UT Day on the Hill Showcases “Innovation Changing Lives”

Governor Bill Lee standing with UT President Randy Boyd and all of the UT chancellors.

Flying drones with your mind, a 3D-printed autonomous vehicle, and data making cities smarter and traffic safer are only a few examples of how the University of Tennessee is using innovation to change lives across the state.

With all UT campuses and institutes playing a vital role in bettering the lives of Tennesseans, eight research initiatives were featured during the University’s annual Day on the Hill in Nashville on Wednesday, February 12.

UT leadership advocated for University priorities as they met with numerous state government officials and legislators throughout the day. UT President Randy Boyd delivered his budget presentation in both House and Senate Education Committees, garnering accolades from legislators as he highlighted UT’s accomplishments in 2019 including: increased enrollment, increased undergraduate graduation rates, continued low tuition increases at less than three percent for the fifth year in a row, and the Transparent UT initiative.

Key Statistics from UT’s Budget Hearing:

  • Enrollment is up 1.5% across the UT System
  • All 3 of our undergraduate campuses are outperforming on graduation rates and Knoxville and Chattanooga are the leaders of the public universities on retention rates.
  • 4,212 high school seniors have applied for UT Promise
  • For the past four years, tuition increases have been held to an average of 1.6%, well below the average of the THEC caps of 3.1% during that same time period.

“Innovation Changing Lives” was the focus of the evening’s event. The following initiatives were featured:

  • Rehabilitating the Brain with Cognitive Exercise: Innovators at UT Knoxville are developing technology to engage people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in an effort to diagnose and slow the progression of the disease by providing computer-assisted cognitive “workouts.” By slipping on a headset with sensors and challenging their brain to move objects – such as chess pieces or squeezing a ball – with nothing more than their thoughts, patients can use this technology to fight against the disease.
  • Making Roads Safer and Commutes Faster: Innovators at UT Chattanooga are using technology to analyze traffic patterns to predict when and where accidents will most likely take place. The team is partnering with Hamilton County officials to pilot a traffic monitoring system that would offer widespread access to real-time traffic and road data to allow officials to effectively dispatch emergency responders, control traffic lights, and divert motorists to keep traffic moving safely. The overarching goal is to improve the quality of life for all.

  • Creating Products with Renewable Resources: From plastic-free food containers and construction products to faster-charging and longer-lasting batteries, innovators at the UT Institute of Agriculture’s Center for Renewable Carbon patented a new process to cost-effectively isolate the individual components from biomass crops, such as switchgrass, hybrid poplar, and pine for use in bio-based materials. Through collaborations between UT and industry partners, new innovative products are being developed for the nation’s emerging bio economy, meaning additional rural economic development possibilities for Tennessee that could lead to improved water and air quality, among other benefits directly impacting the quality of life for Tennesseans and beyond.

  • Escaping an Active Shooter with an App: Innovators at UT Knoxville are partnering with Iowa State University to develop technology to detect and track active shooters in schools using cameras and microphones. The technology would provide the best path to safety for each student, teacher, and staff member by providing calculating the shooters’ locations and movements with building layouts and individuals’ locations in real-time. The commands through the app would be similar to driving directions in a car and would be sent via the app, broadcast on digital screens, or over public address systems to instruct individuals to shelter or guide them through the building to safety. Once fully developed, the technology could be used for universal application ranging from school settings to hospitals, malls, and beyond.

  • Saving Lives Through Simulation: Innovators at the UT Health Science Center are developing first-of-its-kind, low-cost, simple-to-use technology to allow medical professionals to practice a life-saving procedure called pericardiocentesis which is used save infants from fluid building around their hearts that is putting pressure on the heart muscle, ultimately lowering their blood pressure dramatically. The procedure, not often performed on infants, could be performed in a safe environment, without the risk of injuring the patient by using a trainer that is ultrasound compliant, which would give users the ability to practice the procedure repeatedly to significantly improve patient outcomes.

  • Lightening Volkswagen’s Load with Composite Manufacturing: UT researchers, Volkswagen engineers, and their collaborators created a liftgate made of a novel composite for the Volkswagen Atlas, which is manufactured in Chattanooga. The new liftgate reduces weight by 35 percent and lowers the company’s investment cost. Volkswagen can produce high volumes of the liftgate quickly while producing lower amounts of waste and increasing the recyclability of the manufactured parts. The lighter weight helps increase fuel efficiency for the vehicle. Students also contributed to the project, learning skills that will help them far beyond the classroom and into their careers.
  • Advancing National Security with Wind Tunnels: With national defense and hypersonic weapons being a top national priority, the U.S. Department of Defense is looking to the UT Space Institute for help. The leading-edge research conducted at UT—in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory and Air Force Test and Evaluation groups at Arnold Air Force Base—identifies risks to new high-speed vehicles from the extremely harsh hypersonic flight environment. The High-Speed Original Research and Innovation Zone research group, known as HORIZON, leveraged a $1 million investment of state funds in 2016—used to build one of the largest high-speed wind tunnels in academia—into more than $10 million in federal funding and more than $20 million in support of hypersonics research being conducted throughout the UT System. The team’s focus on measuring the precise details of the wind flow allows them to share new techniques with their collaborators at Arnold Air Force Base. They are also partnering with experts throughout the UT System to further expand innovation, such as in the use of additive manufacturing and large-scale simulations.