2019-2020 Seed Grant Program

Seed Grant Recipients

Climate and Ecosystem Change

Assessing pollinator resilience to environmental warming through novel technologies

Margarita Lopez-Uribe*, College of Agricultural Sciences
Rudolf Schilder, College of Agricultural Sciences
Jose Fuentes, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Julio Urbina, College of Engineering

Climate Change on Hudson Bay - A Century After Nanook 

Andrew Carleton, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Kirk French*, College of Liberal Arts

From local health to global climate: Assessing the impacts of early adoption on future landscape of negative emissions technologies 

Klaus Keller, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Wei Peng*, School of International Affairs

Integrating Internet of Things (IoT) and satellite observation into localized weather forecast for urban heat island and heat wave 

Guido Cervone, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Manzhu Yu*, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences

Lifecycle Analysis Design Framework for Sustainable Energy Infrastructure 

Costello Christine, College of Agricultural Sciences
Jeffrey Catchmark, College of Agricultural Sciences
Stephen Chmely*, College of Agricultural Sciences
Miller Mark, College of Engineering

Marketing Agriculture-Based Ecosystem Services: determining consumer willingness to pay for carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emission reductions

Sjoerd Duiker*, College of Agricultural Sciences
Karen Winterich, Smeal College of Business

Reconstructing the history of thermal and sediment anomalies in the resilience of coral in the Cartagena Bay, Colombia 

George Perry, College of the Liberal Arts
Laura Weyrich, College of the Liberal Arts
Monica Medina*, Eberly College of Science

Energy and Environmental Resilience

Bioinspired Self-Healing Cement for Sealing Well Leakage: Towards Sustainable Shale Gas Supply 

Dahi Taleghani Arash, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Amir Sheikhi*, College of Engineering

Mapping Legal Liability from Power Market Decarbonization Policies by African Governments

Mohamed Badissy*, Dickinson School of Law

Future Energy Supply

Coupled large-scale energy conversion and storage by biphasic redox flow battery and photo-ionic cell

Feifei Shi*, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Chao-Yang Wang, College of Engineering

Laser Synthesis for Control of Water Splitting Catalyst Structure and Performance 

Lauren Zarzar, Eberly College of Science
Mauricio Terrones*, Eberly College of Science

Renewable Energy Art and Design 

Choo Phil, College of Arts and Architecture
Mihyun Kang*, College of Arts and Architecture
Bruce Logan, College of Engineering

Health and the Environment

Impact of aerosol chemistry on influenza virus stability during airborne transmission

Troy Sutton*, College of Agricultural Sciences
Miriam Freedman, Eberly College of Science

Linking Environmental Toxicants to Neurodegenerative Processes 

Andrew Patterson, College of Agricultural Sciences
Molly Hall*, College of Agricultural Sciences
Imamura Yuka, College of Medicine-Basic Sciences
Huang Xuemei, College of Medicine-Basic Sciences
Jeffrey Yanosky, College of Medicine-Basic Sciences

Negative Carbon Emissions

Mycelium-based Bio-composites in Architecture: A Biodegradable and Renewable Alternative to Construction 

Pecchia John, College of Agricultural Sciences
Benay Gursoy Toykoc*, College of Arts Architecture
Farshad Rajabipour, College of Engineering

Smart Energy Systems

Building Energy Savings by Tuning Indoor Lighting

Julian Wang*, College of Engineering
Chang Anne-Marie, College of Health and Human Development
Javad Khazaei, Penn State Harrisburg

Characterizing structural changes in sodium-ion battery electrodes in real-time 

Peter Heaney, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Christopher Gorski*, College of Engineering


Granulation of Algal-Bacterial Consortia for enhanced CO2 capture and Resource Recovery 

Mary Ann Bruns, College of Agricultural Sciences  
Meng Wang*, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Cosmidis Julie, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Niu Xinwei, Penn State Harrisburg

Water and Biogeochemical Cycles

Deep learning techniques to generate spatially and temporally continuous nitrate data 

Jonathan Duncan, College of Agricultural Sciences
Cibin Raj*, College of Agricultural Sciences
Chaopeng Shen, College of Engineering
Li Li, College of Engineering

Resetting Phosphorus Cycling Research with 18Oxygen Isotopes 

Felipe Montes, College of Agricultural Sciences
Armen Kemanian*, College of Agricultural Sciences
Katherine Freeman, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences

Smart Farming Testbed: The Nexus of IoT, Agriculture & HABs 

Abdallah Abousheaisha Abdallah, Penn State Behrend
Sherri Mason*, Penn State Behrend

The dynamic role of manganese in soil organic carbon turnover 

Couradeau Estelle, College of Agricultural Sciences
Patrick Drohan*, College of Agricultural Sciences
William Burgos, College of Engineering

*=Principal Investigator


Program Overview

Penn State’s Institutes of Energy and the Environment (IEE) Seed Grant Program is intended to foster basic and applied research on strategic interdisciplinary topics that leverage faculty expertise across the university. Since 2013, IEE has awarded over $2 million to 96 interdisciplinary projects across 15 Penn State colleges and campuses. This year up to $400,000 of program funding is available. 

The Seed Grant Program strives to: 

  • Develop new interdisciplinary research teams and position them for substantial external funding success;  

  • Pursue novel research in IEE’s theme areas, especially high-risk proof of concept projects; and  

  • Promote research development and mentorship between junior and senior faculty. 

Important Dates

November 6, 2019 
12:15-1 p.m. 
Informational webinar for program questions 
Join URL: https://psu.zoom.us/j/495900046 

December 4, 2019 
5 p.m.  
Proposals due  

February 6, 2020 
5 p.m. 
Funding decisions announced 

April 1, 2020 
Grant funds made available and must be expended by June 30, 2021 


IEE is seeking proposals that address at least one of our core themes or the special crosscutting topics described below.   

This year’s seed grant program special crosscutting topics are:  

  1. Integrated Energy Systems. As energy systems transition from a fossil fuel based infrastructure to a greater dependence on renewable energy systems, we need to examine how best to integrate these different systems in terms of the methods for production, utilization, and impact mitigation. Within this context, there are several areas of interest: renewable and hybrid energy technologies and systems, with a focus on developing renewable energy conversion systems and bridging these technologies with energy storage or the use of low carbon content fuels; smart energy systems, to better integrate energy production and consumption through system-level smart controls and microgrids; impact mitigation systems improve the safety of water, minerals, land, and other resources used for energy production; and system analysis methods to for examining energy use tradeoffs relative to CO2 emissions, for example by using different transportation methods. 

  2. Negative Carbon Emissions. At a global level, aggressive climate action plans increasingly require substantial negative emissions, sometimes achieved through enhancing CO2 uptake by ecosystems including forests, wetlands and agricultural systems (these are called natural solutions), and/or by implementing technologies that result in negative carbon emissions. Technology based solutions include Direct Air Capture (DAC); Biomass Energy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS); biochar or microbe-enhanced soil carbon sequestration; CO2 utilization in chemicals and polymers; and long-lived bioproducts such as non-biodegradable bioplastics and mass timber construction. Proposals are sought that address the technical, biophysical and socio-political opportunities and challenges associated both natural and technical solutions that generate negative emissions. All proposals for this topic must include a technical, economic, and/or policy assessment of the carbon sequestration potential. 

  3. Resilience of Environmental or Energy Systems. Resilience can be defined as the capacity of a system to “bounce back” from stressors, through reorganization and adaptation, in order to maintain systems structure, function, and identity.  Environmental systems are under increasing pressures from natural disturbances (for example, fires, floods, or drought), many of which are accelerating due to changes in climate.  New strategies are needed to support resilience of these systems, and the ecosystem services they provide. Similarly, the resilience of institutional, infrastructural and energy systems to stressors (for example, increasing demand and environmental shocks) is critical to ensure sustainable provisioning of energy and other goods/services to a growing human population.  The lens of resilience offers an opportunity to conduct interdisciplinary research urgently needed to support decision-making that addresses energy and environmental challenges. 

  4. Water. Water is essential to the health of people and communities, ecosystems, regional and national economies, and the security of nations, supporting personal health, food production, manufacturing, energy generation, recreation, and a spectrum of other socially-valued ecosystem services.  The challenges of droughts, floods, and degraded water quality – which serve to underscore our dependence on a balanced quantity and adequate quality of water – are expanding with the demands of a growing global population. We seek inter-disciplinary, innovative research that advances water and water-related solutions addressing technical and socio-political challenges across diverse areas of investigation such as the water-energy-food nexus; water-related climate dynamics; sustainability and resilience of built environments; ecosystem protection and restoration; stormwater and wastewater management; emerging contaminants; and advanced technologies, such as instrumentation, monitoring, and data analytics. 

IEE’s core strategic research themes are:  

  1. Climate and Ecosystem Change. Managing the risks of anthropogenic climate change poses significant challenges at the nexus of natural and social sciences, ethics, engineering, and mathematics. Penn State has the critical mass to become a world leader in this area. Realizing this potential, however, requires integrated assessment of system interactions leading to societal change. This will in turn require investments in mission-oriented basic research across the involved disciplines. Major initiatives within this theme include, but are not limited to: Climate variability and change; ecosystem productivity and biodiversity; stressors and resilience; food and water security; and polar science. 

  2. Future Energy Supply. New sources of power generation will undoubtedly be needed to meet skyrocketing world energy demand. Penn State researchers are positioned to lead efforts to support a scalable, innovative, and clean energy portfolio that meets the world’s need for reliable energy sources while considering the economic, environmental, health and climate effects of energy generation. These technologies include, but are not limited to: Biomass energy; coal utilization for fossil & renewable energy; unconventional shales; solar photoconversion; next generation nuclear power; and wind energy. 

  3. Smart Energy Systems. The International Energy Outlook 2013 projects that world energy consumption will grow by 56% between 2010 and 2040. The importance of energy efficiency and smart energy systems to help meet growing energy demand without contributing to greenhouse gas emissions – in the built environment, for transportation, and elsewhere – has never been greater. In addition to work on energy systems and their supporting infrastructure, Penn State has world class research on clean and efficient energy utilization strategies for engines, turbines, fuel cells, refrigeration, and many other devices. Implementation of new solutions has the potential to revolutionize the energy industry, but significant technical, social and systems-level analysis is required for such solutions to fulfill their promises.  Innovation and analysis is needed on topics such as: Smart infrastructure development (energy grid, transportation, buildings, etc.); advanced information and control systems; CO2 capture, sequestration, and utilization; and energy storage,  

  4. Water and Biogeochemical Cycles. Population growth, development, and environmental changes put increasing stresses on water resources throughout the world. Water is at the nexus of the energy-environment relationship, and water scarcity involves the inherent trade-offs between production of food, goods, and services and the maintenance of natural ecosystems. Nutrients and carbon are circulated through water, terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere in biogeochemical cycles that have both local and global impacts. With humans already impacting well over 50% of the Earth’s biosphere, understanding and managing these coupled earth systems is essential for a sustainable future. 

  5. Health and the Environment. The National Academy of Sciences lists climate change, emerging infections and pollutant impacts as 3 of the 6 most important environmental challenges of this century. Dynamics of disease, environmental change, and gene-environment interactions have been affecting human, animal, and plant health for decades, but we are only now beginning to address these interactions in ways that can disrupt infectious disease vectors, enable precautionary design of chemicals and materials, and develop medical treatments to minimize negative impacts. Scientists are also identifying an increasing number of beneficial human/ environment interactions, including the microbiomes in our digestive systems and on our skin. Expanding and leveraging this knowledge can enhance health in a myriad of different ways. 

Program Guidelines


All Penn State faculty members (tenured, tenure track, and fixed term) who hold an appointment of half-time or more at any Penn State campus are eligible to submit a seed grant proposal as a Principal Investigator (PI). Researchers, students and staff from Penn State, other research institutions, Pennsylvania state agencies, federal agencies, and private industry may be included as collaborators in seed grant proposals, but subcontracts to entities outside of Penn State are not allowed. Please note that while most proposals are expected to include multiple investigators, there can only be one responsible PI for each application. In addition, investigators may only serve as PI on a single proposal.  New investigators will be given preference over those who may have previously received an IEE seed grant. PI’s that were awarded an IEE Seed Grant in 2019 are ineligible to serve as PI for this call, but may participate as a co-PI or member of the project team on a submission.  

Funding Availability 

To encourage establishment of new collaborations and enhancement of networks, larger grants will require innovative partnerships of investigators from multiple colleges and/or campus locations. Funds up to $30,000 are available for multi-college (across University Park) and multi-campus (between campuses) collaborative grants; up to $15,000 for two or more faculty with different disciplinary expertise housed within the same college (University Park) or at a single Commonwealth Campus; and up to $5,000 for a single investigator project.  New! If a multi-college or multi-campus proposal budget includes at least one semester of graduate student stipend support then investigators may request one semester of tuition waiver beyond the $30,000 or $15,000 cap. 

Funds may be used to support research development and coordination expenses such as: 

  • Graduate and undergraduate student support  

  • Instrumentation fees and sample analysis to collect preliminary data 

  • Equipment, supplies, and participant payments 

  • Travel associated with conducting/reporting seed grant research (Penn State participants only) 

  • Hosting a research planning meeting for an interdisciplinary team 

  • Planning and hosting conferences and symposia 

  • Funding for data conversion technology and wages to support date conversion 

The following funding restrictions apply: 

  • Single college/campus funding, even with faculty from several departments, is capped at $15,000 

  • Regular appointment, summer, or supplemental salary support for faculty is disallowed 

  • Postdoc salary is disallowed  

  • Travel support to attend conferences is disallowed 

Submission Instructions 

All proposals must be submitted electronically via upload from the link at https://psu.infoready4.com/#competitionDetail/1799190  no later than 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, December 4, 2019. Each proposal is limited to a 2-page project description and additional pages for an appendix.  

Note: There is no preproposal stage this year, so the two-page project description needs to clearly address all the review criteria below. 

Proposal format: 

  • Size 12 font 
  • Left aligned with 1-inch margins 
  • PDF document 

The two-page project description must include:  

  • Title of project 
  • PI and co-PI's names including college, department and/or campus  
  • Project abstract (understandable by an interdisciplinary audience, see criteria 1 and 5 below) 
  • Short description of how this project will leverage seed funding (see criterion 2 below) 
  • Nature of collaboration (new/existing; mentorship opportunities, see criterion 3 below)  
  • Total funding to be requested, including brief budget justification 

The appendix shall include: 

  • A list of all collaborators, their colleges and/or departments 

  • The name and email of the department financial contact to facilitate transfer of funds if awarded 

  • 1-page or 2-page resumes for the PI and all co-PIs 

Review Criteria 

Proposal reviews are based upon the following criteria: 

  1. Intellectual merit of the proposal, including relevance to strategic priorities and contribution to global leadership in a prioritized theme; creativity and innovation; significance of goals and results; soundness of research plan; and likelihood of successful project completion. Please note that these proposals are reviewed by a cross section of researchers with different backgrounds; your ability to communicate your ideas to a broader audience is important for success with interdisciplinary project review panels. 

  1. A credible and clearly articulated strategy for leveraging this seed grant investment into exceptional scholarship and/or significant external funding. Potential for additional/continued activity beyond the seed grant phase may include plans for continued activity such as applications for external support from federal, state or local government agencies, industry, private foundations; plans for continued research activities involving in-kind support, teaching activities, on-going scholarly work; plans for public engagement and outreach; and expanded implementation by external stakeholders. Providing specific examples, including specifics of external funding opportunities, or contact with program officers has been helpful in establishing the credibility of these strategies to prior seed grant reviewers.  

  1. Realistic potential for developing new and productive collaborations between PIs, with special consideration given to mentorship and collaborations between junior and senior faculty. Possibilities for additional activities and projects which draw upon the seed grant partnership should be specified. 

  1. Appropriateness of the budget request for supporting the proposed research. 

  1. Extra consideration will also be given to projects that have a compelling plan to leverage research results to advance knowledge and generate positive impact.   For more on this criterion, see: http://www.iee.psu.edu/content/message-director . 

Proposals will be reviewed, scored against these criteria, and categorized as “Award” or “Do Not Award.”   

Please direct any questions regarding the proposal process to iee@psu.edu

Review Committee

List of People