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Transforming Research 2023

May 2023

image of hands putting puzzle pieces together in front of a bright background

CERES launches successfully

New electronic grants and agreements system goes live

On April 24, an 18-month engagement between Northwestern Sponsored Research and Northwestern Information Technology culminated with the successful and on-time launch of CERES (SEAR-eez) and the associated analytics environment. This major enhancement, which replaced the InfoEd system, is intended to strengthen processes, maximize efficiency and support continued growth of Northwestern research. Congratulations to the project team, and thanks to the entire research community, especially the departmental change agents, for making this huge undertaking a success! Read more here.

Biohub Town Hall highlights mission, scientific engagement

More than 600 faculty, staff and students from Northwestern and partner institutions University of Chicago and University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) are convening for an inaugural CZ Biohub Chicago Town Hall on May 25. The hourlong virtual event features an introduction by Biohub president and Northwestern professor Shana Kelley (chemistry and biomedical engineering). The program also includes a panel discussion and Q&A with Kelley and Biohub Executive Committee members Jeff Hubbell and Rashid Bashir. Attendees will learn more about the Biohub’s transformative life sciences mission to create new technologies that enable precise, molecular-level measurements of biological processes within human tissue. Members of the research community also will gain insight about how they can participate in the Biohub’s breakthrough investigations.

 Stoddart 'farewell' lecture a science showcase 

On May 24, Northwestern is celebrating the long and storied research career of Sir Fraser Stoddart, Board Trustees Professor of Chemistry, who is retiring this year. Stoddart is delivering a 60-minute farewell lecture that will feature highlights from his decades of scientific investigations—including research that earned him a 2016 Nobel Prize for his work in the design and synthesis of molecular machines. The event is co-sponsored by the Office for Research, the International Institute for Nanotechnology, the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Chemistry. The lecture, which takes place in the Technological Institute on the Evanston campus, will recognize Stoddart’s 15-year Northwestern tenure. The program includes a moderated Q&A and remarks by Weinberg Dean Adrian Randolph and others.  A reception will follow the discussion.

Export controls and fundamental research

Academic freedom is a foundational principle that informs Northwestern’s research. The University does not enter into agreements to conduct classified (“secret”) research, nor does it agree to requirements that restrict the freedom of a scholar to publish or disseminate findings. The University also seeks to avoid discrimination based on citizenship status. Simply foregoing these freedoms, regardless of intent, may trigger federal export control regulations.  By not accepting publication or foreign person restrictions, NU can generally operate under the Fundamental Research Exclusion (FRE). This exclusion largely limits the impact of export control regulations on Northwestern’s research activities. In most instances, the FRE allows the University to conduct research without obtaining licenses before sharing controlled technology or data with non-U.S. persons. The FRE does not apply in some instances: shipping items internationally or foregoing publication to protect intellectual property. FRE also does not apply if the University agreed to restrictions on a publication or foreign person involved in the research. Violating export control regulations may bring civil or criminal penalties, so contact the  Export Controls & International Compliance  team with any questions you have about these regulations. Please also see the  Export Control policy  and this  video  for more details. 

Coming soon: eIACUC upgrades

Upgrades to eIACUC are coming!  System upgrades are necessary to support the eIACUC platform and to facilitate and support the research across the Office for Research.  The upgrade from version 6 to version 10 will include a new design, feel and user experience. New features include a sidebar navigation panel, a central dashboard within the laboratory login, as well as changes to the reviewer comment function.  Please look for the next IACUC News You Can Use to find upcoming training event registration links and office hours.

New interdisciplinary model for mental health

In the recent inaugural issue of Nature Mental Health, Institute for Policy Research (IPR) psychologist Robin Nusslock and his colleagues propose a “circuits to communities” model to include alternative approaches to the causes, prevention and treatment of mental health problems. The model integrates insights from multiple disciplines with the goal of developing targeted, personalized, and scalable treatment. Among other recent IPR research is an effort to make water insecurity visible.  IPR anthropologist Sera Young co-led a regional Latin American meeting in Mexico City, co-hosted by Northwestern, to develop a consensus around measuring food and water insecurity. The Water Insecurity Experiences (WISE) Scales that Young helped develop have become a U.N. Sustainable Development Goal Indicator. Over 60 thought leaders attended, including representatives from UNICEF and the U.N. World Food Program.

April 2023

Portrait of faculty leaders in front of purple, white and silver balloons at the annual Day With Northwestern event on the Evanston campus

Day With Northwestern highlights research innovation 

At annual event, faculty leaders share insights on ‘the science of startups’ and research translation

For over 50 years, “A Day With Northwestern” has drawn more than 300 alumni, students, parents and friends to Evanston annually for a full day of presentations and lectures on subjects from prominent Northwestern faculty and alumni. This year’s event on April 22 began with an engaging panel discussion featuring Shana Kelley(chemistry and biomedical engineering), Chad Mirkin (chemistry and biological engineering) and Milan Mrksich(chemistry and biomedical engineering). Moderated by Associate Vice President for Innovation and New Ventures Lisa Dhar, the conversation highlighted Northwestern’s university-wide research institutes and centers (URICs) as catalysts for cross-disciplinary discovery and translation. The panelists, all successful entrepreneurs affiliated with a URIC, shared an overview of their research and how they created businesses from their intellectual property. In his introductory remarks, Vice President for Research Mrksich outlined the strategic vision for the URICs, underscoring their role in driving breakthrough science with real-world impact and situating these hubs within Northwestern’s innovation ecosystem, which includes INVO, the Querrey InQbation Lab and The Garage. Mrksich also noted how NU’s cross-disciplinary approach to research has made an impact for the region—most recently through the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Chicago led by Kelley. Other sessions at the daylong event explored AI, economics, the media, engineering and medicine, and the arts.  Pictured from left: Dhar, Mirkin, Kelley, Mrksich and NU aluma and trustee Kristin McDonnell, who delivered the day's opening remarks. Photo by Matt Golosinski

CERES has arrived!

The Sponsored Research team is excited to announce that  CERES went live on Monday (4/24) as Northwestern’s new Grants and Agreements administration management system. Congratulations to the project teams and  change agents who put in an impressive effort to make this implementation a success. Learn more on the  Sponsored Research website.

New resource for HERD Survey

Each year, Accounting Services for Research and Sponsored Programs (ASRSP) submits data on Northwestern’s research activities to the NSF via the   Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) Survey. Proposals are now required to include category information used in this survey, so ASRSP has developed a   reference page  to assist administrators. Questions on the survey can be directed to Costing Manager   Pooja Thakkar

Kellogg students selected to be Kellogg-Q Entrepreneurial Residents

The Querrey InQbation Lab selected three Kellogg students--Nikita Bhatia ’24, Soubhik Bardhan ’23 and Lucianna Shinye ’24--as the inaugural cohort for the Kellogg-Q Entrepreneurial Residency, a program offering a structured channel to embed MBA candidates within University-wide research institutes and centers (URICs), while offering research scientists an opportunity to gain insight into potential commercialization paths for their technologies.  The MBA students elected to spend the spring quarter with the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) and the Querrey Simpson Institutes for Bioelectronics (QSIB).

Advancing DEI and J in research; IRB Brown Bag invitation

Help the IRB Office address DEI&J challenges in human research by completing a  SURVEY and enter a raffle to win one of five NU-themed prizes, with a drawing on May 5! Visit our  FAIR website for more information.  Also, please join us May 17 for our next IRB Brown Bag Session as we approach human research protections through the lens of research integrity. More information can be found on the event  REGISTRATION page.

DEI advocates honored at OR Town Hall 

At the April 19 Office for Research Town Hall, OR DEI Director Aisha Ghori Ozaki announced the latest winners of the office’s DEI Advocate Award. This distinction, among other things, recognizes those who “demonstrate courage and bravery to advance DEI in OR.” Those honored were Lucas Sikorski (IRB Office) and Shandra White (formerly of Sponsored Research). Congratulations to Lucas and Shandra! Nominations for Q2 are now open; any member of the Office for Research can nominate themselves or an OR colleague for the award. Learn more.


March 2023

Program of African Studies director Chris Abani leads a discussion in Northwestern Libraries.

Transforming Research to transform the world

Welcome to the inaugural edition of “Transforming Research,” the monthly newsletter from the Office for Research. The publication’s new name reflects a theme highlighted in our recent video portfolio showcasing our University-wide institutes and centers. It also suggests that every member of Northwestern’s research community—faculty, staff and students—plays an active part in advancing our high-impact work. As Vice President for Research Milan Mrksich writes : “At Northwestern, we transform what we’ve learned yesterday to create whole new avenues for tomorrow.”

Northwestern to lead major life sciences biohub

After a yearlong, highly competitive process involving nearly 60 elite teams, Northwestern was selected to co-lead the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Chicago. This collaborative research hub will attract the region’s best scientists to study inflammation and develop innovative tools to measure human biology. NU’s Shana O. Kelley (chemistry, biomedical eng.) will serve as the hub’s president. “The CZ Biohub Chicago will become a global destination,” said VPR Milan Mrksich, who co-led the multi-institutional effort. “We assembled a real ‘dream team’ that enabled us to compete at the highest levels.”

Northwestern hosts gravitational-wave summit

Northwestern researchers were a critical part of the 2015 landmark discovery of gravitational waves. Since that thrilling detection of these ripples in the fabric of spacetime, more than 90 new signals have been discovered. NU continues to play a part in advancing this work, including by hosting a major global conference this month bringing hundreds of researchers to Evanston. The multiday event, including public lectures, was coordinated by the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA), one of 35 University-wide institutes and centers.

Export controls and 'clean' laptops

Faculty, staff, and students (“travelers”) commonly take their laptops, cell phones, and other portable storage devices containing information and software (“devices”) outside the U.S. Doing so is routine and generally acceptable. Sometimes, though, travelers may be improperly “exporting” the device and its information under the U.S. export control laws. Such “exports” may require a license or documented exception from the federal government. You may also want to travel abroad with a   “clean” laptop ,  ensuring that no sensitive information is compromised. Visit Export Controls and International Compliance  for guidance. If you think you need a license or a documented exception, or if you have any questions, please contact   Amy Weber.

CERES go-live date approaching

Our research community is about six weeks away from the InfoEd to CERES transition. Please note the   cutover dates and deadlines and take the   CERES 101 class in myHR Learn   to familiarize yourself with the new system. Training for RAs will begin later this month; watch for scheduling information from your unit. Upcoming faculty communications will focus on the new system changes that are relevant for researchers.  

CSB researchers unlock waste-eating bacteria 

As we look to a more sustainable energy future, an array of technologies is needed. Center for Synthetic Biology researcher Ludmilla Aristide (civil and environmental eng.) and team are unlocking the potential of microorganisms that could convert plastic waste into new products. Coupling state-of-the-art metabolomics, transcriptomics, and proteomics, the researchers elucidated multilevel regulation patterns governing the degradation of lignin and plastics-related compounds in   Comamonas testosteroni KF-1. Understanding these patterns and using metabolic fine-tuning could lead to the use of this organism for sustainable biotechnology.

February 2023

New leadership for thriving synthetic biology center

Interdisciplinary innovation hub pursues basic science and translational breakthroughs

McCormick School professors Julius Lucks and Danielle Tullman-Ercek (both chemical and biological engineering) have been named co-directors of Northwestern's Center for Synthetic Biology ( CSB). Launched in 2016, CSB is part of NU's cross-disciplinary ecosystem of 35 University-wide Research Institutes and Centers (URICs). It has attracted renowned researchers seeking innovative ways to reprogram cells and cellular components to take on new, specialized purposes, such as creating sustainable chemicals or next-generation materials and targeted therapeutics. CSB has 21 affiliated faculty members who have produced seven startups in just the past two years. Explore the full story.

CERES testing underway

CERES End-to-End Testing is in full swing, as participants test various scenarios in the system to ensure CERES is ready for Go-Live in April. The FAQ page is regularly updated with feedback received during testing. New agreements and subawards concepts overviews have been released, and CERES Training Materials will be available shortly.

New IACUC metrics visualization

Research Analytics, in collaboration with the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and Research IT, has revamped IACUC metrics. The updated dashboard lets the NU community obtain real-time insights about the IACUC workload. The dashboard provides analysis for turnaround times, submissions into the IACUC office, active protocols, and other key metrics.

New seed funding for research

The Office for Research, with the support of multiple Northwestern schools, the Office for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, and the Provost's Office, is pleased to offer a call for proposals by faculty seeking seed funding for collaborative and interdisciplinary research. The research must be focused on topics related to race, ethnicity, racial or ethnic discrimination, structural racism, or approaches to reducing discrimination and promoting equity and justice at the individual, community, structural, legal or policy levels. Deadline for application: April 10. Learn more .

Research translation making an impact

NU research continues to fuel market innovation with faculty startups enjoying success. In January, SAMDI Tech , an NU biotech spinout that provides automated screening for early-stage drug invention, was acquired by pharmaceutical services giant Charles River Laboratories in a $50 million cash deal. SAMDI was founded in 2011 by Milan Mrksich , NU’s vice president for research and co-founder of the Center for Synthetic Biology . In December, Surgical Innovation Associates , an NU spin-out co-founded in 2016 by inventor Dr. John Kim (surgery), Alexei Mlodinow (MD/MBA ’20), and Todd Cruikshank (MBA ’17), was acquired by Integra Life Sciences for up to $140 million after reaching FDA 510k clearance for its product DuraSorb® This month, NanoGraf , a lithium-battery startup rooted in the research of Harold Kung (chemical and biological engineering) and Jiaxing Huang (materials science and engineering), raised $65 million to help it build up its 17,000-square-foot Chicago production facilities after winning a $10 million Department of Defense contract last fall. In addition, Mattiq , the developer of a revolu-tionary approach to sustainably produce chemicals and fuels, recently secured $15 million in seed funding. Formerly known as Stoicheia, Mattiq, co-founded by Chad Mirkin (chemistry), also announced it hired veteran Silicon Valley executive Jeff Erhardt as CEO.

Boosting quantum computing performance 

Quantum computers depend on quality building blocks, notably qubits: devices that store and manipulate information in quantum form. NU researchers affiliated with the Superconducting Quantum Materials and Systems ( SQMS ) Center are making exciting progress in characterizing and boosting the quality of superconducting qubits. The DOE-funded SQMS Center is led by Fermilab and, at Northwestern, operated through the Center for Applied Physics and Superconducting Technologies ( CAPST ). Venkat Chandrasekhar (physics and astronomy) and team are performing highly sensitive electronic measurements of Josephson junctions, elements common to every superconducting qubit. These challenging measurements, conducted at nearly absolute zero, are expected to shed new light on qubit performance. Meanwhile, the groups of James Rondinelli , Mark Hersam , and Mike Bedzyk (all materials science and engineering) have discovered how the formation of certain silicides (an unwanted byproduct in qubit nanofabrication) negatively affects qubit performance. Rondinelli's supercomputer-powered computational studies and Hersam's and Bedzyk's comprehensive materials characterization of qubit samples point to a new way to increase qubit quality by controlling silicide formation. Learn more .

Apprentice program  invites diverse voices

The Office for Research continues to create new opportunities to enhance its workplace, including by bringing greater diversity to its staff. In January, Sponsored Research began an apprenticeship program with the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC), welcoming second-year CCC students Jack Jeffries to the Subcontracts Management team and Jesus Guerrero to the Awards Management team. Jeffries is majoring in communications and Guerrero is majoring in marketing and management. The year-long Apprenticeship Program is a new partnership with CCC aimed at bringing diverse voices and fresh ideas to our campus while supporting the development of well-trained sponsored research professionals, making them attractive candidates for permanent full-time roles upon completion of the apprenticeship. Welcome Jack and Jesus!

NU quantum networking a Nobel pursuit 

The 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for research efforts that have contributed to the development of technology behind the Illinois‐Express Quantum Network (IEQNET). This joint research project with Northwestern, Fermilab, Argonne National Lab, and Caltech is a metropolitan-scale quantum network testbed that uses deployed optical fiber and other currently available technology. It is one step toward developing a quantum internet — a network in which information is delivered over long distances with qubits, the units of information for quantum computers and networks. IEQNET's design and implementation are outlined in a recent paper. Prem Kumar (physics and astronomy) is a co-author on that paper, which includes several NU graduate students. Learn more .

Science Olympiad comes to Northwestern

NU, in sponsorship with Thermo Fischer Scientific, will host a Division C (high school) tournament Feb. 25 as part of the 2023 Science Olympiad, the country's premier team STEM competition. Since 1984, Science Olympiad has inspired students to explore scientific fields. The Northwestern University Science Olympiad (NUSO) executive board is hosting the daylong event, expected to attract up to 600 students, coaches, and chaperones from metropolitan Chicago and as far away as Ohio. The hands-on experience focuses on STEM: from engineering and design challenges to lab-based physics, biology and astronomy events involving experimental design and more. The Research Safety Student Initiative ( RSSI ), a graduate student-led group supporting NU's culture of lab safety in collaboration with Research Safety , is partnering with NUSO on the event.

ISEN Symposium connects community 

Faculty, industry, students, and community members convened Dec. 1-2 at the ISEN Annual Symposium. They explored the interdisciplinarity of current issues related to Climate and Energy Transition and Resilient Communities. More than 60 panelists represented some 20 disciplines across NU and beyond. Insights and video . Also: The ISEN-Resnick Family Social Impact Fund supported Plant Biology and Conservation graduate student Nyree Zerega's research to trace major lineages of Caribbean breadfruit back to a single introduction from Capt. Bligh's 1791-93 journey. The pioneering work was published in Current Biology .

January 2023

Is your work export controlled?

The Office for Research provides expert resources and guidance for those navigating complex, but crucial, regulatory environments
The  Office for Research dedicates resources to help the Northwestern community navigate export control regulations.   Faculty, staff and students are responsible for complying with federal export control regulations. Violation consequences can be severe, including criminal and civil penalties. Red flags that your activity may be export controlled, include, but are not limited to:
  • Agreement  or contracts with a publication  or foreign person restrictions
  • Equipment has an end-user agreement restricting use, or   is labeled export-controlled or ITAR
  • Shipment is going outside the U.S., or you are hand-carrying an item abroad
  • Activities or work (even virtually) with individuals or  entities in heavily  sanctioned  or embargoed  countries

The   Export Controls and International Compliance  team can assist you.  Please contact ECIC Sr. Director   Amy Weber for guidance.

OR DEI Council and Advocate Award winners announced

Efforts continue office-wide focus on enhancing workplace for all

The Office for Research (OR) was pleased to introduce its DEI Council during a December Town Hall. The Council will help advance OR’s commitment and actions around diversity, equity and inclusion, with members strengthening workplace culture through dialogue and initiatives that foster an environment where all are encouraged to contribute their best. Members of the Council are: Dawn Bradley (VPR Office); Jim Bruning (Research Analytics); Jessica Catania (IACUC); Beth Irwin (IRB Office); Avril Xinyi Liu (Sponsored Research); Tera Moskal (Research IT); Amy Weber (Export Controls/Compliance; Katie Wright (IRB Office); and Lora A. Zygman (Sponsored Research). OR DEI Director Aisha Ghori Ozaki and VPR Milan Mrksich also announced the inaugural winners of the office’s DEI Advocate Award, a distinction that, among other things, recognizes those who “demonstrate courage and bravery to advance DEI in OR.” Individual winners were Edeth Engel (IRB Office) and Jessica Catania (IACUC). Members of the IRB Fair Work Group also won the award for their collective efforts. Learn more .

CERES testing and learning opportunities

The next phase of the CERES Implementation,  end-to-end testing, will take place mid-January through February. Our testers will play an important role in ensuring CERES is ready for the wider Northwestern community prior to the April go-live date.  Visit the  Sponsored Research Administration Transformation Program  to find the latest CERES updates as well as access CERES FAQs, faculty resources, and  overviews of the CERES components.

Entrepreneurial fellows program launched

The Querrey InQbation Lab is excited to announce the launch of the Entrepreneurial Fellows (EFs) Program, a new yearlong program aimed to educate and train the next generation of entrepreneurs. The EF Program offers recent PhD and MBA graduates the chance to partner with faculty and advance NU innovations towards commercial-ization. With mentorship and programming, the EFs will undertake development and commercialization plans aimed at launching an early-stage company.  The InQbation Lab will provide EFs with a salary, benefits and a stipend for supplies and travel. Faculty and students can learn more.    

New reporting aims for integration, excellence

Effective Dec. 1, 2022, Research Safety and the IBC now report to AVP Crista Brawley. The move is intended to  support streamlined and optimized oversight of Northwestern’s research safety program  as well as better align Northwestern’s research regulatory oversight committees.  The University’s commitment to research excellence has long been paired with its sustained and robust dedication to keeping NU’s research community and facilities safe, and Brawley has brought exceptional insights, energy and nearly two decades of higher education leadership experience to her role since joining NU in Dec. 2021. She and colleagues in Research Safety, including Executive Director Michael Blayney, have been focused on recent projects such as the IBC’s new system roll-out ( eIBC), alignment between the regulatory bodies (IACUC, IRB, and IBC), and partnering with the Lurie Cancer Center to offer joint support. Brawley is excited about continuing to promote excellence in research.  

Tips for timely IRB Office approvals

The IRB office shares three tips to help you gain IRB approval in a timely manner.  1. All projects must use the current IRB templates.  Download them from the Protocol Templates and Forms and Consent Templates webpages. 2. Know in advance what you are trying to submit – Human research determination, data/specimen analysis, or research activities involving human research. See the IRB Resources and Guidance Page. 3. Respond to all clarifications accurately and in full. Communicate with the PI or PI Proxy to help ensure they submit in eIRB+ promptly.   

Minogue named interim INVO director

Effective immediately, Andrea Minogue will serve as interim director of INVO during Northwestern’s search for the office’s new executive director. Minogue has been a member of the INVO senior leadership team since 2018, serving as senior director of finance and administration. In that role, she has been responsible for INVO’s financial management strategy as well as contributing to the development and implementation of the organization’s strategic goals throughout the university.  

New class of porous metal nanomolecules

Researchers from Northwestern's International Institute of Nanotechnology  have made a significant advance in the way they produce exotic open-framework superlattices made of hollow metal nanoparticles. Using tiny hollow particles and modifying them with appropriate sequences of DNA, the team found it could synthesize open-channel superlattices with pores ranging from 10 to 1,000 nanometers — sizes that have been difficult to access until now.  The new class of materials will aid in catalysis, chemical sensing and more.

Chemistry of Life Processes/Feinberg workshop targets unmet clinical needs

Fostering team science among Northwestern’s basic scientists and clinicians to address unmet clinical needs was the impetus behind the inaugural Convergence Workshop hosted by Chemistry of Life Processes Institute and the Feinberg School of Medicine. Rex Chisholm, associate vice president for research, provided welcoming remarks.   Explore the story  and video.

Advancing quantum science, workforce DEI

Northwestern’s Jens Koch (physics and astronomy) recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with some of the foremost scientists and engineers working in quantum information science and technology. He attended the White House National Quantum Initiative Centers Summit, representing the Superconducting Quantum Materials and Systems Center (SQMS), for which he is deputy director. The center, a collaboration with Fermilab, is one of many important efforts at the University that harness Northwestern’s cross-disciplinary strengths in quantum research. “We dedicated a lot of time to discussing the necessity of developing a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce, in addition to talking about science,” said Koch, an expert in quantum electronics and superconducting quantum circuits. Learn more.

CSB hosts Synthetic Biology Research Day 

The Center for Synthetic Biology (CSB) recently hosted its first Synthetic Biology Research Day at SQBRC on NU’s Chicago campus. Nearly 50 students, postdocs, staff and faculty attended the event, bringing together synthetic biologists from across the University. The day began with an interactive data visualization workshop, part of CSB’s Research Design and Communication workshop series, which familiarized attendees with the evolution of the scientific figure over the last 150 years, introduced a design-build-test-learn process to visualizing data and provided tips and tools to enhance figure-making skills. Following the workshop, research talks showcased exciting synthetic biology research underway at NU. Attendees learned about new methods to evaluate protein stability, innovative ways of barcoding cells to evaluate disease and using gut bacteria and biofilms to sense and respond to illnesses. Learn more about the Workshop Series or view photos from the event.