Qualcomm Institute Announces Seed Grants to Build Clusters in Brain, Medical and Robotics Research

35 faculty projects receive one-year grants topping $1.6 million

Qualcomm Institute in
Atkinson Hall

San Diego, Friday, July 18, 2014 — The Qualcomm Institute at the University of California, San Diego has given the green light to 35 new projects that are part of the institute’s Calit2 Strategic Research Opportunities (CSRO) program. Each one-year seed grant is worth up to $50,000 in support for researchers in areas of critical interest to the research mission of the institute—and the university. (The Qualcomm Institute is the UC San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, or Calit2.)  

The new projects were selected from a field of 70 proposals put forward by eligible professors and research scientists. Effective July 1, the 35 projects were awarded grants valued at more than $1,673,000.  

“Reviewers were impressed with the quality of this year’s proposals, which were largely responsive to the areas where we want to take the institute in the next couple of years,” said Qualcomm Institute director Ramesh Rao, a professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Jacobs School of Engineering. “In particular, the funded projects will allow us to participate actively in campus-wide brain, medical and robotics research initiatives. We look at it as a down-payment, because our researchers will be able to leverage these investments and compete for larger federal grants that are needed to advance the state of the art in these important areas.”

CSRO 2014 Grants by Support Type
Cash grants, including graduate fellowships, top $1 million.

Most of the funding for the CSRO program was earmarked from private support received by the Qualcomm Institute, notably from Qualcomm, Inc., the Qualcomm Foundation, and The Legler Benbough Foundation.

CSRO grants to PIs typically involve a cash portion (including fellowships) and in-kind support in the form of Qualcomm Institute services, personnel or the use of facilities. As part of the cash support, roughly $469,200 will go directly to graduate student researchers in the form of CSRO Fellowships for full- or part-time work on 18 of the new projects. Another $652,500 was allocated for services provided by the Qualcomm Institute itself.  

Among the 35 winning proposals, at least 10 are directly related to brain research – reflecting the importance that the institute places on the newly-established campus Center for Brain Activity Mapping (CBAM). The funded proposals include:

Another half-dozen projects also relate to health (one of the four research thrusts contained in the Calit2 strategic vision adopted in 2011). Most of the projects involve sensors and wireless solutions to detect or monitor infectious disease, diabetes, pain, PTSD and other adverse health conditions but also include a study of the relative health merits of yoga versus aerobic exercise.:

The CSRO program also encouraged PIs to submit proposals in the field of robotics and machine learning. The funded projects in this category were:

In addition to health, the strategic vision adopted in 2011 focused on three other areas where the Qualcomm Institute aims to make a societal difference: culture, environment, and energy. Projects in these categories approved for 2014-15 include:

The strategic vision – and 2014 CSRO call – also encouraged projects that primarily aim to enhance one or more of the core ‘enabling technologies’ (cyberinfrastructure, photonics, wireless, and nano-MEMS):

All faculty and research scientists on the UC San Diego campus were eligible to apply for CSRO support, including those not previously affiliated with the multidisciplinary institute. First-time CSRO award recipients included Jennifer Burney, Leanne Chukoskie, Shadi Dayeh, Vikash Gilja, Drew Hall, Ramon Huerta , Pamela Itkin-Ansari, Boubacar Kante, Imanuel Lerman, Felipe Medeiros, and Bradley Voytek, among others.

“One of the motivating factors behind the CSRO program is that it encourages faculty to team up with faculty in other disciplines,” said the Qualcomm Institute’s Rao, pointing to the proposal led by ECE professor Patrick Mercier, who will team with Bioengineering professor Gert Cauwenberghs on development of a new system for brain recording and stimulation. “The proposed system enables extremely high electrode density through direct, on-chip multiplexing of recording and stimulating electronics,” noted Rao. “This is an exemplar of ambitious programs that are possible when we provide resources to power new collaborations across disciplines.”

Rao also noted that the Mercier-Cauwenberghs project is one of several that will develop platforms that can be used by other researchers in a variety of fields. Other platforms approved for CSRO funding include: CSE professor Steven Swanson’s plan for what he calls a Gadgetron for rapid prototyping of electronic gadgets; ECE professor Vikash Gilja’s proposed platform for high-density human brain mapping experiments; and a platform on which to model wireless channels for next-generation communications systems. The latter project, led by ECE professor Bhaskar Rao, would explore “massive MIMO” (multiple-input multiple-output antennas) to test the value of going from two, four or eight antennas per wireless basestation to 100 antennas or more.

Principal investigators come from a wide range of disciplines and departments. CSRO grants are awarded based on a peer-review process and final decisions made by Qualcomm Institute leadership. The 2014 selection committee included chair Curt Schurgers and 13 other members: professors Shadi Dayeh, Jeanne Nichols, Anita Raj, Tom Bewley and Eliah Aronoff-Spencer, as well as research scientists Nikola Alic, Jurgen Schulze, Emilia Farcas, Sameer Tilak, Albert Lin, Todd Margolis, Maziar Nezhad and Hari Garudadri.

Related Links

Calit2 Strategic Research Opportunities (CSRO)
Qualcomm Institute
Qualcomm Foundation 
The Legler Benbough Foundation 

Media Contacts

Doug Ramsey, (858) 822-5825,