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To get a fla­vor of the kind of re­search that has been funded by these pro­grams over the last few years, the Amer­i­can-States­man ex­am­ined fed­eral grant records.

A $3 mil­lion Ad­vanced Re­search Projects Agency grant awarded to a Univer­sity of Texas chem­i­cal engi­neer­ing pro­fes­sor paid for re­search into “smart win­dows” from 2013 through 2016. With build­ings ac­count­ing for 40 per­cent of all en­ergy used in the United States, and en­ergy loss through win­dows boost­ing en­ergy bills by as much as 25 per­cent, the re­search group ex­per­i­mented with low-cost coat­ings to block some sun­light to in­crease en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, cut en­ergy bills and make people inside a building more com­fort­able. The re­search team, headed by UT pro­fes­sor Delia Mil­l­iron, has now at­tracted fur­ther fed­eral and pri­vate in­vest­ment as it tries to con­vert the tech­nol­ogy into a commercial prod­uct.

A $900,000 EPA grant awarded in 2009 to a Univer­sity of Texas team ex­am­ined the best ways to mon­i­tor the stor­age of car­bon, a key step in try­ing to clean up emis­sions from coal-fired power plants. “It’s hard to tell what’s ef­fi­cient while sit­ting at a desk writ­ing rules,” said UT re­search sci­en­tist Su­san Hovorka, who worked on the project. “Some­one has to get out the com­puter and field mea­sure­ments and do an as­sess­ment to de­ter­mine what’s ef­fi­cient.”

An­other EPA-grant-funded project, in­stalling and test­ing small drink­ing water treat­ment sta­tions in poor com­mu­ni­ties near El Paso, had prac­ti­cal and ca­reer im­pli­ca­tions for those in­volved. The project“was a ma­jor suc­cess in help­ing a marginal­ized group of people gain ac­cess to safe and re­li­able drink­ing water,” said Shane Walker, who teaches civil engi­neer­ing at the Univer­sity of Texas-El Paso. The work, he added, “had an enor­mous im­pact on me, per­son­ally, as a young fac­ulty mem­ber. I be­came a pro­fes­sor be­cause I wanted to inspire stu­dents to change the world through teach­ing and re­search. This re­search project was awarded in my sec­ond year as an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor (a crit­i­cal point in the life of an un­tenured fac­ulty mem­ber), and it was in­stru­men­tal in giv­ing me the op­por­tu­nity to ma­ture as an in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary col­lab­o­ra­tor and as a re­search leader.”

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