Seventeen faculty and staff projects will receive about $5 million in Jump Start funds to advance UCF’s impact under President Alexander N. Cartwright’s 2021-22 Strategic Investment Program.

“I am delighted that we were able to fund so many strong proposals and only wish that we had the resources to support more of them,” says Michael D. Johnson, UCF’s interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, in announcing the awards.

The Jump Start Fund is one of three funds the president made available as part of his investment program to help position UCF as the world’s leading public metropolitan research university. The program will award up to $50 million this fiscal year to projects proposed by faculty and staff that can elevate UCF’s academic excellence, student success and impact.

The initiative results from a new strategic budgeting approach by Cartwright after he became president last year, reallocating some funds to give UCF a new avenue for enhancing academics and student success.

The Jump Start Fund focuses on funding one-time projects or purchases that will amplify UCF’s impact. Proposals could address a variety of needs from research infrastructure and facilities renovations under $2 million to equipment, new programs, or temporary staff among others.

The Academic Excellence Fund will distribute $8.5 million recurring funds and $15 million in non-recurring funds. The Student Success Fund will award $1.5 million in recurring funds. The winners will be announced later. All three funds involve a review process leading to final decisions by the president and provost.

Seventy Jump Start proposals were submitted with more than 330 faculty and staff collaborating on the projects altogether. A complete list of all winning principal investigators and their teams is available here.

The recipients:

College of Arts and Humanities

Lead: David Reed, assistant professor, School of Performing Arts


Digital Media, Editing and Performance

The money will be used to help students stay competitive as they enter the world of performing arts by helping them prepare audition material using current technology. UCF has been unable to answer an industrywide shift toward digital audition materials, demo reels and scene work, largely due to the lack of high-quality equipment. The funds will be used to create and store three mobile professional studios that would allow students to film, edit and musically underscore audition material. The technology will allow all students to utilize professional grade equipment, elevating the quality of filmed material, providing relevant career preparation and creating an equitable opportunity for each student. Additional materials will also enhance the filming process for the actors. These include the procurement of a film-appropriate aluminum armory to supplement current UCF training, and foundational scenic training material, including film-appropriate and heavy-duty aluminum seating. This equipment is intended to provide students with industry-specific training materials and to elevate the aesthetic of the filmed material. Learning to use these tools will not only prepare students for the industry, but it will also make them more competitive in the job market.

College of Sciences

Lead: Li Fang, assistant professor, Department of Physics

$500,000 with $237,000 match

User Facility for Attosecond Soft X-Rays and Terahertz (UFAST)

Fang is leading a team that will create a new facility at UCF by renovating a clean room laboratory and purchasing the necessary components for secondary light sources and vacuum beam lines. Her proposal was contingent on landing an almost $2 million U.S. National Science Foundation grant for the instrumentation, which she was awarded earlier this month. When complete, UCF will have a one-of-a-kind user facility for attosecond soft X-rays and terahertz. UCF is building a world-class reputation in attosecond science.

Lead: Andres Campiglia, professor, Department of Chemistry

$350,000, with $85,150 match

Liquid Chromatography Triple Quadrupole Mass Spectrometry Instrumentation

The funds will be used to purchase a state-of-the-art liquid chromatography mass spectrometer for departmental use. In addition to improving the research capabilities of the chemistry faculty, the new instrument will enhance interdisciplinary interactions across the college and throughout campus with research faculty in need of chemical analysis. Immediate impact is expected on a variety of research areas within the chemistry department.  These include environmental contamination, atmospheric chemistry, green approaches to biodiesel production, development of new catalysts for precise selectivity control, synthesis of plasmonic-catalytic hybrid nanomaterials for biomedical sensing, discovery of bacterial compounds with antibiotic activity, diagnostics of disease biomarkers, and new and better approaches for AIDs treatment. Having the new equipment will enhance UCF competitiveness in securing federal funding and provide an excellent opportunity to train students with state-of-the-art instrumentation. By hiring a technician with expertise in mass spectrometry, the chemistry department will provide an $85,150 match.

College of Optics and Photonics

Lead: Stephen Eikenberry, professor,

$180,000, with $90,000 match

A Facility for Photonic Atmospheric Sensing Technology

Two groups of experts at UCF are collaborating under this grant to create a world-class virtual facility focused on atmospheric-sensing technologies. UCF is already known for its expertise in photonics through the College of Optics and Photonics. UCF also has extensive expertise in LIDAR technology thanks to its work at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which the university manages for the U.S. National Science Foundation. But these experts have their joined forces to study and advance the field of atmosphere sensing, which focuses on the atmosphere around Earth. The atmosphere provides the air needed to breathe while also providing protection against the sun’s radiation and the extremes of space weather. Changes to Earth’s atmosphere, such as temporary disruptions caused by solar flares, for example, can impact the global community and economy. Monitoring the atmosphere, figuring out how to manage it and preparing for changes has local, regional, national and global implications with a direct connection to the human race’s survival. The team will leverage its expertise and work together to make UCF a leader in this critical area of research.

Lead: Peter Delfyett, University Distinguished Professor, University Trustee Chair and Pegasus Professor

$325,000, with $50,000 match

Space Photonics in Interferometric Imaging for Communications, Environment, and Defense

The money will be used to build a test bed for sparse aperture array imaging that will serve as a cornerstone of next generation, space-based imaging modalities. The approach aims to exploit the revolution in optical laser technology, positioning UCF to create a system of mini-satellites with optical technology that would allow a viewer to read 10-point font text on a page from 600 miles away, such as reading text on a cell phone from low-Earth orbit. If successful, the team expects UCF would be positioned to compete for a variety of big grant proposals and contracts from multiple agencies.

College of Graduate Studies

Lead: Glenn Martin, research associate professor and lab director of Interactive Realities Laboratory, School of Modeling Simulation and Training

$495,085, with $200,000 match

Enhancement to the Stokes High-Performance Computing Cluster, Supporting Cross-Campus General-Purpose Research Computing

The money will be used to upgrade access to computational science research on campus. UCF has been using the Stokes high-performance computing cluster for the 15 years, which gives faculty and students capabilities to design, implement, and use mathematical models to analyze and solve a variety of scientific problems. The system needs updating to keep up with age and demand. The money will purchase modern equipment that will add 60 nodes to replace aging nodes used now. Stokes supports computational research across UCF with users coming from almost every college. In addition, computational research in various domains is increasing and provides a great opportunity for expanding research while requiring little additional space. Each month, multiple users from multiple lab groups across campus use Stokes for their research.

College of Engineering and Computer Science

Lead: Reza Abdolvand, professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

$430,000, with $105,000 match

Acquisition of Direct-Write Photolithography System for the UCF Central Cleanroom Facility

The money will be used to purchase a state-of-the-art direct-write photolithography system for UCF. The system is expected to modernize on-campus micro-nanofabrication facilities, which enable a variety of research activities with a focus on understanding and developing micro and nano-devices and circuits necessary for various industry applications. The system eliminates the entire time-consuming and expensive photomask making process and enables instant modification of designs. Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley have recently purchased similar systems. At least 20 faculty members across the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the College of Optics and Photonics, and College of Sciences are expected to use the new system to advance their research on technologies, such as next-generation electronics, micro-sensors, and optical microsystems. The investment is expected to help propel innovation and improve the university’s national standing in wide areas of research that depend on micro-fabrication capabilities.

Lead: Kareem Ahmed, associate professor, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

$500,000, with a $1.3 million match

Ultra-High-Speed Flow Facility for Hypersonics and Space Propulsion

UCF is home to the world-class Propulsion and Energy Research Lab, which has been producing new discoveries and advancements that, for example, promise to make travel from New York to London in 5 minutes. The engine test facility is used by many researchers at UCF from College of Engineering, College of Sciences and others. The high-level research has broad impact in hypersonics, space propulsion and energy power generation and extends to supernova science. However, the experimentation is outdoors, limiting the use of the lab’s ultra-fast lasers. The investment will cover the outdoor space and upgrade some of the equipment. This investment should result in propelling research forward. The proposal team estimates the remodel should make UCF more competitive for at least $3.5 million worth of research grants from federal agencies alone.

Lead: Parag Banerjee, associate professor, Department of Materials Science and Engineering

$50,000, with $20,000 match

Atomic Layer Deposition Batch Reactor for Functional Coating Powders

The money will be used to build a state-of-the-art, fully custom atomic layer deposition system for coating powders that will eventually allow researchers to work with larger batches of powder while maintaining atomic-scale precision. Precision is a key priority identified by faculty members involved in internationally recognized work. Five ALD (atomic layer deposition?) systems are already in use at UCF, each an irreplaceable part of the material synthesis process (particularly at a nanoscale). The newly funded system will be especially significant to the research conducted by the interdepartmental REACT cluster (which optimizes materials for use in renewable energy production) and the Optical Materials Laboratory. In recognition of its interdisciplinary potential, three colleges and one department (the College of Engineering and Computer Science, College of Sciences, College of Optics and Photonics, and Department of Materials Science and Engineering) have joined to provide $20,000 in matching funds.

Lead: Kristopher Davis, assistant professor, Department of Materials Science and Engineering

$205,570, with $58,000 match

Infrastructure Equipment Enhancement: Nanomaterials for Improved Solar Cell Efficiency and Virus Trapping

The requested funds will buy a particle analyzer system and a thermography system for use in observing and optimizing nanoparticles. Faculty members plan to apply the equipment to a wide range of research areas — most notably solar energy cell development and virology. In solar energy, there is a need for nanomaterial fabrication to improve the efficiency of cells’ electrical contacts, thus eliminating the price constraints currently limiting the technology’s spread. In medical research, engineered nanoparticles have shown a unique capability to tackle the complex mechanical properties of viruses like SARS-CoV-2. The professors who crafted this proposal each bring strong interdisciplinary track records to the table; between them, they have several multi-year projects with the Department of Energy and National Institute of Health, collaborations with many industrial partners and multiple National Science Foundation awards. Upon receipt, this funding will immediately increase UCF’s ability to compete for even more significant grants and will facilitate investigation in areas like electronics, dermatology and household product formulation — allowing UCF to broaden its research horizons as it furthers its recognized strengths in virology and solar energy.

Lead: Paul Gazzillo, assistant professor, Department of Computer Science

$100,000, with $50,000 match

Advancing Interdisciplinary Cyber Security and Privacy Research

Attacks on water treatment plants, the national pipeline and government and private businesses are increasingly common today, posing a threat to individuals and to national security. UCF has the expertise to tackle these threats with faculty in various colleges and within the Cyber Security and Privacy cluster. UCF is also home to award-winning student teams focused on keeping our networks safe. But to truly innovate solutions to the constantly emerging threats, UCF needs a new kind of physical space. The award money will be used to renovate an existing computer lab into a first-of-its-kind space at UCF that will support the interdisciplinary approach needed for advanced solutions. The lab will include:

  • a sensory suite for comprehensive and real-time human state estimation, which will include eye-tracking,
  • physiological monitoring, and other biometric devices needed for cognitive and behavioral research,
  • cyber-analytics hardware and software platforms, used by cyber-security practitioners and for training cyber-defense professionals, and
  • computational resources for data analytics and real-time data collection from the sensory measurement equipment and cyber-defense platforms.

The outcome is expected to translate into more research funding for UCF, a better prepared workforce and holistic solutions for problems that could potentially cripple our national economy and security.

Lead: David Mohaisen, associate professor, Department of Computer Science

$140,000, with $35,000 match

Online Master of Science in Cybersecurity and Privacy at the University of Central Florida

Already a leader in cyber security and privacy research and education, this project will launch a new online master’s in cybersecurity and privacy at UCF to meet the exceedingly growing demands. The main goal of this proposal is to aid in the development of high-quality online course content that would not be possible with the currently available resources. With the rise in need for cybersecurity experts, this program is expected to deliver workforce-ready graduates that will not only work in this field, but also lead it.

Lead: Sudipta Seal, Pegasus Professor and chair, Department of Materials Science and Engineering

$105,000, with $48,000 match

A Spray Drying Facility for Nano-Manufacturing

The money will be used to purchase and augment a spray drying instrument and enhance current facilities to serve nanoscale manufacturing research and training needs in Central Florida that are not currently met. Interdisciplinary research is key to solving big challenges, and this facility will reinforce that message by providing tools that can be used across disciplines. The purchase will support research in the areas of engineering, planetary and space science, biomedical engineering, and nano/micro-manufacturing. The tools will also augment the education and training of graduate and undergraduate students who already participate in several U.S. National Science Foundation Research Experience for undergraduates programs housed at UCF.

College of Medicine

Lead: Griffith Parks, associate dean for research and director, Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences

$300,000, with $300,000 match

Next Generation in High Resolution Tissue Imagining

The money will be used to purchase a high imaging platform for UCF researchers in the biomedical sciences. The platform will provide researchers with an ultra-high resolution imaging system, which is intended to help researchers advance the understanding of cancer, neuroscience and infectious diseases. The need for the platform is essential because biomedical sciences research is heavily dependent on the use of animals as models for human disease. However, a major challenge is the ability to visualize, image, record and study the structure, content and organization of complex tissues. For example, cancer research often involves the need to visualize the growth and characteristics of tumor tissue within the context of surrounding normal tissue, or to visualize the infiltration of immune cells to the tumor site. To be effective, these studies require ultra-high-resolution images and the use of a large number of “markers” on one sample coupled to powerful analysis software. These markers for different cell types are important to distinguish normal tissue from the wide range of types of tumors (e.g., aggressive tumors) and to identify the immune cells in the tumor microenvironment. The platform will allow researchers to conduct this visualization in large quantities and at a faster rate than they can do so with current equipment available at UCF.

Office of Research

Center for Directed Energy

Lead: Robert Bernath, director, Townes Institute Science Testing Experimentation Facility (TISTEF)

$450,000, with a $806,000 match

TISTEF: Ready to Launch UCF to New Capabilities at Kennedy Space Center

The strategic investment money allows for expanded capabilities to the user base at the Townes Institute for Science, Technology, and Experimentation (TISTEF) Facility. UCF manages the federal facility, located on the Space Coast at Kennedy Space Center. The added capabilities are expected to benefit UCF researchers, private, and public agencies already using the facility and attract new users and open new areas of investigations at UCF in the engineering, optics, and other sciences areas. A significant amount of matching funds comes from the generous support of the Naval Research Laboratory, LP Photonics LLC and Booz Allen Hamilton. Upon completion over the next two years, UCF expects to see more grants and contracts for work conducted at TISTEF.

Lead: Shafaq Chaudhry, assistant director, Graduate and Research Information Technology

$500,000, with $70,000 match

Graduate and Research Information Technology (GRIT): Enabling Big Data and Computational Science via High-Throughput Networking

The funds will be invested in UCF’s cyberinfrastructure, building up three identified gaps in network support by a) increasing the overall campus network backbone to 100 Gbps; b) increasing our capacity for connection to the collaborative Internet2 research network to 100 Gbps; and c) allowing more labs to access the Advanced Research Computing Center (ARCC). These improvements are expected to enhance UCF’s capabilities across all forms of big-data research, providing the knowledge and connectivity necessary for us to forge our path as a leading public metropolitan research university. The Office of Research will provide a two-year $50,000 match in support of cloud connectivity, and a $20,000 annual match in support of data transfer functionality.

Lead: Tamara Gabrus, program director II, Faculty Cluster Initiative and Pre-Award Shared Services

$300,000, with $31,000 match

Research Commons: Cultivating Innovation by Advancing Access to Collaboration

Funding will be used to establish the Research Commons Collaboration Hub, a suite with all the resources needed to help faculty with sponsored research proposals. The hub will be in Technology Commons I, providing investigators and their dedicated unit pre-award staff a convenient one-stop connection. The Pre-Award Shared Services (PASS) team will provide oversight to augment the existing pre-award administration that is familiar with the nuances of each college, institute and center on campus. The inviting space, equipped with technology to support the research enterprise, will be dedicated to meeting the needs of our research-intensive, collaborative faculty while simultaneously reducing administrative burden on the faculty’s home unit by decreasing the hours they dedicate to managing their large, interdisciplinary proposal submissions. The hub staffing will also include the existing Research Development team that will be accessible to provide on-demand training in UCF research support systems such as the Pivot funding opportunity database. Once researchers have identified the appropriate funding opportunity and potential on-campus partners, they will find themselves ready to use the Research Commons Collaboration Hub. Office of Research staff from pre-award, contracts, awards management and grants accounting will also host office hours in the space to further aid their faculty and Departmental Research Administration, with the full life cycle of their awards.