Date: June 15, 2016




Keck Futures Initiative Awards $1 Million for 11 Projects


WASHINGTON -- The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative – a project of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine – announced today the recipients of 11 grants awarded to support interdisciplinary projects related to art and science, engineering, and medicine frontier collaborations, the subject of the 13th annual Futures conference, held last November.


"The 2015 conference was a very intense experience during which we asked participants to explore – in three days – important global issues related to the environment and health, for example,” explained David A. Edwards, steering committee chair and Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Idea Translation, Harvard University; core member, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering; and founder and director, Le Laboratoire in Paris, France and Cambridge, Mass.  "It’s been thrilling to see how ideas have emerged with a coherence that was not clearly obvious during the conference.  We believe that the portfolio of collaborations selected will impact how we live today, and how we think about tomorrow.”


These competitive seed grants aim to fill a critical gap in funding for bold new ideas.  Major federal funding programs do not typically provide support in areas that are considered risky or unusual.  The Futures grants allow creative practitioners to start recruiting students and postdocs to the research effort, purchase new equipment, acquire preliminary data, develop prototypes of exhibits, or create new collaborative teams and modes of inquiry -- all of which can position the project to compete for larger awards from other public and private sources.


Listed in alphabetical order -- principal investigators (PIs) first, then co-PIs -- the award recipients and their grant research topics are:


Brandon Ballengée and Prosanta Chakrabarty, Louisiana State University

Sean Miller, John Erickson Museum of Art; SOIL art collective and artist-run space; University of Florida

Rachel Mayeri, Harvey Mudd College

Lise M. Frandsen, Autogena, Sheffield Hallam University (UK)

Jöelle Bitton, Harvard University

Crude Life: A citizen art and science investigation of Gulf of Mexico biodiversity after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill – $100,000

This interdisciplinary art and science project will gather data on endemic fishes affected by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The project will raise public awareness of local species, ecosystems, and regional environmental challenges through community “citizen science” surveys and a portable art-science museum of Gulf biodiversity.


Beth Cardier and Harold Goranson, Sirius-Beta Inc.

Niccolo Casas, RISD Rhode Island School of Design; The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College of London

Patric Lundberg, Eastern Virginia Medical School

Alessio Erioli, Università di Bologna

Richard Ciavarra and Larry Sanford, Eastern Virginia Medical School

Design in Information Flow: Using aesthetic principles to overcome computational barriers in the analysis of complex systems – $50,000

Computer systems struggle with context, producing data silos instead of holistic understanding. This project demonstrates how principles of emergent design can overcome barriers in computational logic by visualizing how information is optimized as it flows among biomedical reference frameworks. This new modeling approach will synthesize informatics, biomedicine, and art.


Mark Cohen, University of California, Los Angeles

Philip Beesley, Philip Beesley Architect Inc.

Sentient Architectural Systems: Transforming architecture by coupling human neurology to interactive responsive building environments – $100,000

This project will explore possibilities for a built, inhabited environment to be sentient by examining the mutual influence between these interactive spaces and people’s well-being and consciousness.  The team will study how a building’s communication and control systems can be developed in ways that actively respond and resonate with human consciousness.


James Crutchfield, Art and Science Laboratory

Asa Calow, Manchester Digital Laboratory (MadLab)

The Institute of Unknown Purpose – $100,000

This project aims to create an unconventional bricks-and-mortar institution that embraces playful experimentation, a sense of mystery, and an exploration of the relationship between science fiction and cutting-edge science fact. The Institute of Unknown Purpose will engage audiences in new ways to make tangible the wonders of modern science.


Genevieve Dion, Drexel University

Randall Kamien and Shu Yang, University of Pennsylvania

Diagnostic Design: Knitted passive probes – $100,000

Garment devices are complex wearable systems blending modes of communication and medical diagnostics. This team includes designers, materials scientists and engineers, and physicists who will create a garment device consisting of nanofibers that can conform to the skin and passively collect and examine sweat to reveal the wearer’s  health.


Petr Janata, University of California, Davis

Jonathan Berger, Stanford University

Kiu Lee, Case Western Reserve University

Scott Auerbach, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

André Thomas, Texas A&M

Fostering Empathy and Improving Focus Through the Groove Enhancement Machine: Facilitating sensorimotor coordination and cooperation among groups of individuals – $100,000

Rhythmic ensemble performance (clapping or drumming) is a popular form of musical interaction that can improve individual and group behavior. This team will build an assistive device to facilitate access to group music-making by reducing the initial frustration of finding a ‘common ground’ in following a pulse.


Brian Korgel, Unviersity of Texas, Austin

Rieko Yajima, Stanford University, Center for Design Research

Youngmoo Kim, Expressive & Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center of Drexel University

Jeffrey Blum, McGill University, Shared Reality Lab

Rachel Field, Vapor Communications Inc.

Empathy Mirror – $100,000

Can technology be used to foster understanding for another’s point of view?  This team will create the Empathy Mirror to immerse users into the mind and body of another, using a combination of touch, smell, sight, and sound. The experience will be designed to counteract the “echo chamber” effect linked to most digital technologies and increase empathy.


Kentaro Toyama, University of Michigan

Sophia Brueckner, Stamps School of Art and Design, University of Michigan

Global Heartbeat: Toward a planet-wide shared experience – $100,000

Digital networks connect people physically but alienate people emotionally. Even as individuals plug into a single communication platform, they fracture into virtual communities. Global Heartbeat aims to be an intermittent mobile phone signal that plants a small seed of global unity through a synchronous common experience.


Clea Waite, University of Southern California

Lise M Frandsen Autogena, Sheffield Hallam University (UK)

Ice-Time /Nuclear-Time: Micro-global perspectives of the Arctic – $75,000

Ice-Time /Nuclear-Time examines altering perceptions of geologic deep time, using Greenland as a unique window into issues of climate change. The project will explore ecological, scientific, and socio-cultural interconnections between the rapidly melting ice sheet and the long-term implications of uranium mining in Greenland.


Timothy Weaver, University of Denver

Jonathan Berger, Stanford University

ECAT -- EcoAcoustic Toolkit for research and the advancement of scientific and creative literacy in ecology – $75,000

Ecoacoustics – an interdisciplinary science that investigates natural and man-made sounds and their relationship with the environment – has deepened our understanding of ecological issues and established profound visceral connections to ecological data. The EcoAcousticToolkit (ECAT) will expand the scope of this research. New software and hardware tools integrating sonification and auralization of endangered environments will be developd to enhance awareness and preservation of acoustic ecologies.


Paul Weiss, University of California, Los Angeles

Ruth West, University of North Texas

Andrea Polli, University of New Mexico

Beth Cardier, Sirius-Beta Inc.

Niccolo Cassas, RISD Rhode Island School of Design; The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College of London

Allison Kudla, Institute for Systems Biology

Towards the ‘InnerNet:’ An integrated sensor analysis of biome/microbiome systems, employing novel interactivity through acoustics and design for personalized health monitoring – $100,000

The InnerNet project considers the whole biophysical system of the body with the goal of understanding how bodily systems ‘talk’ to one another by tapping into communications between the body and the microbiome. This team will explore the development of wearable external and internal sensor arrays for this purpose.


A summary of the conference, "Art and Science, Engineering and Medicine Frontier Collaborations," will be available online in mid-summer at 


Established through a $40 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation in 2003, the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative is a 15-year effort to enhance communication among researchers, funding agencies, universities, and the general public -- with the objective of stimulating interdisciplinary research at the most exciting frontiers.  The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the W.M. Keck Foundation believe considerable scientific progress and social benefit will be achieved by providing a counterbalance to the tendency to isolate research within academic fields.  The Futures Initiative is designed to enable researchers from different disciplines to focus on new questions and entirely new research, and to encourage better communication among scientists as well as between the scientific community and the public.  For more information about NAKFI, please visit  For more information about the W.M. Keck Foundation, please visit 



Molly Galvin, Senior Media Officer


Kimberly Suda-Blake, Senior Program Director, National Academies Keck Futures Initiative



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