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GRI Researchers Awarded Inaugural ARII Funding

The inaugural recipients of the Applied Research and Innovation Initiative (ARII) funding were announced yesterday at a reception in The Hive, the shared home of the three host institutions, the Global Research Institute, the Institute for Integrative Conservation, and the Whole of Government Center of Excellence. ARII is an externally funded program that aims to seed and scale applied research across the university. In this pilot version of the program, ARII supports multidisciplinary teams of researchers -- including faculty, staff and students -- to work on applied projects that address societally-important issues that also align with goals of Vision 2026 and intersect with the missions of any of the host units.

Recipients included several GRI researchers. Prof. Carrie Dolan (Ignite Lab) along with Haipeng Chen (Data Science), Scott Ickes (Department of Kinesiology), Erica Garroutte (Institute for Integrative Conservation), Jillian Harrison (Ignite Lab), Hellen Sankaine (Lemein and Community Health Partners), and local partners in Kenya won an exploratory grant to study "Data-Driven Decision Intelligence Approach To Enhance Community and Environmental Health Resilience in Kenya." The team will be applying a data-driven decision intelligence approach to better understand the associations between environmental and human health to intelligently allocate the limited health resources to communities most vulnerable to health crises and climate change.

Prof. Phil Roessler (DIGLab) along with Adam Barger (Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation), Shreya Bhattacharya (DIGLab), and Lindy Johnson (Center for Innovation in Learning Design) won a main award to launch their project, "Generative AI and Democracy: A Multi-Level Analysis of its Effects on Critical Thinking, Digital Equality, and Digital Citizenship." The team will be piloting an innovative research and learning program that aims to better understand-locally, nationally, and globally-the impact of generative AI on democracy via its effects on socioeconomic inequality, critical thinking, and digital citizenship.

Another exploratory grant was awarded to Hannes Schniepp (Applied Science), Margaret Saha (Biology), and Bongkeun Song (Virginia Institute of Marine Science) to study the genetic and ecological dimensions of diatoms, single-cellular algal microorganisms living in all known natural water bodies. Diatoms are photosynthetic and produce ~20% of all oxygen on Earth, more than all rain forests combined. The key feature of these organisms is that they produce hard exoskeletons made from silicon oxide (“silica”, the same material glass is made of), and the team plans to harvest the silica produced by diatoms and turn it into a material with interesting and useful properties, so that it can potentially replace non-sustainable materials.

The exploratory projects will take place over the next year, and the main award will cover a two-year project.