CEAS Students Win GIAR Research Award

By: Liz Dauebnmire

Xiaodi Duan and Brandon Cook received the GIAR Research Award including funds allowing them to pursue their independent projects.

Xiaodi Duan

Xiaodi Duan

Cyanotoxin is thankfully not a household name in the city of Cincinnati. For the city of Toledo, however, the residences are all too familiar with the harmful toxins that once contaminated the tap water- affecting more than 400,000.

Cyanotoxins are produced by the bacteria called cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, which blooms in lakes and oceans.  The toxins from the cyanobacteria are a threat to animals and humans alike- poising anything that comes in contact with it.

UC PhD student, Xiaodi Duan, says, “The increasing occurrence of harmful algal blooms due to eutrophication of surface water has become an emerging concern threatening human and environmental health because of the release of potent toxic compounds, known as cyanotoxins, in sources of drinking water supply.”

In summer of 2014, the detection of high levels of cyanotoxins caused the city of Toledo to warn its residents against drinking or even touching the tap water. More than 400,000 people were affected by the water ban. The US Environmental Protection Agency included cyanotoxins in the most recent Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List 3 (CCL3) (cyanotoxins were also included in CCL1 and CCL2).

Xiaodi Duan has dedicated her research to the destruction of this harmful toxin.  After submitting her research proposal for a current project focusing on cyanotoxins, Duan was granted the GIAR Research Award, allowing her to continue with her proposed research. 

She explains, “This project mainly deals with the destruction of cyanotoxins taking advantage of conventional permanganate oxidation which is widely used in drinking water treatment plants and utilizes more advanced sonication technology to promote that process.”

Duan’s work has the potential to provide more comprehensive information on the application of destructive technology used to clean water sources.  As she says, “Such investigations are critical to the development of cost-efficient technologies for treatment of water contaminated with cyanotoxins.”

As a research award winner, Duan is able to press on with her project in hopes of bettering water treatment and providing clean water sources for those in the US and abroad. 

“The funds will help me utilizing analytical instrumentation to understand the mechanisms of the proposed technology, taking samples from several freshwater resources and drinking water treatment plants to examine the issues for process scale up, and presenting the results in the national conferences.”

She closes by saying, “I’m very honored to receive this award. It inspires me to perform more interesting studies.”

Brandon Cook, another winner of the GIAR Research Award explains what led him to his field of research, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). “In the coming decades the applications and capabilities of UAVs will continue to proliferate.  Some of these applications include aerial delivery services, agricultural monitoring, fighting wild-fires, monitoring natural resources, filming athletic events, performing search and rescue missions, and aiding with disaster relief programs.”

Cook looks forward to studying the heightened safety precautions involved in adding additional aircrafts to our national airspace.  “In order for us to begin using these devices in our daily lives without decreasing the safety of our current airspace system, we must solve issues such as separation assurance and collision avoidance between manned and unmanned aircraft.”

Cook explains his proposal; “For my research, I aim to use bio-inspired (biology-inspired) techniques to solve many of these issues.  Specifically, I will use a unique approach based on "Fuzzy Logic.”  

Brandon Cook

Brandon Cook

Fuzzy Logic, as Brandon explains, allows for decision making in a manner that resembles human-like reasoning. He says, “With a Fuzzy system, the robot has the ability to “think” for itself, adapt to the situation at hand, and then act to accomplish its desired tasks… Preliminary results show that using this bio-inspired technique we can eliminate the risks of near midair collisions between aircraft.” 

Cook continues, “As someone dedicated to improving quality of life through advancing science and technology, I am determined to research and develop autonomous robotics for space related applications.  Such technology is crucial to advance the aerospace industry and will create a large impact on the world, as these technologies are transferable to many other interdisciplinary engineering applications.”

The GIAR award has opened the door for Brandon and his research.  “This award will be invaluable towards the success of my research.  It has enabled me to not only perform meaningful research that will directly benefit society, but it also gives me the opportunity to travel back to NASA Ames this summer.” Brandon has seen extreme benefits from working with UC’s industry partners.  “By being on site at NASA Ames Research Center, I will have many of the world's leading experts in Unmanned Air Traffic Management as a resource.  This will allow me to receive a unique perspective on solving these issues while ensuring that my approach is relevant and on track with our future air traffic management system.  Having the input from both my research advisor, Dr. Kelly Cohen, and my colleagues at Ames will ensure that my work will result in a successful Master's Thesis.”

Cook closes by expressing his gratitude. “I am greatly honored to have been selected for this prestigious award.  I cannot express how grateful I am to have been selected.  This award has given me the resources to conduct meaningful research that will positively affect society, advance my career, and give me a jumpstart towards my future endeavors.”

Cook’s passion for aircrafts led him to pursue increasing safety in his undergraduate research.  He has participated in several undergraduate research opportunities under the guidance of Professor Kelly Cohen, PhD.

As an exceptional student, Brandon’s list of achievements extends beyond the prestigious GIAR award. Brandon completed the undergraduate portion of his degree with a 3.98 GPA and maintains a 4.0 GPA in his master’s program.  He also received the Outstanding Senior Award and the Bradley Jones Award in recognition of graduating top in his class.  Rounding off his impressive experiences at the University of Cincinnati, Brandon also continued to the book titled, Logic Programming: Theory, Practices and Challenges and presented at two international aerospace conferences. 

Both Brandon Cook and Xiaodi Duan exhibit extraordinary work in their respective realms of research. Congratulations to Brandon and Xiaodi on your incredible accomplishments and best of luck on the continuation of your projects.