NSF Convergence Accelerator research collaboration Incorporates equity, resiliency in design

Women walking up a hill
Ohio State Associate Professor Maria “Maju” Brunette leads a group in Peru addressing health equity through community-based participatory research.

Associate Professor Maria “Maju” Brunette is part of a cross-sector, cross-disciplinary team of researchers working to create a model to design materials from a socially directed science and technology perspective. The end result would be materials that are equitable, ethical and sustainable. 

It’s part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Convergence Accelerator, which brings together multiple disciplines to investigate unique challenges offering innovative solutions. The NSF has awarded $750,000 to a team led by Christine Ortiz, a professor of materials science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder of MIT’s Station1, which integrates science and technology with social sciences in its approach to education, research and entrepreneurship. 

Brunette, who has a joint appointment in Ohio State’s ISE Department and the College of Medicine’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, has participated in programs at Station1 for the past three years and has given talks to engineering students where she has shared foundational principles and effective implementation of community-based participatory research (CBPR). 

She has focused on global public health research for more than 20 years and specializes in CBPR, which equitably involves all participants and recognizes the strengths of each individual. It’s an approach that fits well with Station1’s model of integrating inquiry, impact and inclusion in higher education. Last summer, Ortiz invited Brunette to serve as an external collaborator for the Convergence Accelerator proposal.  

According to the abstract for the award, the project will “re-shape, re-direct and accelerate emergent technical capabilities in materials research and development towards more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable materials-based products and materials-driven outcomes.” Brunette described the first meeting of the group as “thinking out loud” and “being very radical” as they discussed ideas about materials design infused in the equity domain. 

In addition, the abstract notes that, “This research will serve as a basis for undergraduate curriculum development and delivery and include broadening participation through research projects for STEM undergraduate students from historically under-represented backgrounds with an emphasis on participation by students enrolled in under-resourced higher education institutions across the United States.” 

Along with MIT and Ohio State, the team includes Cornell University, Swansea University (Wales) and Citrine Informatics, as well as 13 collaborating partners from industry, consulting firms, government, nonprofits, philanthropic organizations and academia. 

The group will keep meeting and polishing ideas to determine “How we are going to go about implementing ideas with community stakeholders,” Brunette says. “What I would really like to see is a proposal that integrates and adapts community-based participatory research principles for implementation.” 

She says shared-decision making, equitable distribution of research resources, cultural humility and respectfulness are key values to the community-engaged approach


Story by Nancy Richison


Read more about the collaboration here.

Category: Faculty