Contact
steve ceccio portrait

Steve Ceccio

Associate Dean for Research

Michigan Engineering

ceccio@umich.edu
(734) 647-7030

1011 LEC

Blue Sky Initiatives

Michigan Engineering has set its sights on enhancing its culture of creativity, innovation and daring through its Blue Sky Initiative funding model.

Introduced in late 2017, the Blue Sky Initiative supports transformational concepts – high-risk, high-reward ideas. Selected research teams will progress through a series of defined milestones to consistently assess the development of their concepts. The initiative will give teams the resources to aggressively pursue an idea to either reinforce or define Michigan’s leadership position in a wide range of areas.

Successful projects will explore and secure external investments to develop and expand the concept through external partners.

The Blue Sky Initiative is one of three funding models introduced through the Research Pillar of Michigan Engineering’s 2020 Strategic Vision.

The first four Blue Sky Initiative teams were selected in summer 2018.

Nicholas Kotov, Angela Violi, and Scott VanEpps pose for a picture in the lab

Staying ahead of biothreats top

Accelerating the response to biothreats: Machine learning as screening for antimicrobials

Principal Investigator: Angela Violi, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Professor of Macromolecular Science and Engineering, College of Engineering and Professor of Biophysics, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts


Using a neural network and machine learning, the research team will streamline the process of identifying promising nanoparticles to serve as the next generation of antimicrobials. The work could curb dangerous drug-resistant bacteria, lower drug R&D costs and shorten the time it takes to get new effective medications on the market. Today it typically takes 14 years to identify a promising compound, turn it into a drug and make it available to patients. And only 14 percent of the drugs that begin testing end up in the market. With their new approach, the researchers believe they can raise that percentage of useful compounds to 80 over time. This next generation drug development method will save lives and put both the College of Engineering and U-M Medical School at the heart of industry innovation.

For the last 75 years, we’ve been relying on antibiotics to control bacteria. Unfortunately, drug-resistant bacteria continue to evolve and pose a threat to society, especially as the population continues to rise. In addition to the long time horizon for drug development, the high cost of antibiotic research and development pushed pharmaceutical companies into more lucrative options, such as cancer drugs.

With help from the Blue Sky Initiative, researchers will create an infrastructure for discovery, design, and development of the nano-antimicrobials society needs. Using machine learning, molecular simulations and biological experiments, the team will develop next-generation antimicrobial nanomaterials that use multiple avenues of attack to lower the odds of bacterial resistance.

Research Team:

  • Angela VioliProfessor of Mechanical Engineering, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Professor of Macromolecular Science and Engineering, Professor of Biophysics, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
  • Nicholas Kotov Joseph B and Florence V Cejka Professor of Engineering, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Professor of Macromolecular Science and Engineering
  • Thomas SchmidtProfessor of Internal Medicine, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, Medical School and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
  • Alfred Hero – John H Holland Distinguished University Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, R Jamison and Betty Williams Professor of Engineering, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering and Medical School, Professor of Statistics, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and Co-Director, Data Science Initiative
  • Scott VanEppsAssistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Macromolecular Science and Engineering, Biointerfaces Institute, and Michigan Center for Integrative Research in Critical Care
  • Paolo ElvatiAssistant Research Scientist, Mechanical Engineering
  • David Sherman – Hans W Vahlteich Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, College of Pharmacy, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, Medical School, Professor of Chemistry, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and Research Professor, Life Sciences Institute

Zetian Mi runs a sample through the Scalable Quantum Engineering and Manufacturing (SQEM) technique

Quantum engineering big solutions top

Scalable quantum engineering and manufacturing

Principal Investigator: Zetian Mi, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science


Although we live in a quantum world, there is very little we know about how things work at the quantum level. Zetian Mi, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and his team are changing that. Their project, Scalable Quantum Engineering and Manufacturing (SQEM), has been selected for the Blue Sky Initiative to develop new ways to control and use quantum particles such as excitons, polaritons, and dropletons.

Today, we are still in the age of the electron, Mi says. Discoveries from the 1950s and ‘60s are reaching their limits. The scale of world problems, however, continues to grow. One of several problems that SQEM could help address is water purification with ultraviolet LEDs. The leading deep UV LEDs only have a few  percent efficiency, or lower. Researchers believe they can increase this by a factor of 10 to 100. These improvements would meet a growing demand for UV LEDs, which are experiencing more than 30 percent annual market growth as 2.5 billion people around the globe don’t have access to clean drinking water.

Primary energy consumption, one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century, is another area of focus. Through quantum engineering, SQEM has transformed gallium nitride into one of the most efficient photocatalysts for solar hydrogen generation. Mi envisions harnessing the unique quantum properties of gallium nitride to demonstrate artificial photosynthesis that can convert atmospheric carbon dioxide and water into fuel with an efficiency that bests plants by 10 to 100-fold.

The Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Congress have all expressed interest and support in quantum engineering.

Research Team:

  • Zetian MiProfessor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Elaheh AhmadiAssistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Pallab BhattacharyaCharles M Vest Distinguished University Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, James R Mellor Professor of Engineering and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Steven CundiffHarrison M Randall Collegiate Professor of Physics, Professor of Physics, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Emmanouil KioupakisAssociate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering
  • Robert HovdenAssistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering
  • Mackillo KiraProfessor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Professor of Physics, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
  • Pei-Cheng Ku – Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Associate Professor of Macromolecular Science and Engineering
  • Kevin Kubarych – Professor of Biophysics and Professor of Chemistry, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
  • Theodore Norris – Gerard A Mourou Collegiate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Jennifer OgilvieProfessor of Physics and Professor of Biophysics, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
  • Kevin Pipe – Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Director Academic Program, Graduate Education

The Global CO2 Initiative top

The Global CO2 Initiative: Transforming a liability into an opportunity

Principal Investigator: Volker Sick, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering and Associate Vice President for Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering, Office of the Vice President for Research


Even if CO
2 emissions are curbed today, it will be impossible to reach Paris Agreement climate goals unless ways to remove carbon dioxide from the environment are developed. The Global CO2 Initiative at U-M will identify and pursue commercially sustainable approaches that have the potential to reduce global CO2 emissions by as much as 10 percent per year.

Researchers aim to develop and evaluate technologies that can remove carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into useful products. They will also cultivate an infrastructure of technology assessment, development, and commercialization. The research team expects cement, concrete and asphalt to be the greatest opportunity for the Global CO2 Initiative, since huge volumes of construction materials are needed and they bind well with carbon dioxide. Fuels, polymers, agriculture, food and new materials such as carbon fiber can also take advantage of transformed CO2.

Researchers and market analysts anticipate the carbon-negative, dollar-positive approach can generate billions of dollars of economic activity in the decades to come. In addition to being commercially sustainable, the research will also serve the common good by combating climate change while simultaneously creating sustainable economic opportunities, leveraging diverse funding streams from public and private sources and expanding the initiative beyond the University of Michigan.

Research Team:

  • Volker Sick – Arthur F Thurnau Professor, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering and Associate Vice President for Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering, Office of the Vice President for Research
  • Mihaela BanuResearch Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering
  • Jonathan FayExecutive Director, Center for Entrepreneurship
  • Victor Li – James R Rice Distinguished University Professor of Engineering, E Benjamin Wylie Collegiate Professor of Civil Engineering, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Professor of Macromolecular Science and Engineering
  • Nicholas Kotov Joseph B and Florence V Cejka Professor of Engineering, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Professor of Macromolecular Science and Engineering
  • Alan TaubProfessor of Materials Science and Engineering and Professor of Mechanical Engineering
  • Ralph Yang – Dwight F Benton Professor of Chemical Engineering and Professor of Chemical Engineering
  • Greg Keoleian – Peter M Wege Endowed Professor of Sustainable Systems, Professor of Sustainable Systems, School for Environment and Sustainability and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Shelie Miller – Jonathan W Bulkley Collegiate Professor of Sustainable Systems, Director, Program in the Environment, Associate Professor of Environment and Sustainability, School for Environment and Sustainability and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Susan FancyManager of Programs and Development, University of Michigan Energy Institute

Lutgade Raskin smiles and responds to a student in the lab

Remaking water infrastructure top

Remaking water infrastructure by focusing on microbial biomes: Actionable science by linking microbial biomes across water infrastructure, natural water, and humans

Principal Investigator: Lut Raskin, Altarum/ERIM Russell D O’Neal Professor of Engineering and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

By managing microbial biomes in the water systems in our cities, scientists can harness their beneficial roles and reduce human health risks.

Microbial biomes – also known as microbiomes – are complex collections of thousands of different kinds of bacteria, viruses and protozoa that work together to influence their environments. Microbiomes exist within our bodies, but also are important in natural waters like lakes and rivers, and in urban water systems including in water treatment plants, in water distribution systems and in our home plumbing. Scientists don’t know how these different microbiomes interact. As water infrastructure ages, the human population continues to grow, and extreme weather taxes urban systems, it’s increasingly important to understand and predict those interactions to harness their benefits and prevent harm.

The research will develop novel sensors that will gather microbiome data, including DNA sequences, in real time. These sensors will be strategically placed across water systems in cities and the data collected will be used to help guide water treatment and distribution decisions. Raskin envisions several outcomes of understanding the broader water microbiomes and using real-time data to manage them: The growth of beneficial microbes that control disease causing microbes could be promoted in water similar to the concept of probiotics in yogurt. Or hospitals or industries could divert their waste streams into separate treatment systems when they are releasing high levels of pharmaceuticals or antibiotic resistance genes rather than sending them to a city’s central treatment plant.

The project could address serious concerns linked to water infrastructure failures like the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease during the Flint water crisis and infectious diseases associated with sewage exposure following hurricanes in Texas and Puerto Rico. The urgency of the topic, and the potential for additional funding from outside sources, add to the relevancy of the project.

U-M College of Engineering Research Team:

  • Lutgarde RaskinAltarum/ERIM Russell D O’Neal Professor of Engineering and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Herek ClackResearch Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering and Lecturer IV in Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Glen DaiggerProfessor of Engineering Practice, Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Seth GuikemaAssociate Professor of Industrial and Operations Engineering and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Branko KerkezAssistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Nancy LoveBorchardt and Glysson Collegiate Professor and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Terese OlsonAssociate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Steven Skerlos – Arthur F Thurnau Professor, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director, Center for Socially Engaged Design, CoE Undergraduate Education
  • Krista WiggintonAssistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Core U-M Collaborators:

  • Gregory Dick – Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Associate Chair, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
  • Melissa Duhaime – Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
  • Rebecca Hardin – Associate Professor of Natural Resources, School for Environment and Sustainability
  • Lisa Lattuca – Professor of Integrative Systems and Design and Professor of Education, School of Education
  • Maria Carmen Lemos – Professor of Environment and Sustainability and Associate Dean for Research, School for Environment and Sustainability
  • John LiPuma -James L Wilson M. D. Research Professor of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, Associate Chair, Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases and Professor of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, Medical School
  • Thomas Schmidt – Professor of Internal Medicine, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, Medical School and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

In addition to these U-M researchers, collaborators from Northeastern University, the University of Wisconsin, Michigan State University, and the University of Puerto Rico will be engaged in this research.

Research Pillar
Two male scientists work together in the lab

Michigan Engineering has set its sights on enhancing its culture of creativity, innovation, and daring and is implementing a unique approach to investing in faculty research as a key part of the plan.