Alabama Water Institute Interdisciplinary Innovation Program offers funding support for new research

August 7, 2019

By Brock Parker

Four headshot photographs of professors.

Pictured L-R: Amanda Koh, Tyler Hodges, Milad Esfahani and Geoffrey Tick.

The Alabama Water Institute’s Interdisciplinary Innovation, or I2, Program is designed to increase the rate of competitive federal and foundation grant submissions for affiliated faculty members at The University of Alabama. The program supports new and groundbreaking research proposed by interdisciplinary research teams, and projects should address societal needs of vital water resources.

Since its inception in 2019, several projects have been funded by the I2 Program. The first project was submitted by lead principle investigator Amanda Koh, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, and co-PI Tyler Hodges, assistant professor of biological sciences. The goal of their project is to develop new types of foam to reduce contamination by metals, hormone mimics and pesticides and herbicides, which will promote global access to clean water.

The foams will be embedded with small molecules or biological macromolecules, such as antibodies and enzymes. If successful, they could create a large-scale material, which could not only easily handle and allow polluted water to flow though, but detect, trap and remove specific contaminants at low concentrations. Koh and Hodges believe these foams can be used anywhere in the world and will be simple, effective and inexpensive.

The second project was submitted by lead PI Milad Esfahani, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, and co-PI Geoffrey Tick, professor of geological sciences. Their project examines polyfluoroalkyl substances and the effects on human and environmental health, as well as the risk to the safety of ground, surface and drinking water.

Their goal is to provide a platform for a membrane functionalization process using metal organic frameworks, or MOFs. This will allow them to design and fabricate multifunctional membranes for the selective removal of different contaminants from water with reduced fouling. They believe unique properties of MOF compounds can be incorporated into a membrane structure to enhance the selective rejection capability of nanocomposite membranes towards specific contaminants such as polyfluoroalkyl substances, dyes and bacteria.

The institute’s I2 program is just one method of assisting affiliated faculty members. The AWI Pilot Bridge Program was created in 2018 to help faculty who have already submitted competitive grants to federal agencies and are in need of bridge funding to be able to resubmit those proposals for water-related projects.

Information about guidelines, how to apply for either of these programs and deadlines are available on the AWI website.