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Engineering faculty awarded Research Support Program grants

By Cassie Montgomery

Published: Jun 30, 2022 11:00:00 AM

Siyuan Dai and Symone Alexander Siyuan Dai and Symone Alexander

Two Auburn Engineering faculty members earned funding awards from Auburn University’s Research Support Program (RSP). Assistant Professors Symone Alexander from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Siyuan Dai of the Department of Materials Engineering are among nine faculty across the university to receive the funding in 2022.

The RSP provides a competitive internal funding source to support faculty and provide an opportunity for them to experience a small-scale, yet high-quality funding program and refine their projects before competing for larger, external awards.

Alexander’s study, “Decoding Diffusion in Dietary Fiber Networks,” will use a non-destructive 3D imaging technique called nano-computed tomography (Nano-CT) to map the 3D structure of nondigestible fiber during in vitro digestion. The objectives of this work are to design in vitro digestion technology that improves resolution of soft materials with Nano-CT and use 3D mapping to visualize the 3D network structure of fibrous food, the permeation of fluids through the structure, and interactions between food and gut microbiota.

“I envision that this work will become a platform for use of robust, quantitative techniques to heal and nourish with food and will have a transformative impact across disciplines of dietetics, food science and engineering. Specifically, my goal is to revolutionize the treatment of diseases such as end stage kidney disease by enabling us to apply dietary fiber as medicine with specific, predictable outcomes for removal of uremic toxins and gut microbiome interactions,” Alexander said. “This new fundamental understanding of dietary fiber networks will be used to determine key design parameters for development of bio-inspired sorbents. Additionally, the digestion technology and the imaging protocols we develop can set new standards for the characterization and evaluation of food products.”

Dai’s project, “Isotopic van der Waals Engineering for Phononic Light-Matter Interactions,” will involve building engineered structures for layered materials to tune their lattice vibrations.

“This work will develop a new method to tune material properties,” he said. “The award will support us in the proposed research and let us provide more results to compete for external grants.”

The RSP is intended to be an annual cycle funding program to foster the development and growth of innovative and transformational research activities. It builds on faculty expertise, stimulates interdisciplinary collaborations and strengthens seed research activities.

“This was started last year as a pilot version of a larger intramural award program,” said Bob Holm, Auburn University’s associate director of Proposal Services and Faculty Support, the unit that administers the programs. “It enables faculty to participate in a competitive funding program and make improvements to their projects before a commitment to a long-term award program is made. The pilot provides a platform to test what works and what does not.”

Media Contact: Cassie Montgomery,, 334.844.3668

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