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Notre Dame appoints Jeffrey Rhoads as vice president for research

In a Tuesday news release, the University announced that mechanical engineering researcher Jeffrey “Jeff” Rhoads has been appointed vice president for research at the university.

Rhoads, who will take over the role effective July 1, currently serves at Purdue University as a professor of mechanical engineering and the executive director of the Purdue Institute for National Security. According to the release, Rhoads has “attracted more than $75 million in sponsored research funding across his various academic roles.”

Rhoads will succeed Robert Bernhard in the role, who has served as vice president for research since 2007. In his new position, Rhoads will be responsible for overseeing Notre Dame’s research infrastructure “of more than 30 core facilities” and supporting programs for all academic disciplines within the university.

Notre Dame provost John McGreevy, who recommended Rhoads for the role, said in the release that Rhoads is a “visionary and a problem-solver” who “has successfully led research programs in academia and the public sector, developing crucial partnerships along the way, and he is perfectly suited to guide this next phase of the University’s research enterprise.”

In the release, University president Fr. John Jenkins also expressed admiration for the new vice president.

“The research of our faculty has been a point of emphasis and an area of remarkable growth at Notre Dame, and we are delighted to welcome Jeff Rhoads to help lead us in the next stage,” Jenkins said. “Jeff is an accomplished researcher and administrator and well-suited to continue the exciting trajectory of Notre Dame research.”

According to the news release, Notre Dame “is one of the fastest-growing research institutions in the nation,” having been granted $244 million in research award funding in the 2022 fiscal year.

Rhoads expressed excitement to continue Notre Dame’s growth in the vice president position.

“The growth of Notre Dame’s research portfolio, both in scale and, more importantly, global impact, over the past decade has been tremendous,” he said in the release. “I am truly excited, and frankly humbled, by the opportunity to work with this strong internal team, as well as our government, corporate, academic and nonprofit partners, to build upon this firm foundation.”

Rhoads is an extremely accomplished scholar and carries five highly esteemed awards, including Purdue’s highest honor for undergraduate teaching, the Charles B. Murphy. He holds an undergraduate degree, masters degree and a doctorate — all from Michigan State University. Rhoads will also receive a professorship in the department of aerospace and mechanical engineering at the University.

In the release, it was noted that Rhoads will lead a team of more than 30 core facilities along with providing support for other academic endeavors at the University. His role as vice president of research, he said in the release, will hope to dream big.

“We will think big, not shy away from global challenges, and work together, across the entire breadth of the University, to make a tangible and positive difference in society,” Rhoads said.

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Saint Mary’s to add third physics professor with newly awarded grant

In a press release Monday, Saint Mary’s announced that the Henry Luce Foundation awarded the College a 5–year, $498,000 grant to create the Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professorship in Physics. 

“The grant will be used to hire an early-career female assistant professor in physics, adding a tenure track line that builds on the growing strength of STEM education at Saint Mary’s,” the press release said.

President Katie Conboy said in the press release that the grant parallels the College’s efforts over the past decade to provide a high quality education to students in fields of science, math and engineering. Additionally, in the past five years since the physics program began, Conboy said Saint Mary’s has awarded 31 physics degrees to students. 

“This grant from the Henry Luce Foundation allows us to build on our reputation as one of the best institutions in the U.S. for undergraduate women to study physics,” Conboy said in the press release.

According to Ian Bentley, an associate professor of physics at Saint Mary’s and project director for the grant, the new professorship will become the third full time professor dedicated to teaching physics at the College. With another professor, the College will be able to offer “new research and coursework opportunities,” the release said.

Bentley also said the physics program aims to address the existing gender gap in STEM fields, and it has been successful so far at garnering interest among students.

“The physics program at Saint Mary’s College is vital for actively confronting the gender gap in physics and engineering,” Bentley said in the release. “Our physics major began 5 years ago and we have substantially higher than expected interest in the program, particularly because of how well it pairs with the College’s Dual Degree in Engineering program with the University of Notre Dame.”

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Notre Dame professors research different aspects of structures in disasters

Engineers and social scientists at Notre Dame are coming together to research the connection between building structures and human responses to natural disasters.

Tracy Kijewski-Correa, professor of engineering and global affairs, focuses her research on structures during natural disasters. Recently, she appeared on USA Today to discuss her research, which is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

The engineers Kijewski-Correa works with explore the best technical recommendations to use in codes and standards to ensure structural resilience. Her partners in the social sciences, meanwhile, are working to create incentives to put these recommendations into practice. 

Kijewski-Correa said funding has improved the quality of her work. Grants take time to acquire, she said, sometimes even a year. But natural disasters can occur anywhere and with very little notice, so additional resources allow Kijewski-Correa and her team to respond quickly.

“If you haven’t had a right to a grant after the disaster, everything would be cleaned up,” said Kijewski-Correa. “It takes about a year to get a grant in place, so they preposition these grants so that we can respond more agiley when an event occurs.”

Kijewski-Correa said a reactive response is important for civil engineers. They are not able to experiment, she said, the same way chemists can in a lab, because their work is based in the trial and error of the real world. Simulations cannot provide the engineers with accurate data.

“We can build small models in a laboratory, but that doesn’t capture what society goes through in a disaster. We can make computer models, but again, without data to validate them, it’s our best guess,” Kijewski-Correa said. 

Susan Ostermann, associate professor of global affairs, has also received a grant from the US National Science Foundation. Working with a structural engineer, she came to the conclusion there are simple solutions to the structural issues caused by natural disasters — but they weren’t being implemented.

The solutions, Ostermann said, lie with the building codes and following the proper procedures. She said those responsible for a building’s construction aren’t always inclined to read the codes and follow up on every instruction they mandate. Because of this, Ostermann and her colleague will devise new ways to inform citizens about building codes that will encourage them to implement inexpensive changes. 

“We kind of want to see if we can mess around with what it would take to convince people that some of these things are worthwhile,” Ostermann said.

Their research will be centered on Puerto Rico and Alaska. These territories were selected, Ostermann said, because their vast differences allow researchers to narrow in on their similarities and make more generalized conclusions. These similarities include their multi-hazard environments, deep-set traditions that do not align with building codes and proximity to U.S. politics.

“A most different comparison maximizes differences to find what is common,” Ostermann said. 

Kijewski-Correa and Ostermann both work with undergraduates. Kijewski-Correa highlighted their work in Haiti in 2020.

“The work that we did in Haiti, I will highlight, was actually carried out and led by undergraduates of our university,” she said. “It resulted in the only data set that’s been available to guide the U.N. and the World Bank in recovery after the disaster.”

Ostermann has yet not started her research, but she is searching for undergraduates. She said she thinks this will be a valuable opportunity for students because the engineers and social scientists will be working together completely on the project, not just in their separate jobs.

“It is really tremendous to get to work in an interdisciplinary project, and truly interdisciplinary, not sort of separated off where you go do your own thing,” Ostermann said. 

Despite the differences in their research, Kijewski-Correa and Ostermann believe they are work to support the mission of Notre Dame to be a force for good in the world. 

“I’m not Catholic, but I like Catholic social teaching,” Ostermann said. “That resonates for me, and I think that’s at the core of this, as well. We’re really talking about minority populations that already have struggles of their own and have to work with them to improve their lives and keep those communities whole.” Kijewski-Correa agreed.

“The people who are most affected by disaster tend to be the poorest and most vulnerable in our society,” she said. “So any research that can help communities build better before disaster, rather than being impacted and then struggling to build back better, is always not only going to be a force for good, but it’s going to fight for justice and equity in the world.”

Contact Emma Duffy at eduffy5@nd.edu

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ND club aims to build Mars rover

A newly formed Notre Dame student group is dedicated to building a fully functioning Mars rover from scratch. The Domer Rover club hopes to compete in the University Rover Challenge. The competition, held annually at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) near Hanksville, Utah, focuses on each step of the learning process along the way.

The founding members are sophomores Dorothy Crumlish, Matthew Egan, Sean Egan and Griffin Vrdolyak. Crumlish, a mechanical engineering major originally from South Bend, is president of the club. “I was sort of the one who brought it to the table, and then took the lead on it,” she said. 

Across the country, schools like the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Brigham Young University and the University of Michigan, the reigning champions, have official Mars rover clubs dedicated to competing in the University Rover Challenge. The group saw these other schools and thought to bring the idea to Notre Dame. 

They began to organize the club at the end of last fall semester and continued to meet once a week throughout the following spring, sorting through administrative logistics like funding and coordination with SAO. “We’re not an official club yet,” Sean Egan, a mechanical engineering major, said. “But if you’re interested, there’s a role for you.” 

This semester they have met often with their advisor Paul Rumbach, an associate teaching professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering, and looked at smaller models of rovers. Soon they will split into teams and start building their own rover from scratch. The group has access to 3D printers through the College of Engineering and can print the necessary parts. 

“It’s going to be a lot of hands-on stuff,” Vrdolyak, also a mechanical engineering major, said. No prior experience building rovers is necessary to be a part of the club, he said. “We’re gonna be learning along with everyone else, and we think it’s a great opportunity to explore a part of engineering that a lot of people don’t get to see,” Vrdolyak said.

In the competition, the rover has four missions it must successfully complete. The first is the science mission, where part of the rover’s job is to “collect soil samples and analyze them for life,” Crumlish said. The extreme retrieval and delivery mission requires the rover to navigate irregular terrain, as if it were on Mars, and deliver something to the “astronaut.” The equipment servicing mission tests the rover’s ability to perform “dexterous” operations, including typing on a keyboard, flipping switches and fixing various objects, she said. The last is the autonomous navigation mission, where the rover must go through a series of different gates, testing its capability to navigate a challenging environment on its own.

There are multiple stages of judging before making it to the competition in Utah. The preliminary design review is due this December, and a system acceptance review is due in March 2023. The system acceptance review consists of a video sent to the Mars Society, which runs the competition, of the rover doing all four missions. The Mars society then picks around 30 to 40 teams to continue on to the final competition, currently set to take place in June 2023. 

Though the competition is the ultimate end goal, right now, the club is focused on the learning process. This semester they hope to actually build a rover, even if it isn’t to full scale. Once the rover is built, it will be given a name. “We all have some ideas,” Crumlish said.

“Our goal for this year is basically just to learn as much about the design process and the manufacturing process of building a Mars rover,” Vrdolyak said. “And then, you know, a few years down the road, maybe before I graduate, we can win it all and finally beat Michigan.”