Seed Grants Fund Research Centers for Critical Minerals, Spatial Computation and Navigation

Yuanzhi Tang

The College of Sciences is funding two research centers through a new seed grant program. 

Selected from a finalist pool of nine proposals, Associate Professors Yuanzhi Tang and Thackery Brown’s ideas were chosen for their high potential for novel interdisciplinary research and impact. 

Tang’s center will focus on sustainable mineral research, and Brown’s on spatial computation and navigation. Applications for the research will span the development of more sustainable batteries, as well as seeking to improve human health and well-being.

“Improving the human condition, fostering community, and pursuing research excellence are at the forefront of Georgia Tech’s mission, and these new centers will play a critical role in furthering that goal,” says Laura Cadonati, associate dean for Research in the College of Sciences and a professor in the School of Physics. “The College of Sciences is thrilled to support these new initiatives, and is excited to continue to develop the seed grant program.” 

A second call for research center proposals is planned for January 2025, with funding to start in July 2025.

The new Center for Sustainable and Decarbonized Critical Energy Mineral Solutions (CEMS), to be led by Yuanzhi Tang, an associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, will serve as a hub for sustainable procurement solutions for critical energy mineral resources, including rare earth elements and metals used for battery production.

Thackery Brown, an associate professor in the School of Psychology, will lead the second center, the Center for Research and Education in Navigation (CRaNE). CRaNE will investigate problems related to spatial computation, cognition, and navigation — which has implications for human health, animal conservation, smart architecture and urban design.

“This generous support from the College of Sciences will enable us to host a conference on spatial cognition, computation, design, and navigation; to provide collaborative multi-lab seed grants; and to establish the first of a series of explicitly co-mentored, interdisciplinary graduate student Fellowships,” Brown says. “Collectively, these are the seeds of a high-impact and self-sustaining center.”

About the Center for Sustainable Decarbonized Critical Energy Mineral Solutions (CEMS)

Yuanzhi Tang, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences 

Co-sponsored by the College of Sciences, Strategic Energy Institute (SEI), Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems (BBISS), Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology (IEN), and Institute for Materials (iMat), CEMS began as a joint BBISS-SEI initiative lead project that has since grown into a joint center focused on critical elements and materials for sustainable energy.

Sustainably sourcing these materials provides a critical foundation for both high-tech industry and green economy. “Rare earth elements and battery metals like lithium, copper, and nickel are in high demand, but low domestic resources and production have resulted in a heavy reliance on imports,” Tang explains. “How can we domestically produce these resources, and how can we do this sustainably? Georgia Tech and the College of Sciences are in a unique position for developing a large regional research umbrella to connect these dots.”

CEMS will leverage on three key pillars: science and technology development, strengthening collaboration among the University System of Georgia (USG) universities, and developing regional resources and economy, Tang says. “By leveraging collaboration among Georgia universities, and fostering engagement with regional industries, the Center will develop new science and technology, leading the way in research on how to procure these ‘essential vitamins’ for clean energy transition in a sustainable and decarbonized manner.”

About the Center for Research and Education in Navigation (CRaNE)

Thackery Brown, School of Psychology 

CRaNE will focus on solving problems related to spatial computation, cognition, and navigation. “How do we treat catastrophic loss of one’s ability to get from A to B in Alzheimer's disease? How do we build smarter cities that are easier and more carbon efficient to navigate? How can we develop robots,” Brown says, “which navigate with the flexibility and efficiency of our own minds? CRaNE will bring together experts from many different fields to help address these problems with truly creative and integrative scientific and technological solutions.”

CRaNE will support interdisciplinary collaborative research, including developing a graduate student fellowship program, and conducting K-12 outreach.

“Our goal for CRaNE is to position the College of Sciences, Georgia Tech, and our extended network of collaborator institutions as a center of gravity for cutting-edge work on how the mind, brain, and artificial systems process space — how they can be made better at it, and how we can engineer our world around us in ways that support the humans and animals that need to navigate it to survive,” Brown says.

Emphasizing the collaborative nature of CRaNE, Brown adds that “by targeting collaborative grants, research, and education, and by promoting outreach and education earlier in the STEM pipeline, we hope to accelerate progress at the frontiers of these fields — and to invest in future science that cannot be easily addressed by a single lab or discipline.”


Thackery Brown
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Written by Selena Langner

Jess Hunt-Ralston
Director of Communications
College of Sciences
Georgia Tech