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‘Research Made Possible’ Podcast: $14 Million NSF Grant for UK EduceLab

By Alicia Gregory



LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 19, 2022) — It’s the signature on a bourbon barrel. It's the ancient footprints in Mammoth Cave. Heritage science is all around us and has deep roots in the Commonwealth. Kentucky’s story begins in prehistoric times, when mammoths roamed the Ohio River Valley at Big Bone Lick.

In November 2021, the University of Kentucky announced a new $14 million mid-scale infrastructure grant from the National Science Foundation, that will allow UK to tell that story in new, groundbreaking ways through the lens of heritage science.

For more than 20 years, Brent Seales, UK Alumni Professor in the Department of Computer Science, has been working to create and use high-tech, non-invasive tools to rescue hidden texts and restore them to humanity. Dubbed “the man who can read the unreadable,” he has garnered international recognition for his “virtual unwrapping” work to read damaged ancient artifacts — such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and Herculaneum papyrus rolls — without ever physically opening them.

Now, expanding on his research, Seales is positioning UK as a regional leader in heritage science. He gathered a team of experts from the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences to build EduceLab. This collaborative user facility will focus on developing innovative artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for the challenges presented by cultural heritage objects.

“The word educe means ‘to bring out from data’ or ‘to develop something that is latent but not on its own explicit.’ That’s what we’ve been doing with our virtual unwrapping work. And that context has created an opportunity to expand the very focused question of, ‘Can we read what’s inside a scroll?’ to a broader question of, ‘What heritage science questions can we answer right here in Kentucky?’" Seales said. “My goal is to rally some of the best researchers here around that theme and build a world-class laboratory that allows us to pose and then answer some of those questions.”

In this two-part “Research Made Possible” podcast, we take a deeper dive into EduceLab. In part 1, we meet the College of Engineering faculty (Brent Seales, Suzanne Smith, Corey Baker and John Balk), who share the impact of NSF funding, what this new equipment will allow researchers to explore and how they will partner with the community to answer new questions. In part 2, we meet the anthropologists (Hugo Reyes-Centeno and George Crothers) in the College of Arts and Sciences, learn about the Webb Museum where EduceLab is based, and find out how this grant will impact their research, UK student learning and career opportunities.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.