Vanderbilt researchers and innovators are actively engaged in the community, working hand-in-hand with government, industry, and more to advance solutions to pressing environmental, medical, and social challenges.
Planning and Adaptation Strategies for Critical Infrastructure Resilience
Communities are increasingly grappling with extreme weather such as flash flooding, winter storms, droughts, and extreme heat. Add compounding issues such as a global pandemic or economic hardship and you’re looking at a daunting challenge. Luckily, Janey Camp, the director of the Vanderbilt Engineering Center for Transportation and Operational Resiliency (VECTOR), and some of her colleagues specialize in risk management for infrastructure systems, environmental hazard mapping and modeling, and studies of coupled human and nature interactions. Armed with this skillset, Camp works closely with communities to support data-driven decision-making tools that include stakeholder engagement to improve community resilience, sustained operations, and rapid recovery of critical infrastructure in times of disaster. These days, Camp is leveraging her extensive expertise on infrastructure resilience and flood mitigation as a co-author of the federally mandated, fifth National Climate Assessment, a quadrennial report on the impacts and risks presented by global climate change across the country, as a member of the Metro Nashville Stormwater Management Committee, a seven-member body that rules on appeals and variance requests related to the Metro Stormwater Regulations, and as a member of Mayor Cooper’s Sustainability Advisory Committee.
Learn more about Vanderbilt faculty Janey Camp.
Disaster-resilient, Equitable Food Security
A disaster can strike at any moment, and communities need to be prepared. Fortunately, transdisciplinary research teams at Vanderbilt regularly focus on policy-infrastructure-community interdependencies to predict disruptive events, model recovery processes, and evaluate ways to make new technology adoption more attractive to communities. One such example is Vanderbilt faculty member Hiba Baroud working with public health and community partners in Harris County, Texas, and researchers at the University of Houston to develop and deploy technology-enabled and data-driven decision-making tools for disaster preparation, response, and recovery that improve the resilience and coordination of the Houston Food Bank and its supply chain. The team is integrating machine learning and risk analysis methods to map the vulnerability of critical infrastructure that is essential to enable food distribution during and after a disaster.
Learn more about Vanderbilt faculty Hiba Baroud.
Efficient Water Treatment and Drinking Water Justice
Thanks to Vanderbilt faculty member Shihong Lin’s breakthrough discovery in water and wastewater treatment, utility companies may soon be able to desalinate seawater and brackish water, purify contaminated groundwater, and reuse municipal and industrial wastewater, all while recovering valuable nutrients and minerals. Lin recently won the 2020 Paul L. Busch Award from The Water Research Foundation for this pioneering work on selective ion and molecular separation processes using electro-regulated nanofiltration (e-NF) at sub-Angstrom precision.
The science of treating water is complex, but so, too, is maintaining a competent water and wastewater treatment workforce. An interdisciplinary team in the Drinking Water Justice Lab (DWJL) led by Vanderbilt faculty member Yolanda McDonald has partnered with the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts to assess the technical, managerial, and financial capacity challenges facing community water systems in Tennessee. This is one of the first academic studies on the topic to consider workforce, and early results published in June 2022 demonstrate the need to prioritize training investments to enable operators to meet new regulatory and technological demands and retain a competent water workforce.
Another critical component of water infrastructure investments is knowing the spatial footprint of a community water system’s estimated service area boundary. The DWJL, in collaboration with the Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, created geospatial boundaries of Tennessee community water systems. Additionally, the DWJL conducted the first systematic review of the geospatial representation of United States community water systems.
In other studies, McDonald and her colleagues are evaluating how regulated contaminants in the U.S. drinking water supply potentially impact human organs and how machine learning approaches can be utilized to predict per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances contamination in community water systems.
Back-saving Technology to Support our Workforce
You don’t have to wear an Iron Man suit to be an everyday hero. Workers doing critical, physically-demanding jobs can now don an exoskeleton that weighs just three pounds but can help take over 75 pounds of strain off their backs, whether they are a civilian working in construction or at a warehouse, or a soldier lifting heavy equipment. As part of Vanderbilt’s partnership with the Army Futures Command and funding through Army Research Lab’s Pathfinder program, Vanderbilt faculty member Karl Zelik and his lab have developed and commercialized back-assist exosuits (HeroWear) that reduce back strain and injury risk and augment worker lift capabilities and endurance, allowing users to complete strenuous tasks safely and efficiently.
Learn more about Vanderbilt faculty member Karl Zelik.