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CMU’s Metro21: Smart Cities Institute Awarded National Science Foundation ‘Civic Innovation Challenge’ Grant

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) announced today that Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at CMU’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, has been awarded one of only 19 Civic Innovation Challenge (CIVIC) awards by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF).

The project, “Leveraging Existing Fiber-Optic Cables to Identify and Manage Urban Environmental Hazards,” of which Karen Lightman, executive director of Metro21, is co-principal investigator, seeks to develop a new way to identify underground hazards such as sewer leaks, sinkholes, and landslides. The project applies new technology to interpret signals from existing underground telecommunication fiber-optic cables that allow the detection of hazards in real-time across a city. For the initial pilot testing, the team worked with the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh Water and Serer Authority.

“I’m honored that our team has been awarded a CIVIC Stage 2 full award from NSF,” said Lightman. “I am grateful to have served as co-principal investigator on this project over the last year, and with this award, I look forward to continuing our work to improve early warning capabilities for multiple hazards in urban areas.”

CIVIC, an NSF research and action competition that accelerates the transition of foundational research and emerging technologies to practice in communities through civic-engaged research, funds projects that pilot state-of-the-art solutions. CIVIC is organized as a two-stage competition, with Stage 1 grants awarded to 50 recipients in October 2022 for planning and team development activities lasting six months. Stage 2 full awards, of which Lightman is a recipient, will fund projects for up to 12 months.

“We are proud of Karen and her team for receiving this grant,” said Ramayya Krishnan, Dean of Heinz College. “Karen is passionate about improving communities by utilizing emerging technologies; it’s wonderful to see her recognized for her work and receive the opportunity to continue making an impact on society with this exceptional team.”

Led by principal investigator Tieyuan Zhu of Pennsylvania State University, the project team includes co-principal investigators Karen Lightman (Carnegie Mellon University), Zhen Lei (Pennsylvania State University) and Lauren McPhillips (Pennsylvania State University).


About Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy

The Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy is home to two internationally recognized graduate-level institutions at Carnegie Mellon University: the School of Information Systems and Management and the School of Public Policy and Management. This unique colocation combined with its expertise in analytics set Heinz College apart in the areas of cybersecurity, health care, the future of work, smart cities, and arts & entertainment. In 2016, INFORMS named Heinz College the #1 academic program for Analytics Education. For more information, please visit

About Metro21: Smart Cities Institute
Metro21 is an interdisciplinary research and implementation center at Carnegie Mellon University that works with metropolitan and rural communities to tackle some of their most pressing real-world challenges. Using technology as our tool, we join forces with civic and community partners to guide, implement and inform innovation that improves quality of life through access to infrastructure, affordable transportation, economic opportunity and more.  For more information, please visit