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Cal State LA receives $5 million NSF grant to create urban sustainability hub

New CREST Center for Advancement toward Sustainable Urban Systems to increase diversity in STEM through research, educational opportunities
March 22, 2022

Cal State LA News Service

Professor Arturo Pacheco-Vega works with a group of ECST students.
Photo: Cal State LA Professor Arturo Pacheco-Vega instructing students in his mechanical engineering class. (Credit: J. Emilio Flores/Cal State LA)

Cal State LA has been awarded a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to create a hub for urban sustainability that will advance energy and water research, and expand opportunities for students to engage in intensive STEM education and training.

The grant is funded through the NSF Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology, or CREST, program.

“Urban sustainability is a critical issue for our nation and the world,” said Cal State LA President William A. Covino. “I look forward to the groundbreaking contributions our new center will make and the education and training it will offer our students—the future leaders in sustainability.”

The five-year NSF grant will help establish the CREST Center for Advancement toward Sustainable Urban Systems, known as CATSUS, in the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology at Cal State LA.

The center aims to advance research in environmentally sustainable energy and water resources for urban areas. The center will also train and mentor underrepresented students in the STEM fields to help meet the high demand for skilled diverse professionals and the need for more pathways to doctoral and postdoctoral research programs.

“CREST CATSUS will be the first such center nationwide funded by the NSF to address the pressing needs of energy and water sustainability in urban systems, particularly those located in Mediterranean climate zones,” said Arturo Pacheco-Vega, the grant’s lead principal investigator and professor of mechanical engineering at Cal State LA.

The center will promote “new knowledge and discovery in the fields of advanced functional materials, clean energy, and water quality and availability, but also align with state and local sustainability goals of carbon neutrality, water availability, and waste reduction, such that their success could lead to further research supported by California state government,” Pacheco-Vega said.

The center will focus on developing novel and transformative research related to energy systems and management in buildings, advanced materials for energy and water applications, and resilience of urban water bodies.

Results from the center’s research will have the potential to improve “environmental conditions, while advancing the well-being of the planet and people, by addressing problems related to climate change.”

CREST CATSUS builds on the success of the university’s CREST Center for Energy and Sustainability, which is funded by the NSF and also directed by Pacheco-Vega. The new center will expand the infrastructure and capacity necessary to conduct complex, large-scale, and multidisciplinary research projects at Cal State LA.

Pacheco-Vega, who received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Notre Dame, is an expert in the areas of thermal and fluids engineering. His research is focused on the analysis, simulation, optimization, and control of energy systems, and on the application of soft computing techniques in complex systems. He resides in the city of Azusa, California.

“This prestigious award recognizes the cutting-edge research in energy and sustainability done by our excellent faculty, led by Professor Arturo Pacheco-Vega,” said Emily Allen, dean of the College of ECST. “The funding will provide unparalleled opportunities for our outstanding students to participate in research.” 

Through the NSF grant, the center will develop undergraduate and graduate research education curriculum, training, and opportunities in the STEM fields.

“The fact that both undergraduate and graduate students will be actively engaged in all objectives and exposed to the interdisciplinary research activities enables training a population that will make long-lasting and broad impacts required to create sustainable urban systems, with the overarching goal of minimizing the environmental impact on the planet,” said Pacheco-Vega.

Co-investigators on the grant project include Gustavo Menezes, professor of civil engineering; Sonya Lopez, professor of civil engineering; Jeffrey Santner, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; and Yixian Wang, associate professor of chemistry.

A group of 15 faculty members from the College of ECST and the College of Natural and Social Sciences at Cal State LA will participate in this interdisciplinary research collaboration.

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California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 27,000 students and has more than 250,000 distinguished alumni.

Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit www.CalStateLA.edu.