus on new faculty: Po-Ling Loh, applying abstract math to real-world situations

po-ling-loh-copy-825wDecember 1, 2016

A new assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering uses highly conceptual calculations to tackle concrete problems like medical imaging or modeling how diseases spread.

Po-Ling Loh, who joined the faculty in fall 2016 and is also a fellow at the Grainger Institute for Engineering, arrives at Madison with a strong background in theoretical statistics, honed and refined during her graduate studies and two years as an assistant professor at Pennsylvania University. Her deep affection for advanced analytics extends all the way back to her early education.

“At the beginning of undergrad, I loved math, especially abstraction. I just thought it was really cool. But now I feel like it’s good to have applications to the real world,” says Loh.

Some of those applications include reconstructing accurate images from medical scans. Loh is looking forward to collaborating with researchers in the medical school to help doctors improve their diagnoses based on fewer measurements.

“I’m exciting about engaging with people here. I have some colleagues in ECE who have been talking to people in radiology. I think that would be a good place for me to plug in,” says Loh.

Her interest in health also extends to global problems, such as how infections take hold and potentially become epidemics. Because multiple random interacting processes determine how pathogens proliferate, describing diseases with accurate mathematical models is no simple task.

“We’re learning that you can dream up a model, but once you start talking to someone in the field, you realize that your model needs to be adjusted. Maybe you don’t have the full information that you thought you did in the mathematical world,” says Loh.

Bridging the gap between the conceptually clean mathematical world and the messy circumstances on planet earth can be challenging, but that practical ethos motivates Loh to both pursue engineering research and educate future engineers about the power of math.

“I’m teaching the undergraduate probability and stochastic processes class. The students are interested in the math not just as an end in itself, but so that they can apply it to real world problems, whether they’re going to be working in communications systems or building devices,” says Loh.

Allowing students to pursue their own passions is a central principle of her mentoring philosophy. She relishes opportunities to work on new problems based on the questions raised by her students. That research relationship is partly what set Loh down the path of mathematically modeling disease epidemics, after her trainee became interested in HIV spreading in Africa.

Loh’s enthusiasm to explore new ideas has her seeking out collaborations across campus. She plans to work with Varun Jog, who also joined the ECE faculty at the beginning of fall semester in 2016. They bring a complementary skillset to the department.

“Varun and I have started collaborating. His interest is also very mathematical and we both like working together. We’re thinking about problems that bring in both of our strengths,” says Loh.

Joining the faculty at UW-Madison represents something of a homecoming for Loh, who grew up on Madison’s west side. After spending time away in California and on the East Coast for her education, Loh is thrilled to be back among the friendly citizens of the City on Four Lakes.

“My favorite thing about Madison is the people,” she says. “People here are genuinely nice in a way that would seem really weird if you were in another state.”

Author: Samuel Million-Weaver