The Illinois Innovation Network on Monday awarded seed grants to teamsthat will use collaborative research to improve nutrition, turn trash into usable products, explore urban-rural connections, and enhance agricultural practices.
The funding is part of IIN’s Sustaining Illinois program, which is designed to increase collaborative research among the state’s public universities, focusing on the economy, health, and social well-being.
IIN is a group of 15 university-based hubs across the state working to boost Illinois’ economy through entrepreneurship, research and workforce development. The seed funding was provided by the University of Illinois System and Northern Illinois University.
“The Sustaining Illinois program was one way that public university leadership across the state felt we could advance one of the key goals of the IIN: collaborative research among our members,” U of I System Interim Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation Jay Walsh said. “There is important and interesting work being done at each institution within the Network, but to have even greater impact we looked for synergistic opportunities. My predecessor, Ed Seidel, launched this program before his departure, and I thank him for his visionary leadership.”
The proposals were required to include researchers from at least two IIN hubs and be completed within one year of receiving funding. Proposals were evaluated on their alignment with IIN principles, how well they address their stated areas of sustainability, the scope of their work and level of collaboration, and their potential for further work. The four now-funded projects are:
Squash hunger in Eastern Illinois through partners in produce: an initiative to improve food access and decrease food insecurity among low-income residents
Krystal Lynch, assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics, Eastern Illinois University; Melissa Maulding, dietetic internship coordinator and instructor, EIU; Jennifer McCaffrey, assistant dean of family and consumer services, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign & UI Extension.
This project seeks to expand the successful Partners in Produce project that was initiated by the SNAP -Ed program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered in Illinois by U of I Extension. Elements of the expansion include developing and implementing a marketing plan, increasing the availability of fruits and vegetables, generating more financial donations, and facilitating connections to food pantries and other organizations.
Integrated logistical, techno-economic and socio-environmental assessment framework for sustained MSW conversion facilities: new paradigm shift for the state of Illinois
Mahdi Vaezi, assistant professor of engineering technology, Northern Illinois University; Krishna Reddy, professor of civil and environmental engineering, University of Illinois at Chicago.
Develop a comprehensive municipal solid-waste framework to optimally locate facilities to convert waste to value-added products, select the most efficient conversion technologies, assess environmental and social factors, and analyze the economic feasibility of the conversion plants.
Sustainable urban-regional modeling network (SURe Modeling)
John Murphy, research associate professor of anthropology, Northern Illinois University; Moira Zellner, associate professor of urban planning and policy, University of Illinois at Chicago; Sybil Derrible, associate professor of sustainable infrastructure systems, UIC.
Establish a network of researchers to examine how large cities are connected to smaller urban areas in their regions. This will include modeling of coupled social and ecological systems to explore sustainable pathways for the greater Chicago region.
Modification of basil flavor via adjustment of light environment
Kevin Martin, associate professor of engineering technology, Northern Illinois University; Keith Cadwallader, professor of food chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Explore how agricultural production practices, including vertical farming, influence product quality, and how such practices can be optimized to enhance consumer acceptability. This study will address current limitations and investigate the use of light quality to enhance the flavor of basil.