New NSF grant to fund water management data ecosystem in Kansas

LAWRENCE — The U.S. National Science Foundation Convergence Accelerator has awarded $650,000 to a team led by University of Kansas scientists to develop a water management data ecosystem that collects water quality and quantity data, models it with machine learning algorithms, and makes insights available on a dashboard for local government officials and state government agencies.

KU researchers will work with Viaanix, an Internet of Things technology company, and officials from the Kansas Water Office for the project, titled "Improving Water Quality and Equity through Sensor Data and Machine Learning Models."

“This project focuses on a technical solution to the pressing water sustainability challenges Kansas faces,” said William Duncan, principal investigator on the project and assistant research professor of data science at KU.

Over the first year of the project, the team anticipates creating a data dashboard for real-time public reporting on water quantity, water quality and water equity.

“While one can view water equity in several ways, our project explores how the water-related actions of one group of Kansas community members undermine the ability of another group to use water in Kansas. The dashboard that our project is developing will help to mitigate this problematic interaction, thus improving water equity,” said Dietrich Earnhart, director of the Center for Environmental Policy and professor of economics at KU.

One aspect of the project will bring students’ skills to bear on the complex challenges of tracking Kansas water. KU mechanical engineering students will design a sensor that will remotely detect the existence of harmful algal blooms and broadcast the data to the network. In addition, students in the Kansas Data Science Consortium Community Data Labs course will work to build the dashboard and collect water data from the many different sources available, including the Kansas Geological Survey.

This award funds the first phase of this project. In August 2024, the team will apply for Phase 2 funding to expand its work.

“The research aligns with the guiding principles of the 2022 Governor’s Water Plan, and KU researchers will team with industry, state agencies and Kansas community partners to help sustain water resources in Kansas,” said Belinda Sturm, director of the Kansas NSF EPSCoR program and interim vice chancellor for research.

The NSF Convergence Accelerator funds teams who seek to apply basic research to pressing social issues. Teams work across disciplines and industries to find solutions that will have long-term social effects. A key part of this program is that teams work through the program with a cohort of other teams, with hands-on education and mentorship.

The Convergence Accelerator’s curriculum, consisting of human-centered design, user discovery, team science, early-stage prototyping and pitch preparation, is designed to provide our funded teams the tools to transition their solutions into practice,” said Douglas Maughan, head of the NSF Convergence Accelerator program. “Phase 1 teams are expected to apply the curriculum, as well as focus on cross-cutting partnerships as most large-scale challenges cannot be solved with a single discipline and expertise.

At the end of Phase 1, teams will participate in a proposal and pitch competition, Maughan said. That will be used in selecting teams for Phase 2.

Millicent Coil, associate professor of the practice in mechanical engineering at KU, will also lead work on the project. Other team members include Bruce Fritz and Jay Talreja from Viaanix, and Wes McCary from the Kansas Water Office.

The Institute for Policy & Social Research supported the proposal and will manage the project.

The research highlights KU’s strength in the study of Earth, Energy & Environment, which is one of the university’s five strategic research themes. Research in this area will increase understanding of the various dimensions and impacts of climate change on human and natural systems, and will develop new technologies and mitigation strategies with an ultimate goal of sustaining the life of the planet and its inhabitants.

Thu, 02/22/2024


Carolyn Caine

Media Contacts

Carolyn Caine

Institute for Policy & Social Research