Monthly Update From the Vice Provost for Research and Economic Development


CAREER Award Will Advance Work on DNA-Based Self-Assembling Systems

Computer scientist Matt Patitz will develop software that automates the design and analysis of DNA-based self-assembling systems.
Computer scientist Matt Patitz has received a $500,000 Faculty Early Career Development Program grant – known as a CAREER grant – from the National Science Foundation.

The award enables Patitz, an assistant professor of computer science and computer engineering, to continue developing a suite of software that automates the design and analysis of DNA-based self-assembling systems. The software modules will include a variety of molecular simulators that capture the dynamics of DNA-based self-assembly and will help researchers design, model, and verify the molecular components of complicated systems before they make expensive investments, in time and money, for physical experiments.

Self-assembly is a process in which individual, disordered molecules spontaneously combine into ordered aggregates without human intervention. 

A variety of self-assembling systems exist in nature and are responsible for the formation of many inorganic structures, such as crystals and numerous biological structures, including cellular membranes and viruses. Inorganic self-assembly systems include snowflakes and other crystals.

Department of Energy Funds Research on Optoelectronic Devices

Researchers will install and test high-temperature optocouplers on this power module developed at the U of A's High Density Electronics Center.
The U.S. Department of Energy awarded $599,901 to University of Arkansas engineering researchers to continue developing an “optocoupler” – a packaged light emitter and detector – to improve the performance of electric vehicles.

When integrated into high-density power modules, the technology will lead to superior performance in terms of power density, energy efficiency and thermal management.

Unreliable and inefficient power modules are a major obstacle to the further development of electric vehicles. Current semiconductor materials and optoelectronic devices in power modules struggle when engine heat is higher than 125 degrees Celsius or lower than –55 degrees Celsius. Under these conditions, power modules lose efficiency and function poorly, making the motor less reliable.

“It isn’t the intrinsic properties of power devices themselves that prevent their use at higher temperatures, but rather the low-voltage electronics needed to drive them and the packaging that surrounds them,” said Zhong Chen, assistant professor of electrical engineering and lead researcher on the project.

NSF Grant Advances Work on Electronics Systems in Extreme Environments

To expose the microcontroller to extreme cold, the researchers inserted an integrated circuit, to which the controller was attached, into a cryogenic chamber, which was cooled by vacuum and liquid helium.
The National Science Foundation awarded computer engineering Professor Jia Di $349,198 to advance his design of microcontrollers that can operate in extreme environmental conditions, such as space.

In addition to electronic systems used in space vehicles and satellites, the technology has many other commercial applications, such as sensing and control in automobile engines, monitoring and drilling of wells in oil and gas exploration, medical imaging, lasers, and computing and energy-storage systems.

The award is part of the NSF’s Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry program. Di will collaborate with Radiance Technologies Inc., a Huntsville, Alabama, systems-engineering and technology firm, to refine his work on asynchronous microcontrollers that rely on local “handshaking” protocols instead of traditional timing protocols that rely on global clocks.

Di holds the Twenty-First Century Research Leadership Chair in the College of Engineering.

ARTP Affiliate Picasolar Awarded $2 Million For Solar Cell Technology

Picasolar's Douglas Hutchings (left) and Seth Shumate. Photo by University Relations
The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $2 million to Picasolar Inc. to advance a pilot manufacturing program for solar cell technology developed at the University of Arkansas.

The SunShot Tier 2 Incubator Award will be matched with $2 million from Picasolar. The award is the result of the company’s patent-pending hydrogen super emitter process to increase the efficiency of solar cells and could ultimately lead to new high-tech manufacturing jobs in Northwest Arkansas.

Picasolar Inc. is a start-up company founded by a U of A graduate and is affiliated with the Arkansas Research and Technology Park, an innovation hub that works in association with the U of A to commercialize emerging technologies.

The SunShot awards are the most prestigious and competitive grants a solar start-up company can receive, said Douglas Hutchings, Picasolar’s founder and chief executive officer.

“We are very pleased to receive the continuation of funding from the SunShot Incubator Program,” Hutchings said.




Vice Provost for Research and Economic Development
205 Administration Building
1 University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, AR 72701

The Office of Vice Provost for Research and Economic Development has added several electronic distribution lists relating to subjects of interest to the University of Arkansas research community. More information about the types of lists and registering for them can be found here.

The following is a sampling of the top grants awarded to faculty and staff in August, with the principal investigator, the award amount and the sponsor. An asterisk (*) indicates the continuation of a previous award.

  • *Janet Penner-Williams, $1,661,106, Arkansas Department of Education
  • Lauren Greenlee, $599,373, U.S. Department of Energy
  • Greg Thoma, $237,501, National Corn Growers Association
  • Xintao Wu, $200,000, National Science Foundation
  • Christophe Bobda, $120,255, National Science Foundation