NSF Research Dollars Boost Science and Engineering Infrastructure in Regions in Need of Support
Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee and West Virginia each received investment of $20 million for five years
Seven research projects aimed at deploying the most capable world-class combination of research resources available for the academic community, have received awards from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). Representing a consortium of regional institutions, each award recipient, based in a jurisdiction that has less extensive scientific infrastructures and has historically received fewer federal research dollars, will receive $20 million for five years to bolster science and engineering academic research infrastructure.
“These RII awards provide resources to strengthen the physical, human, and cyber infrastructure that is critical to greater research competitiveness,” said Henry Blount, director of NSF’s EPSCoR program. “They are unique in their state-wide scope and complexity; in their integration of individual researchers, institutions, and organizations; and in their role in developing the diverse, well-prepared, STEM-enabled workforce necessary to sustain research competitiveness and catalyze economic development.”
Structured as cooperative agreements, six states and a commonwealth have received these Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track-1 awards:Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Tennessee, West Virginia and Puerto Rico. Within the descriptions below, the institution leading the research team is indicated in parenthesis.
ARKANSAS (The Arkansas Science and Technology Authority)
This RII-Track-1 award will fund compelling research in Arkansas (AR) with great potential for advancing science and addressing an urgent national need: alternative energy capable of seamless integration into the national power grid. This funding seeks to enhance AR’s scientific research capability by focusing on three areas in renewable power: plant biosynthesis, alternate energy, and nanotechnology in order to develop cost-effective, high efficiency solar cells. The research will be conducted in three existing AR centers: the Center for Plant-Powered Production, the Center for Generating Renewable Energy with Efficient Nanoplasmonic Solar Cells, and the Vertically Integrated Center for Transformative Energy Research.
The project has significant depth in its outreach activities, expanding on the previous RII award by including two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) institutions and two four-year colleges. Numerous secondary school research activities and professional development for teachers and two-year college faculty will be pursued in order to support the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) pipeline. There are tightly woven educational and workforce development activities directly tied to the specific research themes.
LOUISIANA (Louisiana Board of Regents)
With RII Track 1 funding, LA-EPSCoR seeks to transform materials science research and education throughout the state of Louisiana with the creation of the Louisiana Alliance for Simulation-Guided Materials Applications (LA-SiGMA), composed of lead institutions Louisiana State University, Louisiana Tech University, University of New Orleans, Tulane University and three HBCUs: Southern University at Baton Rouge, Grambling State University and Xavier University.
LA-SiGMA strives to develop common computational tools for the study of multiscale phenomena in three science areas of current strength in the state, and of substantial technological and economic importance: 1) correlated electronic materials; 2) energy materials, and 3) biomolecular materials.
Experiments at existing facilities will test computational predictions and lead to their refinement. The project seeks to impact education and workforce development in the state by creating a comprehensive set of programs addressing various demographic needs. LA RII plans to provide specialized inter-institutional courses for graduate and postgraduate students. These courses will be integrated into the curricula of Ph.D. programs to ensure their sustainability.
NEBRASKA (University of Nebraska)
RII Track-1 funding will capitalize on Nebraska’s core strengths, and enable investment in two independent research areas of local and national importance: nanomaterials and algal biology. It will establish two interdisciplinary research centers of excellence–the Center for Nanohybrid Functional Materials and the Nebraska Center for Algal Biology and Biotechnology–which will assemble the expertise of 29 faculty members from seven disciplines to address important fundamental science questions that align with state and NSF priorities in nanoscience and energy. The project’s participating institutions are: the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Creighton University, Doane College, and University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Little Priest Tribal College, and Nebraska Indian Community College.
By providing collaborative opportunities for scientists, engineers, and private industry partners, this project aims to dramatically advance the knowledge base in the areas of nanohybrid materials and algal biology and biotechnology. These fields hold great potential for the development of applications in health diagnostics, environmental monitoring, domestic security, and renewable and ecologically friendly energy production.
The project aims to: 1) develop public-private collaborations through the University-Industry Research and Development (R&D) Partnership Program, culminating in Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer grants; 2) Promote technology transfer through the Nebraska Engineering, Science, and Technology Internship Program; and 3) Form project-focused relationships with local and national technology companies.
Track-1 funds will help develop a pipeline of future scientists across Nebraska and enhance participation of individuals from under-represented groups in the bioscience, engineering, and other STEM fields through its Underrepresented Opportunity Portfolio.
PUERTO RICO (University of Puerto Rico)
Puerto Rico’s RII Track-1 Award will strengthen academic research and education in nanoscience and technology in the institutions of higher education in Puerto Rico (PR), with primary foci of establishing partnerships among research universities and four-year colleges, and training junior researchers and students at all levels. Efforts to translate basic research results into commercially-viable products and transfer know-how to nano, biotechnology-related businesses and start-up companies will be pursued. This RII Track-1 project will align with PR’s Science & Technology policy and is expected to lead to the economic development in the commonwealth and increase its competitiveness at the national and international level.
Work will center around experimental and computer modeling studies in interdisciplinary areas of nanoscience and technology. Cutting-edge research will seek to develop novel nanomaterials and nanostructures with potential applications in bio-nanotechnology, water remediation and CO2 sequestration, logic and memory devices for use in information technology, and devices for efficient light harvesting. Collaborations among scientists and engineers from five institutions of higher education in PR, as well as strategic partnerships with five universities on the mainland, four national laboratories/facilities and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas are included.
RHODE ISLAND (University of Rhode Island)
The Rhode Island (RI) RII Track-1 project will focus on cutting-edge research to understand how marine biological organisms are affected by variations in their surroundings due to climate change effects. The goals are to advance RI’s competitiveness in marine life science, foster collaboration among researchers and educators in the state, and build diverse, well-trained workforce teams involving nine institutions of higher education. This project is regionally relevant, nationally significant, takes advantage of unique RI resources including the Narragansett Bay, and aligns well with the state Science and Technology Plan.
The infrastructure improvements for life sciences research and education and the partnership among public and private institutions of higher education, including two- and four-year colleges, will assist in building RI’s research capacity. The RI EPSCoR Academy will coordinate efforts to foster collaboration among diverse institutions, broaden participation to increase diversity, and engage students at all levels in research and educational training. Fellowships for students and programs aimed at increasing the participation of under-represented minority groups are included. A unique aspect of this project is the involvement of Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) for interdisciplinary collaboration among scientists and RISD artists and designers.
TENNESSEE (University of Tennessee)
This first RII Track-1 award to the state of Tennessee would expand and enhance the physical, personnel, and cyber infrastructure at academic institutions. The RII Track-1 program builds on the state government’s investment in the clean energy sector for economic development and the recent hiring of eminent faculty members in energy related areas in the University of Tennessee system. This program will leverage state investments, build partnerships for research and educational activities among 10 higher educational institutions across the state, and provide meaningful research experience to secondary school teachers and students. The project would help build Tennessee’s capacity for national competitiveness in alternative, renewable energy arena.
It is focused on energy research and education involving nine geographically distributed colleges and universities in Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Research at the centers focus around three thrust areas: 1) sustainable methods and materials for solar energy capture and conversion (research on photovoltaic cells fabricated using thin Si films, hybrid organic-semiconductors, and novel biomaterials); 2) electrochemical energy conversion (fuel cells) and storage (batteries) devices; and 3) the development of novel nanostructures and nanomaterials to enhance energy efficiency in the areas of solid state lighting and solar energy conversion.
The facilities available at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, Vanderbilt University, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are leveraged to address the challenges in the development of renewable and environmentally clean energy sources and advance the current status of the field.
WEST VIRGINIA (Higher Education Policy Commission)
West Virginia’s RII Track -1 award provides a strategic framework for an integrated effort that plans to position West Virginia (WV) to achieve measurable growth in bionanotechnology. The vision is the establishment of a nationally recognized and sustainable center in bio-nanotechnology that integrates research and education, and advances knowledge through innovative collaborations while vitalizing the economy of the state, with attention to public security and environmental safety. The interdisciplinary research effort is led by West Virginia University, Marshall University, and West Virginia State University. Also engaged in research and workforce development activities are the state’s predominantly undergraduate institutions and community and technical colleges.
This RII program promises to advance technology important to national security and provide research and education experiences for a diverse group of students, postdoctoral scholars, high school teachers and institutions in the state. Research discoveries in the field, through the use of deployable sensors that can monitor, in real time, presence of specific heavy metals, pathogens, and other environmental threats, combined with the education and workforce development programs, are expected to enhance the prosperity of the state and the nation by preparing citizens for the increasingly knowledge-based economy.
EPSCoR is a program designed to fulfill the foundation’s mandate to promote scientific progress nationwide. The EPSCoR program is directed at those jurisdictions that have historically received lesser amounts of NSF research and development funding. Twenty-seven states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are currently eligible to participate. Through this program, NSF establishes partnerships with government, higher education, and industry that are designed to effect lasting improvements in a state’s or region’s research infrastructure, research and development capacity and hence, its national research and development competitiveness.
On the Net:
- National Science Foundation
- Authority Awarded $20 Million Grant to Fund Wind, Solar and Bio-Based Energy Research in Arkansas
- Louisiana Board of Regents EPSCoR Office
- National Science Foundation Awards Research Infrastructure Improvement Grant to Nebraska for Nanohybrid Materials and Algal Biology Research
- EPSCoR Research in Puerto Rico
- URI awarded $20 million grant to stimulate life science research in Rhode Island
- Tennessee Universities Win Clean Energy Grant
- Division of Science and Research, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission