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Molinaroli College of Engineering and Computing

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IDEAS Lab leads collaboration efforts for innovative solutions

Engineering solutions are rooted in a rigorous process designed to tackle complex challenges head-on. This process, which is applied to projects such as building a bridge or designing a resilient infrastructure system, starts with a strong foundation: a well-defined design problem. 

In the heart of South Carolina, a dedicated group of experts is taking this approach to a new level, shaping the future of infrastructure resilience and sustainability. At the core of their endeavor is the Innovative Design and Engineering for Advanced Infrastructure Solutions (IDEAS) Laboratory, a collaborative force headed by Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Jasim Imran.

The interdisciplinary effort unites experts from diverse fields, including engineering, public health, behavioral and social sciences and law. Driven by a shared commitment to the public good, the collaborative team leverages their collective knowledge to develop innovative solutions to infrastructure challenges.

At its core, the IDEAS Lab seeks to enhance infrastructure resilience, particularly in disadvantaged communities and regions vulnerable to catastrophic events like hurricanes or floods. 

“It’s really tied to resiliency and those solutions. For instance, how do disadvantaged communities, different populations or geographical areas bounce back from catastrophic events,” says Emily Devereux, College of Engineering and Computing senior director of research development. “When a hurricane happens in South Carolina, not all communities along the coast are going to have the same resiliency. So, what are different solutions that the group can provide to the state to fix infrastructure?” 

The vision for the IDEAS Lab is clear: to bring together a group of multidisciplinary experts who work collaboratively to provide solutions that improve infrastructure resilience, environmental sustainability and equity in communities across the region. The lab aims to make a significant impact on infrastructure challenges.

"As a whole there are significant equity concerns. When a new roadway or water supply system is built, you need to make sure that it benefits people equitably. You need social science experts involved to build the foundation for meaningful relationships from the ground up,” Imran says. “It's challenging to bring together social scientists and engineers, making it imperative to foster an environment of collaboration.”  

Facilitating collaboration among researchers is one of the primary goals of the IDEAS Lab. As a consortium, the researchers engage in discussions about potential funding opportunities and work together to achieve common objectives.

“He [Imran] knows how to bring people together. He's a collaborator and finds ways to bring people to the floor equitably to give people a chance to contribute because he sees everybody as being very important,” Devereux says. 

While the IDEAS Lab currently operates on a need-based meeting schedule, it is in the process of developing a strategic plan and funding strategy. Although the lab focuses on South Carolina, it has broader regional and national implications. The team has actively pursued grants and research opportunities throughout the Southeast, where extreme weather events and climate-related challenges are increasingly prevalent.

The IDEAS Lab represents an innovative and promising approach to addressing complex infrastructure issues, and its collaborative environment is a testament to the power of interdisciplinary cooperation. As it continues to grow and evolve, the lab will likely play a pivotal role in shaping the future of infrastructure resilience and sustainability.

“We have fantastic faculty, but we could address these bigger problems when collaborating. That’s the purpose of the IDEAS Lab,” says Jorge Crichigno, Integrated Information Technology professor and IDEAS Lab member. 

The driving force behind the IDEAS Lab is the pursuit of a holistic approach for a multidisciplinary team dedicated to making a positive difference in the community.

“While constructing buildings, dams, turbines and other infrastructure is vital, there often exists a disconnect,” Imran says. “The collaboration with social scientists is essential because they focus on the human aspect, and whether the benefits are only for the rich or the benefit of society.” 

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