IST seed grants support tech projects related to COVID-19

May 14, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The College of Information Sciences and Technology recently announced six projects that will receive funding from the college’s seed grant program. Each project will take different approaches to tackle various challenges and needs related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The college’s seed grant program is designed to jump-start critical research projects that explore innovative ideas that have a short-term impact, as well as those that will position researchers to support, advance and develop long-term solutions to local and global issues.

“COVID-19 has significantly impacted nearly every community across the globe, and it’s crucial to focus efforts on overcoming its effects from every angle.” said Andrew Sears, dean of the College of IST. “This funding will support researchers who are addressing a number of issues related to the current outbreak, as well as investigating methods that could inform preparation and response for future pandemics.”

The six projects selected for funding are:

  • “Annotating COVID-19 Papers Rapidly Using Non-Expert Crowd,” by Ting-Hao “Kenneth” Huang, assistant professor; and C. Lee Giles, David Reese Professor of Information Sciences and Technology. The researchers will use non-expert crowdsourced workers to annotate thousands of abstracts from scientific articles related to the novel coronavirus through the recently launched COVID-19 Open Research Dataset. These annotations will then be released to the research community to aid ongoing work related to the pandemic.
  • “Civic Capacity and ICTs during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” by Xinning Gui, assistant professor. This work will investigate potential sociotechnical ways that could empower civic capacity among ordinary citizens in response to public health emergencies — especially through the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs).
  • “Emergency Management in the Time of Pandemic,” by Andrea Tapia, professor; Jamie Reep, doctoral student and lecturer; and Nick Giacobe, assistant teaching professor. This project aims to develop technologies to address flow of information issues among emergency response teams in a pandemic setting. The researchers will also explore how information sharing needs between emergency management and emergency dispatch are similar or different from other types of disasters.
  • “Informed Social Distancing: An AI Approach to Prevent Future Waves of COVID-19,” by Amulya Yadav, assistant professor; Dongwon Lee, associate professor; and Aiping Xiong, assistant professor. The team aims to develop artificial intelligence-based tools, such as a social distancing GPS mobile phone app, that enable individuals to practice informed social distancing by identifying and avoiding high-risk locations while completing daily activities in public.
  • "Reconstructing Local Community in a World of Physical Separation,” by John M. “Jack” Carroll, distinguished professor of information sciences and technology; and Chun-Hua Tsai, assistant research professor. In this project, the researchers will document traditional and innovative examples of community-building initiatives that have emerged from the COVID-19 outbreak, such as citizens sewing fabric masks for local hospital workers, or traditional brick-and-mortar leisure activities that now meet online. Then, they will distinguish significant emerging practices, explore how people experience these changes and develop a plan for leveraging these innovations in future pandemics or other global crises.
  • “AI Methods and Tools in Response to the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset,” by Prasenjit Mitra, associate dean for research; C. Lee Giles, David Reese Professor of Information Sciences and Technology; and Sharon Huang, associate professor. This project aims to rapidly develop artificial intelligence methods and tools in response to the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset, using natural language processing, text mining, image mining and other AI techniques to generate new insights related to COVID-19 for policy makers and medical experts.

The projects led by Huang and Mitra have also received initial funding through the Coronavirus Research Seed Fund, an initiative launched by the Huck Institute of the Life Sciences that uses Penn State’s unique research strengths to contribute to the global coronavirus response. This funding was provided with support from the Institute for Computational and Data Science.

Last Updated May 27, 2020