PSU engineering faculty granted $1 million

Ten members of the Portland State faculty received grants to fund research on local traffic-related engineering studies from the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium last month.

Ten members of the Portland State faculty received grants to fund research on local traffic-related engineering studies from the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium last month.

The consortium is one of 60 university-based research centers that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation. They receive up to $76.7 million in annual federal grants, which is given to universities and professors to research traffic issues.

David Maier, a computer science professor at PSU, received a grant for $44,000 to study traffic data streams. Data streams are collected by highway sensors that monitor statistical data, such as vehicle counts, average speeds and traffic congestion.

Maier said that in Portland, most of these sensors are placed parallel to highway onramps. Data collected from the sensors is transmitted to the Oregon Department of Transportation to report on traffic conditions in an area, Maier said.

The research is focused on expanding sensor coverage to areas of traffic maps that do not currently have highway sensors to collect additional traffic condition data, Maier said.

Maier is conducting his research of traffic data with Kristen Tufte, a professor in the PSU Maseeh College, and Rafael Fernández-Moctezuma, a graduate research assistant in the PSU Computer Science Department.

Additional funding for the research is being given by outside parties, Maier said. Fernández-Moctezuma is receiving funding from the Mexican government that will match the consortium grant, Maier said.

“Raphael’s expertise is mostly statistical and he will be a huge help to the research,” Maier said.

The research reports for 2006-07 grant cycles are expected to be finished by Sept. 30, according to Jenny Kincaid, communication and education coordinator for the consortium. Maier said that many of the grant periods, including his, are likely to be extended because of the short space available to the researchers for this year.

Maier said he is planning to report his findings to the consortium by Oct. 30.

Trevor Smith, who teaches civil and environmental engineering at PSU, also received a grant from the consortium to study geotechnical engineering of traffic in Portland. Geotechnical engineering studies soil through engineering in order to provide solutions to geological issues.

Smith said he is looking forward to his research because there is a very limited amount of geotechnical research being conducted in Portland. He is the sole professor of geotechnical engineering at PSU, and Portland is the only city in Oregon with a geotechnical department.

“It’s an underrepresented field of study,” Smith said. “The faculty in this field hasn’t been fitted to the issue yet, though we need to fit more faculty to geotechnical issues.”

Kincaid said that the group received 54 proposals for grants this year totaling a requested $2.6 million in funding.

Hau Hagedorn, research program manager for the consortium, said that this year’s grant awards totaled just under $1 million. The median grant size for this year’s awards was $50,000 to $60,000, Kincaid said.

The 2006-07 academic year marks the first year the consortium has awarded grants to Oregon university professors and faculty for traffic research. This year, PSU was awarded 10 of the 22 grants given to universities across the state.

The consortium, whose offices are located in the Maseeh College, has partnerships with the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and the Oregon Institute of Technology. The group is designed to award a large variety of grants, and they are very interested in collaboration between the many faculty and campuses involved, Kincaid said.

The funding for grants is awarded based on peer reviews of the proposals, and Kincaid said that the range of proposals is generally very broad. She said that the process of selecting grants takes a lot of time and careful deliberation before grant money is awarded.

“It’s a fairly rigorous peer review process,” Kincaid said. “We are performance-measure driven, so we select the most appropriate proposals before awarding researchers money from our federal sponsors.”

Hagedorn said the consortium plans to announce the grant award winners for the 2007-08 grant cycle sometime in late August. Kincaid said the consortium hopes to award $2.5 million in grants for next year.