Category Archives: Internal Grants

Limits of Single-Degree-of-Freedom Analysis of Structural Response to Blast

Spencer Quiel is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Lehigh University.  His research focuses on resistance to extreme loads. 

In recent years, blast hazards due to acts terrorism have resulted in significant damage to several structures, including the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 and the Khobar Towers in 1996.  Accidental blasts, such as a 2011 gas utility explosion in Allentown, PA, have also caused significant damage to neighboring buildings and other infrastructure. Though relatively infrequent, blast hazards can cause extensive amounts of property damage and, more importantly, loss of human life. The design of structures to resist the effects of blast due to an explosive detonation is performed using a variety of analysis tools to simulate dynamic structural response to a blast-induced shock wave.  The most common method in the current state-of-practice is the Single-Degree-of-Freedom (SDOF) method, which has also been used to model structural response to other dynamic loading such as earthquake-induced vibration.  An SDOF system is a mathematical model in which a structural element is collectively represented as a single mass, spring, and damper to which a force time history is applied.  A representative SDOF model for a blast-loaded column is shown below.

For blast threats at large standoff distances, previous experimental and computational studies have shown that the static bending shape assumption used by SDOF analysis is reasonable.  However, experimental data and advanced analysis tools have shown that the SDOF method has difficulty in accurately capturing blast effects that are close range but not close enough to cause breach (or “punching”) damage.  These “intermediate” range blast threats constitute a significant portion of the design-basis threats that are considered in current practice, and therefore the applicability of SDOF analysis for these cases is of great interest to the industry.

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Probability, differential equations, and catastrophe models united against Ebola

Paolo Bocchini is a an Assistant Professor of Structural Engineering at Lehigh University and Javier Buceta is an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at Lehigh University. Their research synergy, together with Graziano Fiorillo, a Postdocoral Research Associate in Dr. Bocchini’s and Dr. Buceta’s labs, led them to begin developing models for predicting ebola outbreaks.  

What is the chance that two structural engineers and a physicist team up to fight one of the deadliest diseases in the history of humankind? Well, it looks like the plot of a Dan Brown novel, but it really happened, and it all started literally by “chance”, probability.

In 2014 a group of us, Lehigh University faculty, noticed that our university has a high density of researchers interested in Probabilistic Modeling and its applications to engineering and science, spread across various departments and colleges. For this reason, we decided to start coordinating our graduate courses to create a better synergy. But you know how it works: if you put two or more professors in the same room, they start talking about their research. So, at some point, Javier described his innovative way to model the non-homogeneous migration of bats infected by Ebola, which seems to be the main mechanism in which the virus travels for hundreds of miles triggering outbreaks in cities that did not see it coming and are completely unprepared for it, with devastating effects. Then Paolo noticed that the mathematical formulation and the type of uncertainties in the model that Javier used for infected bat migration have strong similarities with the way in which he addresses the uncertain propagation of seismic waves over a large region. It was (scientific) love at first sight. Paolo and Javier immediately saw the potential of combining Paolo’s novel hazard models and the rigorous framework that civil engineers use for catastrophe modeling, with the cutting-edge technique that Javier was developing to capture the disease spreading. The outcome is a comprehensive tool that can predict (in a probabilistic sense) the risk of Ebola outbreaks over a region as broad as the entire African continent and, in this way, drive preemptive allocation of limited resources in the most effective way, to fight promptly outbreaks if they happen to occur.

With this idea, we (Paolo and Javier) submitted a Collaborative Research (CORE) proposal that was funded (thank you Lehigh!) and allowed us to hire a postdoc and bootstrap this new line of research. As you may imagine, it wasn’t easy to find a person with the right competences and enough curiosity to join us in this adventure at the boundary of several disciplines. Luckily, we found Graziano, who with his expertise in probabilistic modeling applied to engineering problems and his proficiency with high-performance computing has been the perfect scholar to carry on this project. With enthusiasm, our “bold trio” started working against Ebola in early 2016 (some people make fun of us saying that we are rather a “bald trio”).

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Tracing James and Du Bois in Berlin

Saladin Ambar is the Department Chair and an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Lehigh University. His research recently took him to Germany to track the work of William James and W.E.B. Du Bois
On May 22nd I arrived in Berlin, Germany to begin research funded by a Lehigh Faculty Innovation Grant. I was there to investigate the influence of German education on the thinking and political thought of both Harvard University’s William James, and his then student, W.E.B. Du Bois, the first African American to graduate from that institution withIMG_0781 a PhD. In addition to seeking out the archives at Humboldt University (formerly the University of Berlin), I was also asked to present my research to a group of graduate students at the University of Potsdam. At the invitation of Professor Logi Gunnarsson, an expert on James’s work, I was able to share the influence of James’s teaching on the young Du Bois, as we navigated James’s 1890 text “The Hidden Self.” The dialogue and feedback was wonderful. And I made an invaluable friend and colleague in Logi. We often forget how influential German intellectuals were in shaping the American academy. James and Du Bois were no different. It was truly exciting to be in this formerly divided city, thinking about race, the subconscious mind, and double consciousness, all with young men and women eager to complete their own graduate education and share their perspectives on a topic that clearly crosses the Atlantic in terms of importance. I look forward to returning to Cambridge to learn more about James and Du Bois at Harvard – but also one day to Berlin – and to Potsdam – to revisit the same field of study that so shaped these two critical thinkers in American race and psychology.

Establishment of an Unprecedented Protein Modification – Two is Better Than One

Marcos Pires is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Lehigh. Below he discusses some of current work of his lab. 

In many instances, human pathology can be directly tied to the proteins that reside out the outside, on the surface, and within human cells. This in itself should not be surprising. After all, proteins are well established as acting as the workhorses of cells. Not only are proteins responsible for a high volume of chemical transformation that need to take place for cells to remain viable, they also have a series of additional roles in structuring biomacromolecules, inter- and intra-cellular communication, and storage. Through all these functions, diversity within the protein matrix becomes essential. After all, there are only 20-22k genes that encode human proteins in the human genome. The question that naturally arises is: how do human cells perform all the necessary and incredibly diverse tasks with such a limited set of building block?

During the past decade, intensive research in this area has demonstrated that following their biosynthesis, the structure of proteins is only an initial template. Proteins can be thought of as strings (of variable lengths) made with 20 building blocks. These building blocks are amino acids. All proteins in nature are made from the same 20 building blocks. Depending on one’s view, 20 building blocks to make all the proteins in the natural world (from complex human cells down to microbes) may seem like a small and insufficient number. In some ways, this may be true. One possible way to expand on the make-up of these building blocks may be to change them after the string has been assembled. And this is exactly what happens to many human cells. Following their assembly out of the biosynthetic machinery (ribosomes), they are heavily decorated with a number of chemical modifications. These modifications (or post-translational modifications) serve to diversify both the structure and function of proteins. Due to their role in controlling protein function, the aberrant modification of proteins has been heavily implicated in a number of human diseases.

My research group is interested in discovering modifications that were not previously described in this area. We rely on fundamental chemical principles, first and foremost, to evaluate amino acid modifications that have been discovered previously. Next, we predict what combinations of chemical modifications could be tolerated based on the chemistry involved. From this analysis, we concluded that two well known modifications (methylation and acetylation) should be tolerated within the same amino acid. In other words, it may be possible that proteins are getting doubly modified at the same site via two unique pathways. By mapping this out, we predict that we may unmask a previously unappreciated signal mode within cells. Furthermore, these modifications may play roles in the development and progression of human diseases.

Humanities Center Summer Grants for Lehigh University Faculty

The Humanities Center welcomes proposals for one faculty summer research grant of $6,000. The grant will support a faculty member’s pursuit of a humanistic research project or creative activity. One faculty grant will be awarded for the summer of 2016.

Any tenured or tenure-track faculty member in the humanities (broadly defined) at Lehigh who has not received a grant (external or internal) for the same summer and who will not be teaching during the summer is eligible to apply.

The grant recipient will share the outcome of his/her research activities with members of the Lehigh community in Fall 2016. There is no set format for how the grant recipient will share his/her work, and candidates should explain their plans for facilitating meaningful interaction on the subject of their research. In the past, grant winners have made formal presentations, offered workshops, done readings, and put together exhibitions.

In considering applications, the Humanities Center Committee will evaluate the merit and significance of the proposed research project as well as the candidate’s plans for sharing it with the Lehigh community. The Humanities Center will announce the grant awardee on or before April 29th.

Proposals should include:

  •   1 page summary of the project the candidate will develop. This statement should explain the research topic and its scholarly significance to an audience of scholars working in fields across the humanities.
  •   1 page explanation of how the candidate plans to share the results of his or her work with the Lehigh community.
  •   A statement indicating that the candidate has not received any other grants for the same summer and that s/he is not teaching over the summer at Lehigh or at any other institution.

Lehigh Research Investment Programs for Spring 2016

Faculty Research Grants (FRG) provide funding of up to $6,000 for research for conduct, completion and expansion of research projects. Priority is given to projects most likely to enable development of new projects and programs, expand applicants’ research programs beyond their current scope, or enable ongoing programs to have expanded impact.  Applications are due on February 12, no later than 5 PM EST.

FIG grants provide up to $30,000 to support new research projects, take existing research in promising new directions, or otherwise expand research programs beyond their current scope. Both efforts led by an individual faculty member and collaborative efforts are invited.  Applications are due on February 29, no later than 5 PM EST.

Collaborative Opportunity (CORE) Grants provide up to $60,000 for establishment and growth of productive and competitive multi-faculty research programs. The program supports faculty teams that, through their combinations of perspectives and capabilities, can distinguish themselves in the academic community, with partners and constituents in society, and with funding sources, for the novelty, relevance and value of their work.  Applications are due on March 25, no later than 5 PM EST.

Guidelines, with application instructions, can be found here:

Questions about any of these programs can be addressed to

NSF MRI and Lehigh CREF Instrumentation Programs and Idea Exchange

MRI/CREF Idea Exchange. To encourage discussion among those interested in either program, we will hold an MRI/CREF Idea Exchange on October 12, Noon – 1:30 pm, Williams Hall 070. Lunch will be provided.

The Idea Exchange provides an opportunity for those considering submission to identify colleagues who share instrumentation needs, to identify instruments and configurations that would serve the largest number of Lehigh investigators, and to obtain collegial feedback that may strengthen submissions to NSF. Please RSVP to Sujata Jagota at no later than October 5 indicating interest in presenting, a provisional title and list of likely participants. Attendance is welcomed whether or not presenting.

For more information on the programs, click Continue Reading.

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Accelerator Grant Workshop – September 29th, 2015

Our Accelerator grant program supports teams of Lehigh investigators in developing multi-investigator research programs in particularly promising areas.  Based on a team’s identification of a major, specific area of opportunity and ways in which it can excel in that area, these grants provide significant flexibility in use of the grant funds.

We are offering a workshop for those considering applying for an Accelerator grant, or those simply wishing to know more about the program.  The workshop will be held on Tuesday, September 29th, from noon to 1:30pm in Rauch Business Center 293. For catering purposes, we will appreciate an RSVP to by Thursday, September 24th.

Guidelines, with application instructions and deadlines, can be found at  Questions can be addressed to

Accelerator Grants for Fall 2015

Guidelines for Accelerator Grant applications can be found here.

Accelerator Grants support teams of Lehigh investigators in developing multi-investigator research programs in particularly promising areas. Based on a team’s identification of a major, specific area of opportunity and ways in which it can excel in that area, these grants provide significant flexibility in use of the grant funds to address the opportunity. Teams are expected to use these grants to broaden and quicken their access to extramural support, at levels that enable them to sustain highly productive and highly prominent multi-investigator programs.

Letters of Intent will be due on Friday, October 16th, no later than 5 PM EST. Proposals will be due on Friday, October 30th, no later than 5 PM EST.

A workshop for those considering applying, or wishing to know more about the program, will be held on Tuesday, September 29th, from noon to 1:30 p.m. RSVP to  Please see forthcoming email announcements or blog postings for details.