Solving for Greater Good

Research briefs from the George R. Brown School of Engineering

Spring 2024
By Kayt Sukel
Illustrations by Brian Taylor   

With $94.9 million in research expenditures in 2023 and a distinguished faculty that includes 15 members of one or more national academies, the George R. Brown School of Engineering is a powerhouse of research productivity and impact, developing responsible engineering solutions for the world’s greatest societal challenges.

Haotian Wang
Haotian Wang

“We just need to plug it into a power outlet and it will work.” — Haotian Wang on the carbon-capture system his lab created.

The system can directly remove carbon dioxide from a variety of emission sources by inducing a water-and-oxygen-based electrochemical reaction that neither produces nor consumes any chemicals and doesn’t need heat or pressure. Wang’s goal is to provide industries with a clean method to support climate change mitigation efforts.



Less than 25 mm² —

the size of the groundbreaking layered magnetoelectric material developed in the laboratory of bioengineer Jacob Robinson, which can perform magnetic-to-electric conversions 120 times faster than comparable materials in order to noninvasively restore signaling in severed nerves. “The success of this project shows that we should not constrain ourselves to thinking about the materials that already exist in the world when it comes to solving a problem,” says Robinson. “Instead, we can imagine the materials we want to exist in the world and go out and make them.”


Deconstructing Molecules

Michael Wong, director of the Catalysis and Nanomaterials Laboratory, is working on water decontamination, carbon dioxide mitigation and the establishment of new clean energy technologies. “Using the same tools to construct molecules for different applications, chemists and chemical engineers can also deconstruct them for sustainability purposes — and, in doing so, they can make a huge impact,” Wong says. In recognition of his innovative research, Wong was recently honored with the Lawrence K. Cecil Award in Environmental Chemical Engineering from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. 


Understanding Carbon Nanotube Synthesis  

A multiuniversity team, led by Matteo Pasquali, has been awarded a $4.1 million grant by the Kavli Foundation and the Carbon Hub to understand carbon nanotube synthesis, a process that can produce more sustainable materials. “Renewable energy and electrification have a much larger material footprint than their counterpart fossil-based technologies,” Pasquali says. “We need to break out of the current mindset that the energy systems of the future can be built with materials developed before chemistry became a mature science.”


Ashutosh Sabharwal
Ashutosh Sabharwal

“We have pushed the boundary of what is possible, but there is so much more to do.” — Ashutosh Sabharwal on his pioneering multidisciplinary medical imaging project, “See Below the Skin”

The project has developed new imaging techniques that combine sensing, analog and algorithmic innovations with the goal of enhancing doctors’ abilities to noninvasively diagnose and monitor different medical conditions. “Every time we can enhance imaging, go another millimeter deep and get more fine-resolution information about the human body, new medical devices and new ways for caring for people become possible,” Sabharwal says. “That means someone’s life will change.”


Marcia O'Malley
Marcia O'Malley

“We’re really only limited by our imaginations.” — Marcia O’Malley on her collaboration with Daniel Preston to design and fabricate wearable textile-based devices that provide haptic information for different applications ranging from improved control of prostheses to enhanced communication and training capabilities. These new haptic accessories can be designed to exact specifications to fit flexible sleeves or clothing.


Measuring Multihazard Infrastructure Resilience

Jamie Padgett was recently recognized by the Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering, Science and Technology for her groundbreaking work in infrastructure sustainability and resiliency in hazard-prone regions. “It’s essential that we understand the dynamic behavior and reliability of structures under different extreme loads because, in reality, that bridge or building may not be exposed to a single threat,” Padgett says. “We need methods that will allow us to consider the interaction between all the extreme events that piece of infrastructure might be exposed to throughout its lifetime.”