Pilot Project Programs (PPP)

The goal of the Pilot Project Program is to support junior faculty both within and outside the Center and to stimulate new investigations by senior investigators to expand the footprint of environmental health at Texas A&M. To achieve this, the Program will provide funding, access to Facility Cores, and intellectual support for outstanding and innovative health research projects.

These projects should address one of the four major thematic research areas of the center.

Research Themes

Climate Change and Health

The primary goal of this theme is to elucidate the interactions between air quality, climate change, and public health by combining numerical models, field measurements, laboratory experiments, and epidemiological studies.

Environmental Justice and Policy

The mission of this theme will be to support Center research activities that are responsive to community environmental health concerns, especially for minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities that are particularly vulnerable to environmental health threats and face significant barriers to effecting change, and to inform Center members about the types of data that will be of greatest value to various stakeholders and members of the public for decision-making and policy creation.

Stressors to Responses

This research theme is focused on isolating environmental stressors, understanding the mechanisms by which these stressors take effect in biological systems, and identifying diseases and adverse biological responses associated with stressor exposure.

Environment and Metabolism

The mission of this theme is to study environmental exposures that beneficially or adversely impact metabolic health. Dysregulated metabolism is widely regarded as a precursor to poor overall health. Research in this theme will look into the unique environmental exposure susceptibilities of those with reduced metabolic health in an effort to identify environmental contributors to metabolic syndrome.

Apply for a Voucher!

Kick start your research with funding from TiCER and access to various biomolecular research cores

$1,000 Voucher

It couldn’t be easier to get to the last mile. Finish your project by availing services from TiCER core.

$5,000 Voucher

To kick start a small project idea. Start your pilot project and complete the proof-of-concept.

$10,000 Voucher

Cover major part of your project’s cost. For example, a single sequencing run of Human genome at 30X coverage costs approximately $1,200.

Awardee Benefits and Responsibilities

PPP Awardees Receive:

  • Funding for research.
  • Subsidized use of Center facility cores.
  • Participation in Center-sponsored seminars and annual retreat.
  • Opportunity to develop new collaborations and scientific interactions.
  • Participation in Center mock review panel by Emeritus Academy.

PPP Awardees Must:

  • Participate in cooperative Center pilot project reviews.
  • Present experimental results at annual Center retreat.
  • Publish experimental results.
  • Submit National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) grant application.
  • Participate in community outreach activities.


Letters of Intent

Letters of intent will include list of collaborators and a 5,000 character Abstract that covers the Specific Aims, Significance, Innovation, Approach, and Plans for future NIEHS/NIH Funding along with the NIH Biosketch and Other Support of the PI. They will be reviewed to ensure the proposed research is focused on environmental health and consistent with the goals of NIEHS and the Center.

Invitation to Submit a Full Proposal

Investigators that submit letters of intent that meet the appropriate criteria will receive invitations to submit a full proposal.

Full Application Due

The format for the pilot project applications follows NIH R21 guidelines with these components: 1) Cover Page; 2) Abstract, 1 page; 3) Specific Aims, 1 page; and 4) Significance, Innovation, Approach, and Plans for Future Funding, 4 pages. Also include NIH Biosketches, Facilities Descriptions, detailed Budget ($50,000 maximum), and Budget Justification. No faculty salaries are allowed. All criteria required for NIH grant applications needs to be addressed (not included in the page limits) including sections on scientific rigor and statistical considerations, resource sharing plan, explanation and description of animal use or human subjects (including the sex of animals or humans), and letters of support.

Review of Pilot Project Submissions

Applications will be sent to the Administrative Core for review by qualified reviewers identified by the Pilot Project Program Committee. Proposals will be peer reviewed and scored on scientific merit (60 points), potential for NIEHS funding (25 points), utilization of Center’s Facility Cores (10 points), proposals that are collaborative or from an early stage investigator (5 points).

Approximate Date for Funding Announcement

Principal investigators of proposals selected for funding will be notified by the Center Director.

PPP Personnel

Dr. Sakhila Banu

Pilot Projects PI

Associate Professor

Dr. Stephen Safe

Pilot Projects Co-PI, Career Development Council, IAB Chair

Distinguished Professor

Current Projects

TiCER project 1: study under review (Journal: Environmental Science and Policy)

Worried (and) Sick: How environmental hazards affect Americans’ health-related risk attitudes

Rotem Dvir, Arnold Vedlitz and Xinyue Ye[1]


This study explores risk attitudes of environmental hazards by adapting an established social-cognitive model (CCRPM), and applying it in the context of health-related implications of environmental hazards. We argue that personal experience and greater understanding of the hazards increase risk perceptions, and that strong social context reduces health concerns from environmental hazards. Using data from a national survey (N=1207), we find higher health-related risk perceptions among those with existing health problems. Also, individuals with greater understanding of the threats are more concerned about health complications resulting from environmental hazards. At the same time, individuals living in communities with strong social ties report decreased risk attitudes. An additional in-depth analysis shows that residents of at-risk communities (localities where air pollution is higher) display higher risk perceptions compared to those in less polluted areas. The findings amplify the dimensions described in the theoretical model and how structural conditions matter for individuals’ risk perceptions.

TiCER project 2: Manuscript in advanced preparation stage

Public support for environmental policy: Testing mitigation of health hazards using regression and machine learning models

Rotem Dvir, Arnold Vedlitz


This study explores public policy preferences to mitigate the risks of environmental hazards. While many studies assess policies to tackle general hazards, we focus on the health-related aspect of hazards and public views of proposed government solutions. We posit that for policy preferences, the main factor is people’s perceptions about the competence and degree of responsibility of the government to mitigate the risks. We also account for common factors such as risk perceptions (including health-specific concerns), knowledge and experience of health issues. We implement a combined empirical approach using regression models to estimate the relationship between the factors and observed outcome of policy support as well as factor importance tests to ascertain the role of each element. We complement the test with a data-driven approach using a machine learning method of random forest to validate the models and gain greater predictive accuracy. Our empirical tests of national survey data (N=1207) provide ample evidence showing that views of competence and responsibility are by far the most important factors in shaping policy support. Risk perceptions, factual knowledge, and political ideology also play important roles in explaining the variations in citizens’ views. The results of this study extend existing knowledge on the factors that determine policy preferences to mitigate the health risks of environmental health hazards. The combined methodological approach offers further robustness to our ability to predict how citizens would assess different government solutions to address health-related risks from environmental hazards.

TiCER project 3:  Manuscript in medium preparation stage

Support to Environmental Policy and its Association with Objective and Perceived Risk of Exposure

Carol Goldsmith, Ki Eun Kang, Arnold Vedlitz


Scholars argue that risk exists through social construction and perceived risk is a cognitive phenomenon (Boholm, 1998; Sjöberg, 1996; Wildavsky & Dake, 1990). We examine the relationship between actual risk exposure and risk perception, and we extend the research by looking at significant risk predictors (objective risk and perceived risk) of people’s attitudes toward environmental policies. This study aims to understand two main research questions: (1) whether environmental health threats impact people’s perception and (2) if public support and opposition to policies addressing environmental health threats are related to environmental health threat perception and/or environmental health threats level. We address these relationships by considering actual toxic waste sites (objective risk) to individual environmental health threat concerns (perceived risk) and environmental health threat policy support using the 2021 Texas survey. Our overall findings show that objective risk is important to people’s risk perception, but not to environmental policy support. Our results also indicate that public environmental policy support tends to be driven by risk perception. 

TiCER project 4:  Manuscript in medium presentation form

Factors that Contribute to Public Perceptions on Environmental Health Threat Policy

Carol Goldsmith, Ki Eun Kang, Arnold Vedlitz


Planners often find themselves caught between conflicting interests among the supposedly complementary aims of economic growth, environmental protection, and equitable distribution, and must mediate the affected parties in the public engagement process. Identifying the factors that contribute to public perceptions and behaviors is an important first step in finding common ground and pathways out of the sustainability dilemma. The conflicts have been heightened through the global pandemic, continued climate change, and accumulation of environmental stressors from natural and anthropogenic activities; while consensus does not have to be the goal, leaving conflicts unaddressed is likely to undermine the effectiveness of programs implemented to address health challenges resulting from environmental risks, as these challenges cut across multiple sectors and domains. Therefore, it is necessary to examine how agents, arenas, and areas of policy approach align to make the most of public engagement in planning for healthy and resilient communities.

Using resident survey from Harris and Hidalgo counties in Texas, this paper seeks answers to:

RQ-1: What explains residents’ willingness to participate in public policy hearings or discussions and action to reduce exposure to pathogens, toxins, and irritants?

RQ-2: How does public support for certain types of interventions and perception about accountability (not) align with policy adoption, program implementation, and funding allocation?

Previous PPP Success Stories

  • “Health Risks and Hazard Perception of Airborne Toxic Metals: Vulnerable Populations Neighboring the Houston Ship Channel”
    • Dr. Shankar Chellam in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and faculty in the School of Public Health