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UC researchers continue to blaze new trails in science, medicine, business, education, engineering and the arts — literally transforming the way we live, work and learn.

Research + Innovation Week: A celebration of UC research

Findings Staff Report | March 16, 2021

When Prof. J. Antonio Islas-Munoz, head of the University of Cincinnati’s Transportation Design Program, thinks about mobility in the future—how humans will get themselves and their things from Point A to Point B—he anticipates enormous change, not far down the road.

“The sharing economy, the super internet, cleaner renewable energies—we have all these things happening at the same time,” Islas-Munoz says. “It’s very likely that in a few decades our cities—and other places that we live, work and play—are going to look very different. How people, products and services are transported will look very different, too.”

"The days of relying on styling and sculpture to create our future transportation designs are on their last legs, Islas-Munoz says. Tomorrow’s vehicles demand to be made from cutting-edge technology and the wisdom of other disciplines. “We want our designers to be strategic actors, not spectators, in the mega trends coming,” Islas-Munoz says.

That’s why, with UC’s support, Islas-Munoz co-created the Future Mobility Center in the at the Ullman School of Design. “We are becoming a vision of what design studios can be in the future,” Islas-Munoz says. A place where students learn to conceptualize and design the machines that will one day move us using technology and equipment not commonly found in design studios, such as virtual reality systems and virtual scanners. 

This is Digital Futures, or at least one cog in an intricate wheel of research activities being assembled under the Digital Futures initiative, a big part of Research2030—UC’s newly unveiled plan to become one of the nation’s a Top 25 Public Research University in the next 10 years.

Digital Futures is the name, too, of the state-of-the-art research facility—the mind-hive for Digital Futures research—being constructed in Cincinnati’s emerging Innovation District at the intersection of Reading Road and Martin Luther King Drive near Interstate 71.

And Digital Futures is the theme of this year’s all-virtual Research + Innovation Week, March 29-April 2. Come learn the DF story and become part of the action. Digital Futures is about advancing imaginative, collaborative and use-inspired research that creates better futures for us all.

Digital Futures is about ‘Disruptive Ideas’

The Future Mobility Center at DAAP is one of countless disruptive ideas being explored by researchers across the University of Cincinnati. Throughout R+I Week, we’ll show off many of them—including some that are just getting off the ground.

Your first opportunity is on Monday, March 29, when all are invited to hear some of our brightest researchers pitch new transdisciplinary research ideas as part of the Collaborative Research Advancement Pilot Grants program. Throughout the day, 15 UC researchers from across UC’s many colleges and units, will give a 10-minute presentation and conduct a Q/A live with judges. The grant program funds projects that embrace intellectual diversity and address a societal issue of significance. Up to eight $25,000 internal research grants will be awarded. Watch for time slots to be added to the Monday calendar and witness the start of some pretty important work.

A second opportunity comes from our student entrepreneurs. The Innovation Quest Elevator Pitch Competition is a bit like Shark Tank. Watch videos on start-up ideas put together by teams of undergrads beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 31. The UC Center for Entrepreneurship & Commercialization has organized this popular competition for years and with the support of Lindner College of Business doles out $200,000 in awards. Winners will be announced at the virtual event.

Digital Futures is about ‘Applied Solutions’

All too often, research is conducted on communities and not by and for communities, says Jess Kropczynski, an assistant professor in the School of Information Technology with a doctorate in sociology. The results, at times, are skewed, biased—or worse—sow inequality.

The good news is UC sees the value in involving those in the community from the start, to design research activities with their opinions, knowledge and experiences in mind. So much so, that last year UC formed the Community Change Collaborative with the goal of becoming a leader of best practices in community-engaged research. C3, as it’s called, will have a home inside Digital Futures when doors open.

The collaborative will build on the momentum that already exists at UC for community-engaged research, says Kropczynski, one of three UC researchers leading the collaborative. When they asked for a call of hands of faculty researchers already doing community-partnered research, more than 50 individuals reached back. “That was only those declaring they do the work,” Kropczynski says. Since then, we’ve heard about and connected with a whole lot more.”

R+I Week is a perfect place for C3 is begin building partnerships—“real partnerships”—says Kropczynski, and so the collaborative has organized an event around the topic of Equitable Cities from 2-3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 30. A series of community members and UC faculty have been invited to discuss Greater Cincinnati’s community assets, and how they could be better leveraged to create a more equitable Cincinnati. In this time and space, UC can begin to understand what the community wants to prioritize when it comes to community-engaged research, Kropczynski says.

“We strongly encourage members of our community to attend,” Kropczynski says. “We’re very interested in hearing their voices.”

Kropczynski expects there will also be some research ideas presented as part of the first round of Community Change Collaborative grants, open to teams of researchers from any UC college or unit. Applicants are invited to share their idea and receive feedback at the Tuesday event. C3 will issue up to $50,000 in grants to up to five proposals. Interested researchers can learn more in the Request for Proposals.

Digital Futures is about ‘Real-world impacts’

Digital Futures is being formed with precision, bringing forward UC’s research strengths and better positioning them together to make real impacts on our local, regional and global communities. More than a dozen labs have formed to hone-in on the challenges ahead in the areas of Mobility & Exploration, Future Health, Resilience & Recovery and Safety & Security.

Inside Digital Futures, the building, all of it will come together. Learn all about the new research facility at Introduction to Digital Futures, 1-2:20 p.m. on Wednesday, April 1. The panel features those responsible for turning the Digital Future vision into reality: UC’s Vice President for Research Patrick Limbach; Associate Vice President for Research Jennifer Krivickas; Associate Vice President of Planning Design & Construction John Seibert and GBBN Principal Zach Zettler.

Want to understand the even bigger picture? Attend the virtual R+I Week Kick-off 4-6 p.m. on Monday, which includes a presentation on how Digital Futures fits into Research2030, UC’s 10-year strategic plan to become a Top 25 Public Research University by 2030. There’s an inspirational keynote planned and a Q/A with university leadership. 

Maybe, you’re more interested in specific areas of research: like artificial intelligence, literacy, advanced air mobility or democracy in our digital age—check out the Flashpoint Series of panels on Wednesday. Plus, there are pertinent discussions on research dilemmas and ethical issues, such as the complexities of citizen science and human genome research, surveillance and AI bias, being held at lunchtime each day.

Truly, something for everyone.

“We are thrilled to be able to introduce the work being done by so many great researchers at UC and invite our UC research community and the greater Cincinnati community to come together during R+I Week and find a way to play their own role in improving our digital futures through research,” Vice President for Research Limbach says.

Visit the R+I/21 website for all of the details. Hope to see you March 29-April 2.