Widening partnerships

In 2011, UMI created an “OpenLab” in Metz with PSA ­Peugeot-­Citroën, the largest car manufacturer in France, and other partners. Faculty and graduate students there are designing new “smart” materials such as lightweight composites and sensors. PSA Peugeot plans to draw on Georgia Tech’s expertise to create a think tank for mobility innovation.

Companies traditionally must wait for cutting-edge research to transfer from the laboratory to a development stage before they can take a new idea to market. “Because PSA Peugeot is now a partner in our lab, we could increase the speed from research breakthroughs to applications in auto manufacturing,” said Ougazzaden.

In 2017, CNRS created an international OpenLab in Morocco with partners from 10 local universities, the Moroccan government, UMI, and PSA Peugeot. The Morocco Open Lab will explore technologies and processes for next-generation electric vehicles and renewable energy. Morocco is attracting European and U.S. manufacturers and universities, creating a new R&D ecosystem to develop technologies for mobility and energy sectors.


In the heart of the European Union, Lorraine is also host for Georgia Tech’s largest international program, drawing more than 600 students each year, noted Vicki L. Birchfield, a professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs who has begun a five-year assignment in Metz. She is co-director of the Center for European and Transatlantic Studies (CETS), which provides research, teaching, and public outreach on the European Union and EU-U.S. relations..

“My mission is to help build and expand the curriculum at Georgia Tech Lorraine,” said Birchfield. “We plan to offer Ivan Allen College courses so we can attract those majors to spend a semester in Metz. We also want to offer our courses for engineering students studying abroad here to help them better understand France and Europe today. The campus is ideally located in a historic city and region that lies at the commercial, cultural, and industrial crossroads of Europe — and a site of three major wars that ultimately shaped the peaceful postwar reconstruction of Europe. That makes the GTL campus an ideal locale for teaching our students about the origins and peaceful evolution of the European Union, which is one of the most important economic, political, and scientific partnerships that the United States has.”

Institut Lafayette: R&D innovations in optoelectronics

Institut Lafayette: R&D innovations in optoelectronics

French government, academic, and industry leaders continue to strengthen collaborations with Georgia Tech Lorraine. “Our partners in France have witnessed the benefits of teaching and research activities in Metz,” said Bernard Kippelen, Joseph M. Pettit Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “They’ve wanted to add innovation and economic development, for which Georgia Tech is well known.”

Bernard Kippelen in a lab coat seated at a bench, holding a small piece of technology while several grad students look on

Bernard Kippelen

In 2011, Georgia Tech and French partners created the nonprofit Institut Lafayette, with funding of 25 million euros from local, regional, and national government agencies. Its assets include a 5,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art cleanroom and innovation center. UMI researchers have access to the Institut Lafayette for process fabrication and for training Ph.D. students and researchers in entrepreneurship and startup creation.

Institut Lafayette researchers are developing new optoelectronics with organic and/or inorganic materials for applications in transistors, lasers, light-emitting diodes, sensors, and photovoltaic cells.  

It offered the first pilot program for customer discovery adapted from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) curriculum. I-Corps assists faculty and graduate students in the commercialization of their research and the development of new companies. Georgia Tech was among the first nodes in the I-Corps Network, and on the Atlanta campus, Georgia Tech’s I-Corps node is part of the Enterprise Innovation Institute.

Kippelen, co-founder and co-president of the Institut Lafayette with Ougazzaden, explained, “Governments and companies are coming to us because Georgia Tech provides teaching, research, and innovation and economic development — we offer all those ingredients, making us a higher-value proposition for partnerships.”

Georgia Tech’s investments in Lorraine are paying off mightily. “Building our presence in Europe has been challenging at times,” said Berthelot, “but it has created many new opportunities and enhanced our international reputation, which is absolutely essential. All over the world, we are harnessing the power of our alumni who help us establish partnerships and activities that benefit Georgia Tech.”

Georgia Tech is also working in Central America, South America, Saudi Arabia, Korea, and the Pacific Islands.

Panama: World logistics laboratory

Panama is blessed with world-class trade infrastructure, including the Panama Canal and very large container ports on both the Atlantic and the Pacific. The Central American nation, however, is geographically small with limited land available to expand port facilities and widen overcrowded roads.

“One ongoing project looks at interactions between Panama’s ports and road networks,” said Don Ratliff, Regents’ Professor Emeritus in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering. “The port of Balboa, on the Pacific side, is situated at the very edge of Panama City. Traffic in the city is a big factor in limiting movements of containers, and moving containers is a big factor causing problems with traffic in the city. These are not independent things. Panama is as close as we could get to a logistics laboratory, allowing us to study how all these different logistics interact with each other.”

Ratliff is the co-director of the Georgia Tech Panama Logistics Innovation and Research Center (LIRC) staffed by logistics professionals, many of them Georgia Tech-trained, in Panama City. LIRC is the latest addition to the Atlanta-based Georgia Tech Supply Chain and Logistics Institute (SCL), the largest research institute of its kind in the world.

In Panama, LIRC provides technical advice to the Logistics Cabinet, a body of top government officials with responsibilities in this field, explained Ratliff. “We try to help them address their hardest technical logistical problems in the smartest way.”

Costa Rica: Productivity and collaboration

The Georgia Tech Center for Productivity in San Jose, Costa Rica, is a foundation working in partnership with the local government, major universities, and the private sector.

“The center’s aim is to transfer knowledge and execute projects designed to increase the country’s productivity through topics like trade facilitation logistics, and to streamline key public processes that foster growth,” said Emmanuel Hess, the center’s director. The center also provides a focal point for collaboration among Georgia Tech, Costa Rican universities, and local nongovernmental organizations to provide international educational opportunities for students from both countries.

Saudi Arabia: Improving energy decisions

Oil and gas companies, which rely on subsurface imaging, could make faster, more economical, and more accurate drilling decisions with the aid of new machine learning, computational interpretation, and advanced signal processing algorithms developed by the joint Center for Energy and Geo Processing (CeGP) in Atlanta and Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

The CeGP is a partnership between Georgia Tech and King Faud University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM).

“This collaboration brings Georgia Tech’s expertise in digital signal processing and machine learning to new applications that are critical to the region and worldwide,” said Ghassan AlRegib, CeGP director and professor of electrical and computer engineering. “We could reach valuable subsurface details in a shorter time for drilling decisions by automating the process of creating and analyzing high-resolution images.” CeGP researchers’ long-term goal is to automate the entire process of subsurface imaging with wireless technologies and artificial intelligence.

Another aim of the CeGP is to create new educational programs with partners in the region. Under the auspices of Georgia Tech Professional Education, AlRegib and his colleagues developed master’s degree programs in sustainable electric power systems and information security for Aramco employees in Saudi Arabia. The first cohort from each program graduated in fall 2016.

Georgia Tech also partners with KFUPM in a successful student exchange program. Arriving at the Atlanta campus, KFUPM students are paired with Georgia Tech students, sharing an academic year’s experiences through leadership programs, community service work, and other activities. “When KFUPM students return home,” said AlRegib, “they are the best ambassadors for Georgia Tech.”

Korea: Making materials smarter

Smarter materials are changing the way we live and work and play.

“When we talk about lifestyle innovation, the most important element is materials,” said Sundaresan Jayaraman, the Kolon Professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering and the Ernest Scheller Jr. College of Business. “New materials are in your mobile phone or the car you drive, for instance. The question is how we can make these materials smarter and applicable to you so that your lifestyle can be enhanced.”

Jayaraman is director of the Kolon Center for Lifestyle Innovation (KCLI), a new interdisciplinary research and development center. Supported by an initial five-year, $3 million investment from Kolon Industries, the center addresses advanced materials and manufacturing. Sungmee Park, a College of Engineering distinguished alumna, played a critical role in working with Kolon and Georgia Tech to establish the center.

Georgia Tech KCLI researchers will develop new materials, processes, and systems in a wide array of emerging technologies that could bring about lifestyle innovations. “This is a fantastic opportunity for Georgia Tech to work on cutting-edge problems with a major corporation and have these concepts eventually implemented and transformed into real-world products,” said Jayaraman. KCLI will also support research fellowships for graduate and undergraduate students.

Georgia is a major trading partner with South Korea, and many South Korean companies have facilities in Georgia. “One of our long-term goals,” said Jayaraman, “is to use this center as a way to promote commerce and economic development between the state of Georgia and South Korea.”

Latin America: The role of genetics

Someday, scientists could improve public health interventions — including personalized medical treatments and outreach programs — by understanding a population’s genetic ancestry. And someday scientists could help farmers choose the most effective bio-fertilizers by understanding the genetic makeups of microbes living in and around their crops.

“When you drill down to the molecular level of an organism and look at its genome, you find the same kind of information whether it’s a person or a plant or a bacterium,” said King Jordan, associate professor and director of the Bioinformatics Graduate Program at Georgia Tech. “That means we can use many of the same genomic technologies to address very different areas of research.” The Jordan lab is working closely with local collaborators to build genomic capacity in service of public health and economic development in Latin America.

Two hands digging into the earth with a piece of sugar cane and its roots held between them

Georgia Tech scientists are working with collaborators in Colombia to characterize the bacteria that live in association with sugar cane and help promote plant growth. This image shows the root zone of a sugar cane plant.

Researchers are studying relationships between genetic ancestry and determinants of health in the Choco province of Colombia on the Pacific coast. “We rely on previous work that characterized genetic variants in the ancestral population groups to help understand their health profiles from a genetic perspective,” said Jordan. “We found that the Afro-Colombian population on the Pacific coast has substantially more resistance to malaria than do other Colombian populations.” In Colombia and Panama, Georgia Tech researchers plan to study ancestry-associated genetic variants associated with type 2 diabetes and drug response profiles to provide more targeted treatments.

Jordan’s team is also working with a Colombian sugar cane company — and the lab of Joel Kostka in the Georgia Tech School of Biological Sciences — to characterize the microorganisms that live in their soils and plants, eventually allowing researchers to identify native bio-fertilizers best suited to the local environment. “We’re helping countries in Latin America create their own local capacity to do this kind of high-tech work in the life sciences,” said Jordan, “both in the development of technology and training of students and faculty in collaborating institutions.”

Pacific Islands: Reading climate records

Across the vast Pacific basin, Kim Cobb plunges into two very different ecosystems — warm coral reefs and dark, winding caves — to measure geological climate records left behind.

In tropical Pacific Ocean waters, Cobb dives for coral skeletons that recorded sea surface temperatures across millennia of El Niño events. El Niño is a periodic natural ocean warming that drives extreme changes in temperature, droughts, and storms that can cause destruction in many regions around the world. Each El Niño event begins with rising sea surface temperature in the central tropical Pacific Ocean and fades with falling temperatures in that region.

An underwater photo of Kim Cobb scuba diving just above a coral reef and touching it with a plastic cylindrical instrument

Researcher Kim Cobb installs a temperature and salinity recording package on a Christmas Island reef to remotely monitor conditions. The photo was taken in November 2016 after a massive El Niño ocean warming devastated the reef.

“My research site is located on a small atoll in the middle of the Pacific, and in the heart of where El Niño is born and dies,” said Cobb, Georgia Power Chair and ADVANCE Professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “Corals grow 10 to 20 millimeters per year, so we can get one to two data points per month because they are growing so fast,” she said.

A new analysis shows that during the past 50 years the average El Niño warming has become more intense, which may signal an early response to increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Meanwhile, Shelby Ellis, a graduate student on Cobb’s research team, is hunting past El Niños in stalagmites from the caves of northern Borneo. El Niño’s effect on rainfall in northern Borneo is larger than anywhere else. The El Niño signal seeps into the ground as it rains, and should be locked into stalagmites that grow through time. They generally grow very slowly, but Ellis is working with several fast-growing stalagmites that could provide enough resolution to record individual El Niño events.

“We now have climate archives in ice cores, tree rings, deep sea sediments, tropical corals, and cave stalagmites, and each archive has a different strength and sensitivity,” Cobb noted. “All of these records combined can be used to tease out climate change signals that are already emerging from the background of natural variability.”

John H. Tibbetts is a freelance writer based in Charleston, South Carolina.

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