University Faculty Team Up Again to Design Tech Innovations for NYC

Allison Chen
February 14, 2022

For second year in a row, faculty win Urban Tech Awards to develop technology innovations to improve urban living in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, superstorms, and other extreme events 

Nine Columbia University faculty teams have each won an $85,000 Urban Tech Award for projects to develop technology applications to improve urban living in the face of superstorms like Sandy and Ida and the current COVID-19 pandemic. Each proposal focuses on designing technological solutions to protect from and prevent future pandemics, attacks, and disasters in New York City and other major cities in the world. To encourage impactful collaborations across the University, each team includes at least one Engineering and Applied Sciences faculty member and at least one faculty member from either a different school or a different department.

The award’s inaugural round last year, funded by a gift from a generous Columbia Engineering alumni donor, was highly successful, and the same donor is supporting the program’s second year.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly exposed weaknesses in the design and infrastructure of modern cities like New York, as have the onslaught of natural disasters over the past few years,” said Shih-Fu Chang, Columbia Engineering interim dean. “It’s clear we need a broad range of innovations as we emerge from an extraordinarily difficult time, and bringing together the best minds in New York City and at Columbia can only lead to exciting, innovative solutions. We’re very grateful to our donor for being so generous in continuing this visionary program.”

It’s clear we need a broad range of innovations as we emerge from an extraordinarily difficult time, and bringing together the best minds in New York City and at Columbia can only lead to exciting, innovative solutions.


The themes for this year’s round are smart cities and logistics, sustainable building design and sensors, safe work and public spaces, enhanced learning technologies, and improved diagnostics. The proposals came from faculty across the University, including from Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), Columbia Climate School, the Dental School, Mailman School of Public Health, and Teachers College. Six of the nine winning teams are renewals for a second year of funding.

There are three EE-related projects that won awards (view all nine awards on the Columbia Engineering site):

Development and Field-Testing a Mobile App for Tracking Home-Based COVID-19 Rapid Test Results (Renewal)

Samuel Sia, Professor, Biomedical Engineering (Engineering)
Wafaa El-Sadr, Professor, Epidemiology (ICAP)
Jessica Justman, Associate Professor, Epidemiology (CUIMC)
Guangxin Han, Postdoctoral Research Scientist, Electrical Engineering (Engineering)

We are conducting a field study in Upper Manhattan to study whether a mobile app can improve the adherence of the public to perform COVID-19 self-testing according to recommended public health guidelines.

Worldwide Flu and Emerging Vision Surveillance System

Andrew Rundle, Professor, Epidemiology (MSPH)
Xiaofan Jiang, Associate Professor, Electrical Engineering (Engineering)

Drs. Jiang and Rundle are developing a video and thermal camera system that will act as a low cost, high through-put public health surveillance tool for detecting emerging infectious diseases and flu. The system will continuously monitor the number of people who are out in public spaces while experiencing a fever and when the system detects that the prevalence of people with fever has risen above a low background normal rate, public health authorities will be alerted to launch more in depth infectious disease surveillance and detection protocols.

Ultra-low Cost UV Sensor for Sterilization and Disinfection Monitoring (Renewal)

Ioannis Kymissis, Professor, Electrical Engineering (Engineering)
Elizabeth Hillman, Professor, Biomedical Engineering (Engineering)

UV sterilization has emerged as a leading strategy for disinfection of spaces, air, and objects in the environment; but advanced sensors are required to measure the dose in a spectrally selective manner to ensure both safety and adequate sterilization. In this project, we will develop a new generation of low cost UV sensors with spectral selectivity for integration with UV sterilization lamps, systems, and monitors.

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